The terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters that killed 12 people has completely dominated the news since Wednesday morning, understandably so. Aside from the cold newsroom calculus about what leads, the apparent motivation for the attack was a uniquely offensive one for Americans, particularly for American journalists, and fed into an already-roiling American debate over Islam and terrorism. But other things did happen yesterday and today, and they got reported at least a little bit.
Not so the bombing of an NAACP field office in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at least not for most of the first two days following the bombing. I watch a lot of news, but I only found out about the NAACP bombing when someone on Twitter asked me when/if we might be writing something about it. Outrage over the lack of coverage became evident when the #NAACPBombing hashtag became a top trending topic on Twitter, even as the mainstream media shut the news out almost completely.
The bombing happened on Tuesday, and as of this afternoon, neither Fox News nor CNN had mentioned the story even one, while it took MSNBC until Wednesday afternoon to even mention it. When I was confronted about the story, I was in the middle of juggling a personal emergency and a background piece on the Charlie Hebdo attack, but I took a look at it because it sounded unbelievable that a story like that would just go unreported.
So, here’s what happened: On Tuesday morning, an explosion went off outside the building that houses the local Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP, although according to reports, “The building also houses Mr G’S Hair Design Studios, and the explosion happened closer to the salon’s end of the building.”
No one was killed or injured, and there was only minor damage to the building because a gas can that had been placed near the device failed to ignite. Neither the FBI nor the NAACP would say whether the civil rights organization was even the target of the bombing, although the FBI did release a description of a suspect:
Tuesday evening, the FBI was searching for a possible suspect, described as a white, balding man about 40 years old, driving a newer model white but dirty pickup with a dark bed liner.
Two days later, that’s about where things stand. The group’s volunteers are returning to work, but not much more is known about the attack. I like to think of myself as a very conscious liberal, and at least as down as a feather pillow, but my initial reaction to the story, engulfed as I was by the misery of the Charlie Hebdo story, was to excuse the lack of coverage. I gave it a pretty thorough going-over in my mind. No one was hurt? Barely any damage? No one in custody, no motive, no art? Okay, I thought, they could have squeezed it in somewhere, but from an editorial standpoint, is this really a federal case?
That’s really the whole ballgame, though, isn’t it, because “editorial standpoint” is in the eye of the editorial beholder. To me, the question was “would I even be reading this story if it were a no-injury, no-damage bombing of some building that wasn’t an NAACP headquarters,” because even the most conscious white news editor who is cognizant of the historical context of an attack like this doesn’t live in that context. To a white person (well, to this white person), this is a story that could become news with a little more meat on the bones, maybe a political peg like the vandalism of Barack Obama’s campaign offices in Denver in 2008 and 2012, or maybe the white McCain volunteer who carved a “B” into her face and claimed she was attacked by a Scary Black.
But to someone with a different point of view, this is the manifestation of a lived fear, and a very real threat in the person of an at-large bomber in a country where it’s easy to get guns, in a state where it’s easy to find people to fire them at. This is why we need a diverse news media, because the one we have is not getting the job done, even when it wants to, and especially when it doesn’t.