Paris was hit by a series of simultaneous and organized acts of violence late Friday night, with over 129 casualties as a result of the attacks thus far. The event has received a wide range of press coverage, and many myths have been spread in the scramble to understand what happened, as BuzzFeed helpfully notes.
One myth that has not yet been checked, and that major publications throughout the world such as Associated Press have spread, is that the event was the “deadliest violence to strike France since World War II.” This claim has been voiced by world leaders and is repeated in countless news stories about the attacks, even being featured as the headline for several Metroland Media chain articles on the matter.
This claim is not true, as France witnessed a bloodier day in between the Second World War and Friday’s horrors.
On October 17, 1961, thousands of Algerians marched throughout Paris in support of peace talks to end the ongoing war of independence being fought by revolutionaries in Algeria against the French colonial presence. Tensions were heightened at the time, as French police had been brutally cracking down on political dissent from the Algerian community in Paris over the previous few weeks. Baton-wielding police eventually attacked the protesters, as well as other innocent Algerians they searched for throughout the city, and approximately 200 were murdered, according to “The Battle of Paris,” the definitive account of the massacre by the historian Jean-Luc Einaudi, which debunked previous death counts released by French police.
This death count outweighs Friday’s attacks and it is, therefore, inaccurate to call these attacks the deadliest outburst of violence in France since the Second World War. Some publications have used more careful wording, noting that Friday’s events were the deadliest terror attack in France since the Second World War. This claim is true if terror is thought of as only perpetrated by non-state actors.
Journalists must be careful to avoid phrasing that distorts the truth and ignores history.