BBG Watch Commentary

Even when U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) manages to produce more than a perfunctory and at least in parts an excellent news report, something nearly always goes wrong, due to lack of knowledge, bad editing, insufficient facts to support or debunk questionable claims, or something else.

The VOA report, “In Boston Marathon Bombing Trial, a Search for Justice and Closure” is an example of a fairly good, interesting and even comprehensive report until the very end, where it is left unclear as to why the Chechen refugees living in exile in the United States are afraid. There is an implied message that they are afraid of other Americans or are even being actively persecuted.

Some Chechens in America clearly feel that they are persecuted. One Chechen woman implied it in an interview with the Voice of America, which is a fact that should have been reported, and it was reported. But VOA neither questioned such claims nor provided any evidence that they are accurate. VOA went even further and validated some of these unclear or questionable assertions with its own unclear and questionable conclusion

There is no doubt that a Chechen woman being quoted without any challenge from VOA reporters sincerely feels some kind of fear. But the VOA report simply validates her fear without asking any questions or providing any facts for foreign audiences which may be already strongly inclined to believe what the woman says.

Foreign readers exposed to anti-American propaganda can easily assume from reading the rather confusing conclusion of the VOA report, and therefore its most important message, that this fear is due to some kind of massive violent retaliation against the Chechens living in America being perpetrated upon them by other Americans. The VOA report does not document any such incidents because there have been no massive violent hate crimes against the Chechens in the United States. Despite this fact, there is an opposite message in the Voice of America report — a message that one would expect from Russia’s RT, not from VOA.

VOICE OF AMERICA NEWS REPORT – CONCLUSION: “The trial portends renewed grief not only for the victims of the bombing. For the refugees of the Chechen wars and oppression, who came to the New England over the past two decades, settling in the United States was a chance for them to rebuild a semblance of peace and prosperity. The Boston Marathon bombings shattered that dream.
Upon reaching the United States, ‘for the first time in my life I felt that I, my kids, my family – that we are safe and happy here. I prayed for America every evening,’ said Madina Khadzhimuradova, the Tsarnaev family friend.
‘Now it is all gone. I am living in fear again, just like in the old times in Chechnya. We spoke about moving somewhere else, but where can we go? There is no place for Chechens on this Earth.'”

Voice of America writers and editors should have intervened and asked for and provided a clear explanation as to what the Tsarnaev family friend meant by her statement, what kind of fear she was describing.

But in addition to reporting her comment, “the Boston Marathon bombings shattered that dream” [of peace and prosperity in the United States for the refugees of the Chechen wars] is a statement from the Voice of America, which — in our view — is highly misleading because it can be and will be variously interpreted in the United States, but especially abroad.

Millions of Muslims live peaceful and prosperous lives in America and tens of thousands of refugees, including Chechens, still come to the United States every year. VOA’s job was to report what the Chechen woman said. But it was also VOA’s job to put these statements into a proper perspective for foreign audiences by also talking to other Chechens in the United States and to other Americans. VOA should have provided a more complete picture of a complicated situation that generates highly emotional responses from some individuals, especially those directly affected.

While it is true that there was an uptick in Islamophobia following the Boston bombing, there have been also gestures of tolerance, as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported.

There have been no reports of any significant violence against the Chechens in the United States that we could find. No responsible and objective observer would say that a Chechen in America has to live in fear as if she or he were living in Chechnya during the war, as the Voice of America reported to the world in an unchallenged and unexplained quote.

Are Chechens living in the United States afraid of terrorists among themselves, other terrorists, or are they afraid of some kind of retaliation from other Americans? If it’s the latter, where are the facts and the evidence to support such an implied charge? It seems rather clear that the message being conveyed in the concluding paragraphs of the VOA article was that America is unsafe for the Chechens and offers no hope for them of peace and prosperity.

Is that message true? We don’t think so.

The Voice of America had an obligation to provide evidence for its own statement that the Boston Marathon bombings “shattered” “a chance for them” [the Chechens] “to rebuild a semblance of peace and prosperity” in the United States. VOA should have explained its statement and seek and present comments from other Chechens living in the U.S. to support it. If most of them also feel that way, which we doubt, VOA should have tried to explain to foreign audiences why this may be the case instead of making a categorical statement.

Being a Chechen in the United States appears to us to be by far much safer and economically far better for any productive individual than being a Chechen in Russia or in many other countries. We have not seen any reports of a significant violent backlash specifically against the Chechens living in America or reports of their inability to find productive work simply because of being Chechen.

How many Chechens were killed by the Russian Army? Tens of thousands, if not more. How many Chechens were killed in the United States, not counting the one suspected Chechen terrorist who died in the shootout with the police?

For the Voice of America to say that the Boston Marathon bombing shattered the dream of Chechens living peacefully in the United States is, in our view, a major exaggeration and a wrong message to send to foreign audiences unfamiliar with America.

“The article conveys in its conclusion a gross misrepresentation of the Chechen community in the United States,” one American reader observed.

If the writers and the Chechen woman being quoted only meant the potential threat from terrorists, this threat is the same for all Americans. This part was not made at all clear in the VOA report and, in our view, this report will confuse a lot of foreign readers.

The VOA report also does not say that the mother of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that her “innocent sons were framed.” According to an ABC News report “she also seemed to endorse conspiracy theories that the U.S. government was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, suggesting the same people killed her sons.”

VOA should be debunking conspiracy theories rather than possibly helping to start and reinforce new ones.

Again, we have nothing against VOA quoting the Tsarnaev family friend or have any doubt that she truly believes in what she says. Her feelings are no doubt authentic, but are they representative of the entire Chechen community in the United States? VOA should have answered that question.

We’re also not questioning that probably many Chechens and many other Muslims in America feel uncomfortable and are exposed to various forms of unpleasantness, and in some cases illegal discrimination.

But do they “live in fear” of their lives or safety, as the VOA article seems to at least imply? Are they as threatened in the United States as they would be in Chechnya? This also seems to be the concluding message of the VOA report. We are not calling for making America look good. We’re simply asking for presenting America as it is and for questioning false stereotypes and unfounded claims.

In our view, VOA failed to put the whole situation into a proper perspective. Voice of America made it even more confusing and misleading for foreign audiences by its own questionable assertions for which it failed to provide any evidence.

Still compared to many other perfunctory VOA news reports, this one was at least highly informative and interesting in most parts. Too bad that this VOA report, which could have been outstanding and included some excellent original reporting work, ended with a confusing and untrue message for foreign audiences. The report needed a good editor.

It is also possible that the report was badly mangled in editing, which has happened to many other good VOA news reports and reporters before. Whatever the cause, it was posted online, thus giving poorly informed foreign audiences a distorted view of America and reinforcing rather than debunking false stereotypes.

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