In the global news game, it's easy to make overstatements. WorldViews knows this all too well.
But a recent news report in CNN has spawned a particularly heated (and amusing) backlash. An article ahead of President Obama's visit to the African nation described it as a "hotbed of terror."
— CNN (@CNN) July 23, 2015
"President Barack Obama is not just heading to his father's homeland, but to a hotbed of terror," read the CNN Web story's opening sentence as well as a tweet from the news network's Twitter account. It was followed up on television with the following heavy-handed chyron, which was picked up by bemused Kenyan observers.
— Chris Kirubi (@CKirubi) July 23, 2015
Soon, the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN started trending in Kenya, with hundreds of comments about the misrepresentation of their country in the Western media.
— Nation FM (@NationFMKe) July 23, 2015
— Masaku (@masaku_) July 23, 2015
— KENYA PICS (@KENYAPICS) July 23, 2015
Kenya has indeed been the location of a number of tragic terror attacks in recent times, largely carried out by the militant group al-Shabab, which is based across the border in Somalia and has been at war with the Kenyan military for years. But to imply that it was, first, generating this sort of terrorism itself and, second, that this somehow posed a security concern for Obama's hotly-anticipated trip was unfair.
Some Kenyan Twitter users pointed to what they said were American double-standards.
— Christopher Kirwa (@chriskirwa) July 23, 2015
Others responded with rather biting humor:
— Wateba 2.0 (@iWateba) July 23, 2015
— EatOut (@EatOutKenya) July 23, 2015
— Elnathan John (@elnathan) July 23, 2015
Former CNN journalist and native Kenyan Zain Verjee wrote a blog post both defending and criticizing her previous employer. She first emphasized a distinction between the domestic and international wings of CNN's news operation:
CNN USA is a very different beast to CNN international. It’s like two separate worlds really. CNN USA is driven by much more by short-term gain, higher drama with a daily pressure of ratings and the need to win the minute. CNN international is more nuanced, not driven by the business of daily ratings. There is there’s a much more sophisticated internal approach to Africa programming and reporting.
But she stood up for many former colleagues:
The entire CNN network should not be slammed for a ‘font’ that popped up on one package: “hotbed.” That font was generated by a single writer, or producer, who didn’t know better, or should have known better. I’ve worked at CNN most of my life. There are anchors, producers, writers, reporters and managers that are excellent journalists, that I respect greatly, who have visited Kenya, like Kenya and get the nuances, and gave me personally, a lot of freedom to tell great Kenya stories over 14 years.
Verjee added that it was up to Kenyans and other Africans to build their "own influential storytelling platforms" that get their message heard on a global stage.
For what it's worth, a cartoonist for one of the nation's leading newspapers already understands the universal power of the "Minions" meme.
— gathara (@gathara) July 23, 2015
In response to the backlash, CNN appeared to have altered the online story's text, and appended this editor's note to the story: "The headline and lead of this article has been recast to indicate the terror threat is a regional one."