Manchester: Why the U.S. Named the Bomber and the U.K. Didn’t
By Denny Taylor
I was watching Sky News at the time of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
The newscaster interrupted the discussion that was taking place on the next day’s newspapers and reported that there had been a “loud bang” at the arena in Manchester. Then in typical Brit style the discussion continued about the newspapers. The next interruption was the announcement that Victoria Station in Manchester had been closed and the discussion focused on the location of the arena and train station.
Moments later the friendly banter about Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn and the general election abruptly stopped and all the focus was on Manchester. The cameras panned empty streets. No flashing lights. No people running. No police. The cordon around the arena meant the media could not get close enough to report on what was going on.
Then came a cell phone video. People running down steep steps in the massive complex that contains the arena that had been filled to capacity – 21 thousand people – at the time of the “loud bang”.
The response had been rehearsed. It was fast. Efficient. Close-mouthed. Locked down. A reporter comments on camera that it is almost impossible to get within half a mile of the arena. A video plays of a police dog handler walking with his dog to a silver car in an empty car park. The tail-wagging dog walks around it sniffing and the scene is replayed over and over, but it seems the car has no significance to the emergency.
It is sometime later after many views of empty streets that Sky announces that the “big ban” was a “loud explosion” and still longer before the explosion was acknowledged to be a bomb.
The news of the bombing remained abstract for hours. On camera a reporter stands outside a hospital but there is no word about the wounded and no news of deaths or who died.
The bomber was not mentioned. There were no reports about him until the U.S. announced his name, upsetting the British people as well as the police and the government. The Mayor of Manchester called it “disgusting” and the news reporter on Sky stated that the people he had spoken to in Manchester kept saying, “Do not name him. Nobody say his name.”
Over the course of the next few hours the British public and those around the world streaming Sky and other digital sites learned that 22 people had died and the youngest person to lose her life was an 8-year-old child.
Still the news reporting did not focus on the suicide bomber, and deliberately focused on mourning, remembering, and healing. Over and over again there were commentaries on Manchester and the strength of the community. The city’s diversity was recognized and leaders from world religions stood together at a memorial gathering in the center of Manchester that was attended by thousands of people.
At that memorial the poet Tony Walsh known as “Longfella” read his poem “This is the Place” – a deeply personal, triumphant poem to the people of Manchester and to all of those in the North of England who were the backbone of the Industrial Revolution and who had endured and survived and thrived.
In Manchester Tony Walsh reading his poem and the people who continued to say “don’t name him” changed the narrative that the bomber established. They interrupted his message. Framed it differently. And so while in the US the media, including the New York Times became complicit with the bomber by memorializing his narrative, the UK memorialized the more important human story of compassion and caring and the love that people have for one another rather than messages of hate.
What is important here for those in the US who would like the media to stop reifying aberrant narratives that are grounded in societal pathologies is that there is hope. In troubled times when mass killings take place the people in the US respond in ways similar to their UK counterparts.
When the massacre of kindergarten children took place at Sandy Hook, people made pilgrimages to Newtown and like the people in Manchester left flowers and teddy bears and other toys that children love. They also left letters and poems creating moments reminiscent of the moment when Tony Walsh read, “This is the Place”.
In the book The Children of Sandy Hook vs. the U.S. Congress and Gun Violence in America which deconstructs the ways in which pro-gun Members of Congress defeated the 2013 Automatic Weapon Ban bill, there is also an account of the people’s response in Newtown to the massacre of 20 children and 6 educators. Essentially, the book exposes the deception perpetrated on the people in the US that protecting weapons is more important than protecting children’s lives. This section of the book on the people’s response is included here: