A history teacher who had shown a class about freedom of expression caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad was beheaded Friday by a man who was later killed by police.
The New York Times headline and subhead on the story was curious, choosing to point out that police killed the man ahead of the fact that the man was a murderer. “French Police Fatally Shoot Man Who Beheaded Teacher on the Street,” read the Times headline. The sub headline was also misleading: “The victim was immediately depicted as a martyr to freedom of expression. France’s antiterrorism prosecutors are investigating the attack, which took place in a suburb north of Paris.”
Given the media’s focus on fatal police shootings in the United States, the framing of the headline and subheadline — which is what will be seen most by users on social media — is a curious choice for the Times. The article itself, however, does not follow this framing.
“A knife-wielding man decapitated a teacher near a school in a suburb north of Paris on Friday afternoon and was later shot dead by the police, officials said, abruptly hitting France with a national trauma that revived memories of recent terrorist attacks,” the Times reported.
The caricatures of Mohammad reportedly outraged Muslim families, one of whom posted a video to YouTube claiming the teacher asked Muslims in the class to leave because “he was going to show a photo that would shock them.”
“Why this hatred? Why does a history teacher act like this in front of 13-year-olds?” the parent asks in the video, according to the Times.
Buried in the Times report is information regarding the assailant, who is described by the paper merely as being of “Russian origin.” A few paragraphs later, the outlet acknowledges that witnesses told French media the attacker yelled “Allahu akbar” as he beheaded the teacher near the school. The man then threatened police officers with the knife he used to kill the teacher and refused to surrender. Police shot him 10 times, killing him.
Reuters deployed the same tactic when describing the assailant, first saying he was “born in Russia” and later saying he was of “Chechen origin.” The main religion in Chechnya is Islam.
The suspect reportedly had no ties to the school.
As the Times reported, the “attack came three weeks after a knife-wielding assailant wounded two people in Paris near the site of the former Charlie Hebdo office — the scene of a 2015 terrorist attack targeting the satirical newspaper for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.”
French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack “an attempt to strike down the republic,” adding that the teacher was a “victim of a terrorist, Islamist attack.”
The teacher was killed “because he taught, because he taught the liberty of expression, the liberty to believe and not believe,” Macron added.
Reuters reported that the suspect asked people on the street outside the school to point out the history teacher he later killed.
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