In the early months of 2015, two separate mass murders in France generated headlines worldwide for their brutality and disregard for human life. In early January, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi entered the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and gunned down 11 employees, then shot dead one police officer on their way out. Last week, in an act of mass murder with more than 12 times the number of victims, 27-year-old pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally guided the plane he was flying straight into the French Alps and killed all 150 people on board. Yet it is only the former murderous act that has been described by politicians and portrayed in the media as an existential threat and an example of terrorism.
The coverage of the Kouachi brothers downplayed their humanity by describing them as calculating, rational, indifferent killing machines. A New York Times article, titled “From Amateur to Ruthless Jihadist in France,” describes “two jihadists in black, sheathed in body armor” who “gave a global audience a ruthless demonstration in terrorism.” The “hardened killer(s)” were said to walk “with military precision,” and “nonchalantly” take a phone call.
The article explains how French security services were unable to prevent the attacks: “The brothers appeared so nonthreatening that surveillance was dropped in the middle of last year.”