Malala's Missing Message: Peace Prize Winner's Criticism of Obama's Drones Removed from US Media Reports
October 16, 2014
Peter Hart / Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
On October 10, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai -- who received worldwide attention after being attacked by the Taliban for her advocacy for girls' education -- was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi. Yousafzai's work on educational equity is well-known. But less well-known is what she said to Barack Obama about how his wars were undermining the fight against terrorism.
Missing Malala's Message of Peace: Drones Fuel Terrorism
Peter Hart / Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
(October 10, 2014) -- On October 10, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai -- who received worldwide attention after being attacked by the Taliban for her advocacy for girls' education -- was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi. Yousafzai's work on educational equity is well-known. But less well-known is what she said to Barack Obama about how his wars were undermining the fight against terrorism.
Last year, Yousafzai's White House meeting with Barack Obama received wide media coverage. But as I pointed out back then (FAIR Blog, 10/15/13), part of Yousafzai's message didn't make it into most media accounts: She told Obama that drone strikes in her country were fueling more terrorism.
After the meeting, she released a statement that included this:
I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact.
As Rania Khalek reported in Extra! (12/13), this part of her message wasn't suited for US television:
In the week following the meeting, ABC, NBC and CBS aired 20 Malala Yousafzai -- related stories, according to a search of the Nexis news media database. But not one of them mentioned her comments about US drone strikes.
After Yousafzai's award, she was back in the headlines; the news about the Nobel Peace Prize made it onto every network newscast. But once again, her message to Obama was absent -- a curious omission, given the context.
CBS This Morning was one of the few outlets that covered her drone comments the first time around, so it replayed an excerpt of an interview with Norah O'Donnell on October 10:
O'DONNELL: Is it true that when you spoke with President Obama, that you talked about your concern that drone attacks are fueling terrorism?
YOUSAFZAI: The first thing is that, it is true that when there's a drone attack, those -- the terrorists are killed, it's true, but 500 and 5,000 more people rise against it, and more terrorism occurs, and more bomb blasts occur. So for that reason, I think the best way to fight against terrorism is do it through peaceful way, not through war, because I believe that a war can never be ended by a war.
O'DONNELL: And you said that to President Obama?
YOUSAFZAI: Yes, of course.
CBS Evening News (10/10/14) aired an excerpt from the same interview that night, but it wasn't this part.
Maybe it just takes some outlets longer to get around to talking about this. We noted last year that ABC reported Yousafzai's critique of US policy 11 weeks after her visit (FAIR Blog, 1/2/14). And in a report last week about the Nobel Prize, the New York Times (10/10/14) mentioned in the first paragraph that she "confronted President Obama about American drone policy in a meeting last year."
Drones, the Media and Malala's Message
Peter Hart / FAIR
WASHINGTON, DC (October 15, 2013) -- Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai's visit to the United States was widely covered in the media, including interviews with ABC's Diane Sawyer (10/11/13), CNN's Christiane Amanpour (10/14/13) and Jon Stewart of the Daily Show (10/8/13). She was selected as ABC's "Person of the Week" on October 11, and was considered a serious contender for the Nobel Peace Prize.
And for good reason; just one year ago, Malala was attacked by the Taliban for her outspoken advocacy on behalf of educational equality, surviving a an attack where she was shot in the head.
But one part of her message didn't seem to penetrate the corporate media.
During her October 11 visit to the White House, Yousafzai told Barack Obama that his administration's drone strikes were fueling terrorism. As McClatchy's Lesley Clark (10/11/13) reported:
In a statement released after the meeting, Malala said she was honored to meet with Obama, but that she told him she's worried about the effect of US drone strikes. (The White House statement didn't mention that part.)
"I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees," she said in the statement. "I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact."
This exchange, for some reason, didn't register in a corporate media that followed Malala's visit, and her story, very closely.
This is in keeping with other media patterns we've seen. Earlier this year, Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni writer and activist, came to Washington to deliver moving testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the effect of drone strikes on his country:
"What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America."
His words received scant coverage in the US media (FAIR Blog, 4/24/13).
If Americans wish to understand how US wars are experienced by those on the other side of the military attacks, it is important to hear these voices. But will US media allow these voices to be heard?
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