What about the American hostages being held by Hamas?

This week’s news cycle doesn’t feel like one where Hamas is holding as many as 13 American citizens hostage. The coverage of the hostages, their families, and U.S. efforts to secure the hostages’ release is out there — the Associated Press, PBS, Newsweek, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, among others — but it feels like check-the-box journalism, not the saturation coverage one might expect in such dramatic, life-or-death circumstances. The bombing of the hospital in Gaza, Biden’s visit to Tel Aviv (which is obviously partially related to ongoing efforts to get the hostages released), and the seemingly endless stalemate on replacing Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House seem to be using up all of the oxygen in the news cycle.

Hamas has not released any hostage videos of Americans, and perhaps the hostage angle isn’t front and center in the news coverage of the Israel–Hamas war because the hostage story doesn’t have a visual element, yet. It is also theoretically possible that some newsrooms believe that extensive coverage of the American hostages and terrified families would increase Hamas’s leverage and increase pressure on the U.S. to cut some sort of deal. Maybe not hearing much about the American hostages is good news, or a deliberate choice to maximize the odds of them being released alive and unharmed.

Or maybe a hostile foreign force taking American hostages just isn’t surprising news anymore. (Foreign Policy, April 5, 2023: “The Taliban have detained multiple foreign nationals, including Americans and Europeans, in Afghanistan in what appears to be a systematic roundup by the group, which has a history of holding Westerners hostage to trade for political advantage.”)

Taking American hostages is an increasingly common tactic for gaining leverage over the U.S. government. The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates for the freedom of Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad, issued a report in September that found that “unfortunately, the threat to Americans traveling or working internationally continues to grow.” It added, “Americans are now increasingly targeted and wrongfully detained by other countries, particularly our adversaries: China, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela. Recent unlawful arrests in Russia of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and Olympic athlete Britney Griner illustrate this growing challenge.”

But the members of the media who have long enough memories, or who have at least studied history, probably can remember another Democratic president on whose watch Americans were taken hostage by Islamist extremists in the Middle East, and who lost his bid for reelection: Jimmy Carter. That crisis led to the creation of the program Nightline, a nightly news update that reminded Americans that their fellow countrymen were still being held by Iran.

President Biden is facing more than enough problems already. He’s rather lucky, at the moment, that the hostage crisis is in the background of the story instead of the foreground.

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