- What Genocide?: Between January 2014 and June 2016, the network evening news shows referred to persecution against Christians in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia just 60 times. Despite telling of murders, forced religious conversions and mass displacement, the networks refused to add up the thousands of atrocities to what they clearly amount to: genocide. Just six of the 60 reports used the word genocide. Put another way, over two years, they mentioned the Christian genocide on just four separate days. Even when Secretary of State John Kerry officially declared in March 2016 that ISIS was engaging in genocide, CBS didn’t report it.
- Media Kept Calling Darfur ‘Genocide’: During the George W. Bush administration, the networks had no problem calling the situation in Darfur genocide, even before the U.S. officially called it that. Once it did, they referred to the Darfur “genocide” 38 times in two years.
- Journalists Should Have Known: If network reporters had even connected the dots of their own reports, they should have known and reported on what was really happening to Christians. By their own reporting, hundreds of thousands of Christians are “on the run” from their homes, mass graves have been found, and Christians have been made to “convert or die.” In addition, network journalists could have watched their own news magazine shows. Both ABC’s Nightline and CBS’s Sixty Minutes have aired excellent long-form stories on the atrocities, though neither show used the word genocide.
- Downplaying The Slaughter: The six instances where the networks have used “genocide” or equivalent terms, they’ve tended to lump Christians in with Yazidis and Shia Muslims as victims, echoing the Obama administration’s reluctance to focus on the anti-Christian violence. During the two years MRC Culture analyzed, one source has recorded 226 Muslim- on-Christian attacks. At least 125 churches have been attacked. According to one Christian group, 7,000 Christians worldwide were killed because of their faith in 2015 alone. Yet even when the Obama administration has (officially and unofficially) called the Christian persecution in Iraq and Syria genocide, the networks almost never used the word.
Christians in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia are suffering massive, sustained and very bloody persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists. ISIS has driven staggering numbers of Christians from their homes in Iraq and Syria, and have destroyed some of Christianity’s oldest holy sites in what the Islamists have termed “cultural cleansing.” Terrorists have slaughtered entire Christian villages in Nigeria, and murdered Christian students in their classrooms in Kenya. Churches have been bombed and worshipers kidnapped in Pakistan and Syria.
One report from Christian activists identifies 1,131 individual Christians murdered by the Islamic State and names 125 churches the terrorists have attacked. Those numbers, according to the report, may be “the tip of the iceberg.”
ISIS has publically beheaded or burned alive Christians for refusing to renounce their faith and convert. In Syria, the group crucified dozens. ISIS broke up Christian and Yazidi families and sold young girls into sex slavery. It destroyed Christian holy sites in an attempt to erase all pre-Islamic history, and announced it will continue to wage war against “the Jews, the Christians, the pagans, and the apostates.”
A March 18, 2016 article in the Christian Science Monitor cited the evangelical Christian group Open Doors, which found that more than 7,000 “Christians were killed because of their faith last year,” and that doesn’t necessarily include the numbers from Iraq, Syria, or even North Korea, where accurate data are difficult to obtain.”
All this adds up to one thing – genocide.
Yet the concept of “Never again!” seems forgotten by network journalists. Groups such as Open Doors, the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians have documented the horrors in countries from Afghanistan to Yemen, the West Bank to Central Africa. It hasn’t helped. The media rarely tied the incidents together. Even when the pope, the European Union, the House of Representatives and finally the Obama administration all agreed that Christians were victims of genocide, the term was almost unused on ABC, CBS and NBC.
The networks have reported on the violence sporadically and often superficially. They mentioned the plight of Christians in Muslim countries in only 60 stories between January 2014 and June 2016 – an average of just one story every two weeks across all three networks. But they have essentially refused to connect their own dots and call it what it clearly is: genocide.
Hollywood champions like George Clooney, who publicized Darfur and demanded action on that genocide have gone silent. Pope Francis has shined a light on the violence, going so far as to condone military action against ISIS. But the networks were far more interested in anything the pope might say on gay marriage or contraception than genocide.
If there’s any good news, it’s that, unlike Rwanda, where the horror was complete before the media understood genocide was occurring, the Christian genocide is occurring at a slower pace. There is still time for the networks to let the world know.
- Connect With Christian Groups: Journalists need to do a better job working with Christian groups active in trying to prevent the genocide. Their efforts could better inform reporters and producers of what is really going on.
- Don’t Wait to See Stars: The efforts of glamourous entertainers to publicize tragedy are noble and welcome, but news outlets should inform celebrities about human rights causes, not the other way around.
- Go Regional: While networks don’t have the resources they used to, they can do a much more thorough job by simply paying attention to regional and international news outlets and wires. Their steady drip of small-scale atrocities can lend a sense of the breadth of the horror.
- Tell the Truth: Finally, ABC, CBS and NBC should avoid taking their cues from the Obama administration, which has an interest in obscuring the nature and extent of Christian persecution by Muslims.
'Burn the Slaves of the Cross' – Networks Ignore Genocide
March 17, 2016, was not the first time the Obama administration had publicly spoken of “genocide” against Christians in the Middle East. On August 9, 2014, as ISIS took control of the cities of Erbil and Mosul in Northern Iraq, both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said genocide was occurring. NBC and ABC reported as much, and a CBS reporter alluded to the statement.
But until March 2016, the administration never repeated the charge, and the networks lost interest.
Unfortunately, the rapes, kidnappings, forced conversions, extortions and exiles didn’t stop. Neither did the killings. In fact, the controversial website The Religion of Peace records Islamist terror attacks as they become known. The site lists 294 separate Islamist attacks specifically on Christians worldwide in the two years between January 2014 and June 2016. The death toll from those attacks was more than 4,000, with hundreds more wounded.
ISIS, famously dismissed by President Obama in early 2014 as a “JV squad,” grew and became so violent that al Qaeda renounced ties to it in 2014. While the networks repeated President
Obama’s assertion that ISIS was “contained,” the group continued to victimize thousands, often in spectacularly gruesome ways, and razed ancient Christian monasteries in acts of “cultural cleansing.”
The world is still learning the extent of the horror. On April 10, 2016, Syrian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II told the BBC that when ISIS first took the Syrian town of Al-Qaryatain in August 2015, the group kidnapped scores of Christians, and murdered 21 of them.
In an incident reported in a number of Christian newspapers and websites, and even in the secular Mirror (U.K.) – but not on the networks – ISIS captured 12 Christian missionaries near Aleppo, Syria on August 28, 2015. The terrorists raped the women. They cut off the fingers of a 12-year-old boy in front of his minister father before crucifying and eventually beheading all 12.
There are hundreds of similar stories.
So in March 2016, after nearly 18 months of silence, Kerry was forced by congressional mandate to acknowledge officially that ISIS is “responsible for genocide against groups in territory under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.”
Kerry’s congressionally mandated decision does not obligate the United States to act to stop the genocide. Even so, the administration’s reticence has been disastrous because much of the U.S. media, including ABC, CBS and NBC, have played along in barely acknowledging the human rights disaster happening to Christians inside the so-called “Islamic State.”
The 1948 UN Convention on Genocide defined it as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” By that definition, there can be no question ISIS is committing genocide in Iraq and Syria, or that groups with allegiance to “The Islamic State” are committing it against Christians in a number of African countries, and in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
ISIS itself has repeatedly stated its intention to continue to “pronounce takfĩr [abandonment of Islam] upon the Jews, the Christians, the pagans, and the apostates,” and “continue to wage war” on them.
Elsewhere, a video from ISIS in Libya implores jihadists to “Fight and kill them from their Great Priest (Tawadros II) to the most pathetic one.’” It also commands them to “terrorize the Jews and burn the slaves of the Cross.”
In the February 2015 propaganda video ISIS released showing 21 Coptic Christians being beheaded on a Libyan beach, a spokesman addressed, “The nation of the Cross,” and vowed “We will conquer Rome!”
In March, the Knights of Columbus and the group In Defense of Christians released a massive report detailing the atrocities, desecrations and oppression. On March 18, 2016, the Christian Science Monitor reported, "More than 7,000 Christians were killed because of their faith last year, [evangelical group] Open Doors found, up from 4,344 in 2014 and 2,123 in 2013. But these numbers don't necessarily include the numbers from Iraq, Syria, or even North Korea, where accurate data are difficult to obtain, the group said."
The U.S. House of Representatives, the European Parliament, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the governments of Iraq and Kurdistan have accused ISIS of genocide.
The U.S. broadcast networks reported none of it. In fact, Kerry’s March 17, declaration merited just two sentences on ABC World News with David Muir. NBC’s Lester Holt gave it three. CBS didn’t even bother to report it. And none of the networks has used the term genocide since then.
The horror is not confined to the areas under ISIS’s control. All over the Muslim world, Christian persecution is on the rise. For the most part, the network evening news programs treat it as routine – and certainly not as genocide.
In January 2016, as the networks celebrated the Obama administration’s Iranian nuclear deal, Iran released several American prisoners. Among them was Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor who’d been sentenced in 2013 to eight years in prison for establishing home churches in the Shia Muslim nation. The networks all reported his release, and interviewed his wife. But for NBC and CBS, it was the first time they’d ever mentioned Abedini. On Nov. 26, 2013, ABC correspondent Brian Ross briefly mentioned Abedini as part of a list of Americans Iran was holding.
In Aden, Yemen, on March 4, 2016, four ISIS gunmen stormed a Catholic nursing home founded by Mother Teresa. They kidnapped a Catholic priest and bound and executed at least 16 staff members, including six nuns of the Missionaries of Charity. The networks never reported the incident, even when ISIS threatened to crucify the kidnapped Priest to mark Easter.
Easter Sunday 2016 was also when a Taliban bomber detonated in a crowded Lahore, Pakistan park where children were lined up for fairground rides. Each network gave the bombing just one report. And, although it occurred just 10 days after the State Department had recognized ISIS’s anti-Christian genocide, none made a connection.
CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley introduced a report from Lahore saying, “Well the complexity of Islamic extremism has reached again into Pakistan where at least seventy-two people enjoying an afternoon in the park were killed by a suicide bomber. The attack in the city of Lahore was an assault on Christians on their most sacred holy day.”
Pelley was surely right about the intent and timing of the attack, but there is nothing complex about trying to kill as many innocent Christians as possible. To suggest there is obscures the fact that genocide, “the crime of crimes,” is ongoing.
Genocide, According to the Networks' Own Evidence
It would be disingenuous to say the plight of Christians under the boot of ISIS has been well covered by ABC, CBS and NBC – their reporting has been sporadic and largely superficial. But it has been thorough enough for an interested observer to conclude that something above and beyond routine sectarian violence is going on.
In 2014, ISIS shocked the world when it took over several important Iraqi cities and large swaths of Syria. The terror group immediately began targeting Christians, and the networks began to note the persecution.
On Easter Sunday 2014, NBC correspondent Duncan Golestani visited a “battle-scarred church in the ancient Christian settlement of Maaloula,” Syria, “a country that gets ever more dangerous for Christians.”
The following month, CBS foreign correspondent Allen Pizzey reported from Amman, where Pope Francis “told representatives of the estimated 20,000 Syrian Christians who are now refugees in Jordan that he prayed reason and restraint would prevail in their homeland.”
The same day, May 24, Anne Thompson told viewers that, “Despite the historic sites here, Christians are a shrinking minority in the Holy Land.” The next day the pope would be in Bethlehem, “which was 87 percent Christian in 1947, today just 18 percent.”
Thompson might have noted that the birthplace of Christ is hardly the only place in the Middle East where Christians are disappearing. The Economist noted in January 2016 that “Christians have seen their numbers dwindle across the region from 14 percent in 1910 to just 4 percent today.”
ISIS is working to accelerate the trend. In the summer of 2014, the terror group took Mosul and Tikrit, spurring President Obama to authorize airstrikes against ISIS forces. On August 9, the president said Iraqi Christians face genocide, a charge repeated by his Secretary of state. CBS foreign news correspondent Holly Williams reported from Erbil, Iraq: “In a frenzy of violence, ISIS surged into northern Iraq two months ago. It carried out public executions, targeting religious minorities, including Iraqi Christians.”
On Aug. 10, NBC anchor Brian Williams said that ISIS had “been rooting out Christians and other religious minorities, 40,000 of whom are said to be on the run and in great danger.” In addition, 150,000 who could not retreat were “under siege,” according to ABC correspondent Jonathon Karl. Nearby, a mass grave of 500 people was discovered. Some had been buried alive.
Karl found Christians taking refuge in St. Joseph’s Church in Erbil, “where the pastor told us Iraqi Christians are facing extinction.”
Not far away, 15,000 Christians and Yazidis who had taken refuge on a Syrian mountain were being starved out by another ISIS siege. The Yazidis, a people whose “religion is a blend of traditions including Christianity” according to CBS’s Scott Pelley, had been singled out by the militants because they believe they’re devil worshippers.”
Talking to the governor of the province of Ninevah, CBS correspondent Holly Williams asked, "Is this a potential genocide?" Atheel Al-Nujaifi replied, "I think yes. They want – even to kill the Yazidis, or they change their religion."
"They're trying to force them to convert to Islam?" Williams asked.
Al-Nujaifi replied, "Yeah, they come – they come to force them to Islam, or to kill them."
Other network reports from 2014 – 2016 continued to sound the alarm, without saying exactly what they were alerting viewers to. When NBC’s Richard Engel said in September 2014, “ISIS is giving Christians three choices – convert to Islam, be killed or run,” and the network’s Bill Neely said “Syria’s Christians are horrified today at the latest ISIS beheading,” the pattern they were relating was left unacknowledged.
In November 2014, Engel reported that, on a visit to Turkey, Pope Francis had declared “ISIS must be stopped before Christians are expelled from the very region where their faith was born.” On July 26, 2015, Keir Simmons of NBC Nightly News said “In the past five years, in a region where Christianity was born, huge numbers have taken flight.” A Christian that Simmons interviewed said that “40 percent – 40 percent, they emigrate.”
When 40 percent of any population disappears amid violence and persecution, any journalist worth his salt will find it difficult not to use the word genocide, but NBC’s team managed it.
This preponderance of evidence – collected by the networks themselves – along with the terrorists’ declaration of intent should have convinced the networks that horror rose to the level of genocide. CBS’s Williams herself used the term in that August 10 report.
But why not after that? Why did it take until Kerry’s designation of genocide in March 2016 to air the term again? The networks ignored declarations from international and national bodies and U.S. legislators, the pleas of religious leaders and their own reporting in refusing to call the thing what it is.
Out of Africa
The choreographed beheading of Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach in February 2015 was just the highest profile anti-Christian crime taking place in Africa.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Islamist movements, many sworn to ISIS or al Qaeda, routinely attack Christian villages, churches and schools. The Religion of Peace keeps a database of Islamic terror attacks, including a category of attacks specifically on Christians. Many of them occurred in Iraq and Syria, but many more took place in Africa. A few examples:
- Feb. 24, 2016, Agatu, Nigeria: “Radical Islamic mercenaries sweep through a series of Christian villages and slaughter over three hundred, including pregnant women and children.” They left 300 dead.
- July 26, 2015, Tchebe-Tchebe, Cameroon: “Boko Haram behead [sic] three villagers and set fire to their church.”
- Nov. 22, 2014, Mandera, Kenya: Muslims “stop a bus, single out and slaughter twenty- eight non-Muslims (including nine women) after identifying them as Christians.”
- Sept. 9, 2014, Ngakobo, Central African Republic: “A priest and three members of his congregation are among thirteen massacred by Muslim ‘rebels.’”
There are hundreds more such examples, with victims numbering between one and hundreds. Only the most spectacular have made the network news, like the April 2015 slaughter at a university in Garissa, Kenya.
Again, the networks reported the sectarian nature of the attack by the Islamist group al Shabaab that killed 148 Christians and wounded nearly 100 more. On April 2, ABC chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz recounted how “the gunmen were methodical, reportedly demanding to know who was Muslim and who was Christian. Anyone who said they were Christian was killed on the spot.”
On April 3, CBS correspondent Deborah Patta spoke with a survivor who “repeatedly heard the attackers single out Christians.”
“They were being asked some few questions from the Koran,” Daisy Achieng told Patta. “If you get it correct, you’re spared. If you get it wrong, you’re shot on the spot.”
In 2014, the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls caught the attention of the world. That included First Lady Michelle Obama, whose photograph holding a card bearing the slogan made the Twitter rounds. The networks dutifully introduced viewers to Boko Haram, the Islamist terror group that had kidnapped hundreds of Christian girls in Nigeria. There were occasional updates on the story. On May 12, 2014, NBC`s Stephanie Gosk reported on a video from Boko Haram in which terrorist leader Abubakar Shekau claimed that “The girls have been converted to Islam.”
The next day, CBS’s Patta noted “The mass kidnapping has attracted global concern, but every week dozens of refugees arrive in the capital as Boko Haram continues its wave of violence against Christian families.”
That “global concern” soon evaporated, and with it, the networks’ reporting.
At least ABC’s Terry Moran wasn’t afraid to speak about genocide in Africa – when the victims were Muslim.
Reporting for World News on April 9, 2014, from the civil war-torn Central African Republic, Moran described “Muslims attacking Christians, Christians responding with unspeakable ferocity.” But help was on the way: “Today, a visit by Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, trying to mobilize the world to stop a genocide.”
Clearly, like the Obama administration, the networks are unwilling to accord Christians any special status that might be conveyed by calling their plight genocide – despite all their own reporting.
By making Secretary Kerry state the obvious, Congress forced the administration to overcome its fear of stirring “Islamophobia” and helping Christians onto their “high horse.” Until now, no one has held the networks to account.
The networks haven’t always been so reticent. Almost exactly ten years prior to the first years of ISIS reign of terror, between May 23 2004 and May 21, 2006, the networks called the atrocities in Darfur genocide 39 times. That too was a case of Muslims wiping out Christians (and animists) – largely of Arabs killing blacks.
Even before then-Secretary of State Colin Powell officially determined that the Darfur blood bath was genocide in September 2004 (after being advised that the determination did not obligate the U.S.
to act), the networks were airing the term, albeit cautiously. On July 3, 2004, NBC Nightly News correspondent Jim Maceda reported that the Sudanese “government denies the claim, but it has allowed few journalists into western Sudan to report on what some describe as ‘ethnic cleansing on a massive scale’ and others ‘sheer genocide.’” Both NBC and ABC repeated aired the claim.
In the two years after Powell’s finding on genocide in Darfur, the networks used the term 39 times. Of course, that was during the George W. Bush Administration, when liberals were eager for clubs with which to hit Bush’s foreign policy. Furthermore, actor George Clooney led the way for a group of high- profile celebrities bringing publicity to the horror and pressure on the government.
Unfortunately, there are no A-listers speaking up for Middle Eastern Christians. When U.S. politicians do, they’re hammered by skeptical reporters. In the wake of last fall’s Paris terror attacks, ABC’s Jonathan Karl called “un-American” Ted Cruz’s proposed legislation to temporarily halt granting amnesty to Syrian Muslims and give preference to Syrian Christians. When, on November 16, CBS Evening News quoted Jeb Bush saying, “Because [Christians] are being slaughtered in the country,” the network quickly cut to President Obama calling the idea “shameful” and “not American.”
But the networks should pay attention to their own news magazines, which have done excellent, thorough reporting on ISIS’s anti-Christian genocide – particularly Lara Logan for CBS. Unfortunately, Logan’s September 13, 2015 segment for 60 Minutes stopped short of using the word genocide, but it was an unflinching look at anti-Christian barbarity as ISIS “seeks to erase Christianity from the landscape.”
“Christianity in Iraq,” Logan reported from the Nineveh Plains, “was born in small towns and villages like these. Today some of them are deserted; abandoned because ISIS is forcing Christians out.
“Just like the Nazis marked the property of Jews, Christian homes in Mosul have been marked with this red symbol. It’s the Arabic letter N for Nasara, an early Islamic term for Christians. When ISIS puts it on your home, you either convert to Islam, pay an extortion tax, or face the sword.”
The result: “We’re told, for the first time in nearly two thousand years, there are no Christians left inside Mosul.” Logan asked a resident what he thought ISIS intended to do with Christians. “To wipe them out,” he answered. “To be nothing. No place left that bears the name of Christian or Christianity.”
If that isn’t genocide, the term has no meaning.
MRC Culture analyzed transcripts of ABC, CBS and NBC evening news shows from January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016, searching for the terms “genocide” and “cleansing” applied to Christians in majority-Muslim nations. We did not count anchor-reads (asides or quick notes, or the lead-in to remote or taped reports). When anchor-reads are cited in this report, it is only for emphasis. They were not counted one way or the other.