Is empathy a zero-sum game? If I extend it to one victimized group, does it diminish the significance of the suffering of another?

Questions about empathy have been percolating since this tweet went viral after the Paris attacks.

Jackjonestv on Twitter

No media has covered this, but R.I.P to all the people that lost their lives in Lebanon yesterday from Isis attacks

The message referred to suicide bombings killing at least 43 people in Beirut just a day before the Paris attacks.

One response came from the news website Vox, which said the tweet was inaccurate, as major news outlets did cover the bombings extensively. Vox also noted that, as wrong as it might feel, the lack of clicks shows readers don’t care.

And the Washington Post published a well-reasoned opinion piece laying out seven reasons why the Paris terrorist attacks were more newsworthy than the ISIS attacks in Beirut.

We had Hatem Bazian on “The California Report” this week to address the issue. He’s a senior lecturer at UC Berkeley and the co-founder of Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the U.S.

Bazian said it’s not simply the quantity of coverage but the kind of coverage people are bemoaning.

“That tweet has to be read as people saying, ‘We don’t see our story,’ ” Bazian said.

In the Paris coverage, we learned intimate, humanizing details of the victims’ lives. For example, on NPR, we learned about Naomi Carrera, a slight blond woman who escaped the massacre.

“Naomi,” as the host called her, had been in the concert hall. When she heard the shootings, she thought she might die. She called her mom to deliver her last words, “I love you.”

These are the kinds of details that help readers connect to the victims and identify with their plights. These are the kinds of details that foster empathy.

Yet with the ISIS terrorist attacks in Beirut, Turkey and Yemen, the coverage was more about statistics, Bazian said.

“We don’t hear about the 6-year-old,” he said. “What was his name? How was his relations with his mother? How many kids were killed in the bombing. Were they playing soccer?”

Instead, he said, we get the facts: Two bombings took place in Lebanon and 43 died.

“It’s not the fact that the Paris attacks are not important,” Bazian said. “Rather than see it as a zero-sum game, we need to see that our life stories are interconnected.”

And that in expanding our understanding of tragedies occurring in an increasingly interconnected planet, we can expand our understanding of ourselves.

Paris vs. Lebanon Attacks — Is Empathy a Zero-Sum Game? 24 March,2016Queena Sook Kim

  • Damiana

    Queens Kim – did you attempt to get a recent count of dead and injured? I keep seeing the same number of dead, but no updates on how the injured are faring and if more people have succumbed to their injuries.

    The irony of Paris being attacked the day after the former Paris of the Middle East is chilling. That’s a theme worth exploring.

    Yet, that area of Beirut is said to be a Hezbollah stronghold, and there’s been no follow up information about that. Can you clarify?

    Here is more on why my focus has been more on Paris. I’ve had discussions with friends this week which helped me better understand my feelings.

    – There were multiple locations, more dead and more injured.

    – The Bataclan situation took awhile to come to an end, thus resulting in a drawn out situation that let us watch live from around the globe.

    – France24 has a big following in the US, so the info was more available to me.

    -France is the oldest ally of the US. As a western woman, I more relate to her culture than I do to Lebanese culture. When I start to see Muslim women treated better, maybe my view will change.

    -Paris isn’t only a destination. Paris is an ideal and a state of mind. A wonderful illustration of this is the brief interview with Danielle, the older Parisienne who passionately expressed French ideals – including solidarity with Muslims.


Queena Sook Kim

Queena Sook Kim is the Senior Editor of the Silicon Valley Desk. In this role, she covers the intersection of technology and life in the Bay Area. 

Before taking this post, Queena was the host of The California Report. The daily morning show airs on KQED in San Francisco, one of the nation’s largest NPR affiliates, and on 30 stations across the state. In that role, she produces and reports on news, politics and life in the Golden State. Queena likes to take sideways look at the larger trends changing the state. One of her favorite stories asked why Latino journalists “over’pronounce” their Spanish surnames as a way of looking at how immigration is creating a culture shift in California.

Before joining The California Report, Queena was a Senior Reporter covering technology for Marketplace, the daily business show that airs on public radio. Queena covered daily tech business stories and reported on larger technology trends. She did a series of stories looking at role of social engineering in hacking and on a start-up in Silicon Valley that’s trying to use technology, instead of animals, to make meat that bleeds.

Queena started her career as a business journalist at the Wall Street Journal, where she spent four years covering the paper, home building and toy industries. She wrote A1 stories about the unusually aggressive tactics KB Home took against its home buyers. and the resurgence of “Cracker” architecture in Florida. She also wrote section front stories on marketing trends and

As a journalist, Queena has spent much of her career helping start-up editorial products. She was on the founding editorial team of The Bay Citizen, an experimental, online news site in San Francisco that was funded by the late hillbilly billionaire Warren Hellman. In 2009, Queena received a grant from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting to start-up a podcast called CyberFrequencies, which reported on the culture of technology. She also helped start-up two radio shows - Off-Ramp and Pacific Drift - for KPCC, the NPR-affiliate in Los Angeles. Off-Ramp was awarded 1st Place for news and Public Affairs programming by the PRINDI and the L.A. Press club. Queena’s stories have appeared on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, WNYC’s Studio 360, WBUR’s Here and Now, BBC’s Global Perspectives and New York Times’ multimedia page.

In 1994, Queena won a Fulbright Grant to teach and study in Seoul, South Korea. She was also selected to be a Teach For America Corps Member in 1991 and taught elementary school in the Inglewood Unified School District in Southern California.

Queena is a frequent public speaker and has given talks at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, San Francisco State University, PRINDI conference and the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp. Queena went to UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and graduated cum laude from New York University with a B.A. in Politics. She grew up in Southern California and lives in Berkeley, Ca in a big fixer on which she spends most weekends, well, fixing.

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