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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.