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November 30, 2008

Mumbai: All About Us

Holtberg Mumbai.JPG Scherr Mumbai.jpg Victim Mumbai 2.JPGMumbai victims.JPG

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(Click for full sizes)

As is typical, stateside visual coverage of the Mumbai attacks personalize the tragedy for Americans while de-emphasizing and depersonalizing the experience of the Indians.

This pattern is observed, specifically, in the five related slideshows on the story at The highlighting of of the Americans victims is especially unusual, however, given the “out-of-the-mainstream” affiliations of the more prominent victims. The two most recognized casualties, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife, Rivka (#1), (dual American and Israeli citizens) were members of Chabad-Lubavitch, the Orthodox Jewish sect, and Alan Scherr and his daughter, Naomi (#2), were members of Synchronicity, a new age community.

Notice, by the way, how the media photos of the Americans capture them as not just alive-and-well, but also quite personable in warm, familial scenes. In the case of the photographs of Indian victims, on the other hand, most were depicted with distance, in trauma settings, as unidentified wounded. The primary exception (#5) was the funeral for Hemant Karkare, the head of the police antiterrorism unit, although the images of Mr. Karkare still remain rather distant.

Update 1 – 10:20 am PST: Based on the latest information, the F.B.I. and State Department confirm six Americans fatalities out of the 183 so-far confirmed.

Update 2: Just to avoid any confusion, my point has to do with how the human loss is being visually characterized by U.S. media for an American viewership. To that end, I am using the visual coverage by the NYT as a representative example of a pattern in the visual offerings of domestic newswires and the slideshows of other stateside publications. Of course, I would only be so happy to see other domestic examples that contradict this post.

NYT Slideshows: A Night of Terror in Mumbai; Terror Continues in Mumbai; Rescue Efforts in Mumbai; Fighting in Mumbai Narrows; The Final Fight at the Taj.

(image 1 & 2: AP. image 3: Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press. image 4: Iajanish Kakade/Associated Pressimage 5: Michael Rubenstein for The New York Times image 6: European Pressphoto Agency)

  • Books Alive

    We’re not restricted to the NYT. Times of India can be browsed. There are 14 pages in the Mumbai section today. Yesterday’s edition carried photos of some of the well-known businessmen who were killed, and stories of the two five-star hotel general managers.
    For example, Neeti Kang, wife of the General Manager of the Taj, Karambir Kang, locked herself and their two sons into a bathroom when the attack took place in the Taj Hotel, where they subsequently perished.

  • Books Alive

    Times of India seems to require that you use their navigator to page back to Nov. 29. On lower left hand colums of front page, click on the index to enlarge and locate specific stories, including the deaths of the General Manager’s family.

  • Michael Shaw

    I think I didn’t do enough in the initial write-up (must have been the wee hour) to indicate that the focus here is through the eyes of domestic or “stateside” media. (See Update 2.) Sorry for any confusion.

  • Mayalu

    I watched the coverage on CNN Int’l ever since the news broke on Wednesday night and even though the first strikes were at a train station and a hospital the coverage was exclusively focused on the Taj and Oberoi hotels and later on the Chabad House. In my recollection they never showed the scene at the train station or hospital or gave the eyewitness accounts of any common Indian passers-by. There was a brief mention of Mumbai ‘burying the dead(which Hindus would not do). The biggest concern was with the rich and in particular Western elite at the two luxury hotels and later on the four Jews(Scherr is a Jewish name) who died. Not to belittle their deaths but it seems like to CNN even the international channel which is viewed worldwide that poor and working class Indian lives are not worth as much as rich elite Western lives.

  •[email protected]/ DennisQ

    Obama’s big selling point against Hillary was that he opposed the war in Iraq from the outset, and she voted for it. Now that he’s the president-elect, he surrounds himself with advocates for political violence, and there’s no longer any pressure to end the political violence in Iraq. In fact, he wants to escalate the violence in Afghanistan.
    It’s time to review our attitudes toward political violence. It’s a different world now. It doesn’t take much to get a bunch of guys together and make a big splash in the world media. We call them terrorists and murderers but what happened in Mumbai has happened many times over in Iraq. The difference is who’s doing it, not what’s being done.

  • richard dent

    Scherr may or may not be Jewish, but was identified only as part of a New Age organization from Virginia. I don’t understand your reduction of this to “four Jews,” (in fact more than just 2 were killed at Chabad House) and then your comment about “rich elite Western lives.”
    In fact, the attack on innocent clergy sand others at Chabad House has political significance. You didn’t see any other religious organizations attacked. No Christian institutions, for example. This wasn’t even an attack on the Israeli embassy. It seems to me to be Islamic terrorists trying to throw in some Jews to gain support for this bloodbath among people who might otherwise be less enthusiastic.
    Finally, I saw scenes from the train station and interviews with “ordinary” Indians. But the hotels and the Chabad scenes were ongoing for days, making the “best” television, so we saw more of those.

  • Johanna

    Thank you Richard Dent for the interesting explanation of why Jews were thrown in, because they were in peculiarly large numbers given their place in the population. Also, one reason the prior lives of Americans were given more play here than the lives of Indian victims is that the press has a much easier time locating the American families, doing interviews of those who knew the victims, etc. I also agree that a beseiged target is a bigger story than one that is simnply hit.

  • Books Alive

    BAG, I ought to have seen that the discussion was meant to consider domestic reporting. I’ll add that the Chicago Sun-Times featured two Chicagoans on their front page, Judge Benjamin Mackoff and his wife Carol, who survived. I think editors look for any local connections to be found.
    As Johanna mentions, choosing to interview survivors or relatives of victims likely means writing about those who live in your community. In that regard, remember how the Times did stories on each of those who died in the World Trade Towers attack.
    Comparisons of the memorials with candles is another echo of New Yorker’s response to the 9/11 deaths. Not seen at that time is the recent public outcry via people marching, carrying signs protesting violence. A Yahoo slideshow showed the San Francisco demonstration, with participants coming together from outside the city to show their displeasure with extremists. Stoic New Yorkers may not be as impressed by that showing as I am.

  • different clue

    I remember watching a webcast of CBC News (the National). In discussing the attacks, they made very
    sure to mention front and center that two of the dead
    “were Canadians”. So I wonder whether the US media are any more self-centric than any other of the non-Indian media in this case.
    Mayalu, Scherr may be a German name. And the Sherrs certainly look white in that picture. In my strictly layman’s opinion.

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