Terrorists use the media to communicate with their followers, recruits and potential targets. The Western media is only too willing to be used.
The media benefits from sensational coverage of terrorism by higher numbers of viewers, readers and advertising dollars. The media also informs, even if some of the information terrorizes.
ISIS desires to create a caliphate over which it exercises total control. Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas and the rest have somewhat less ambitious goals of conquest, but each uses shocking, deadly acts to build their brand as ruthless fighters to whom resistance is allegedly futile. Their actions have limited consequences if they cannot get their message out.
Terrorism is ISIS’ communications strategy of choice. Unfortunately, as it seeks to inform, Western media encourages terrorists through its choice of coverage and the language it uses. Screenwriters agonize for days over which word to use in a script to convey exactly the right message. Stand up comedy often turns on the precise choice of phrase. But the media has fallen into patters of reportage of deadly incidents that convey a message other than the intended one.
It should be noted there are brilliant, courageous members of the media who daily put their lives at risk covering conflicts around the world. At least 1197 journalists have been killed in the last 25 years, with seventy-three killed in 2015 alone. Daniel Pearl (The Wall Street Journal) and David Bloom (NBC) are two of those most well-known victims. This article is not about them, and is in a sense a tribute to them.
THE MEDIA ENCOURAGES TERRORISTS BY PUBLICIZING CLAIMS OF “RESPONSIBILITY”
The media should never report, “ISIS claims responsibility for the attack.” First of all, nothing about these attacks are responsible. They are cowardly, heinous attacks. The concept of responsibility exists in a different dimension than terrorists.
The media shouldn’t say, “ISIS claims responsibility for the attack.” Instead, the media should say, “ISIS admits guilt for the attack.”
The use of the term “guilt” suggests that it was a crime, which it was. “Admitting guilt” is what criminals do. “Claiming responsibility” is a nice sanitized term that implies reasoned action. We all want to be responsible, right? Terrorist are responsible to nothing but their ideology. They are guilty of terrorizing us. The media should tell it like it is.
THE MEDIA ENCOURAGES TERRORISTS BY TAKING THEIR WORDS WITHOUT QUESTION
The media plays into the hands of the terrorists by allowing itself to be easily duped by claims of involvement in attacks. All it takes is one spokesperson to say “We did it” for the reporters to be running to their smartphones to lodge the story. Where’s the proof? The media should demand to see actual evidence of everything the terrorists say.
Terrorists are willing to kill scores of people with a truck. They’re not going to be afraid to lie. Make them prove their claims.
Proof. Evidence. Phone logs. Pictures. Video. Before you believe a terrorist’s words, make them prove it. There’s a two source rule for reporting. The media should insist on two sources and original documentation.
THE MEDIA ENCOURAGES TERRORISTS BY PUBLICIZING THEIR IMAGES OF “TERRORIST PORN”
Andy Warhol famously said, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” ISIS wants round-the-clock publicity. Its intent is to terrorize society twice for each attack.
The media must realize that its coverage of an attack terrorizes society a second time.
Thus, every newscast about a terrorist atrocity furthers the terrorist’s clause. Endless repetition enhances the image they want to portray to the world.
If ISIS puts out a video, they want us to see it. So don’t show it. Its as simple as that. And don’t repeat their names, either. Terrorists rely on Western media to spread their message, create fear and recruit followers. the Western media should deny them an effective media platform. I acknowledge using the truck driver’s photo as the featured image for this article. I was looking for an image that conveyed the concept of terrorism in a non-exploitative way, and that is the image I chose.
The media should look at what the terrorists want regarding publicity, and then do the opposite.
There is an opposing school of thought that believes if we don’t see exactly what they are doing, we won’t feel strongly enough to be wiling to fight them. Personally I have enough faith in the power of words to be able to imagine horrific scenes without seeing a head oddly misplaced on a body. You can get through life and be anti-terrorist without viewing that image, which can never be unseen.
Granted, people want to know what happened, but is our society enhanced by endless repetition, and the showing of images of terrorist porn; of bodies that are not intact? This writer thinks not. Adults can find it on the internet if they want. The media should not make it easy for them, just for the sake of viewers, clicks or page views. Writer and former Member of Parliament Louise Mensch wrote recently of reports of torture at the Bataclan nightclub in France. Nobody needed pictures to get the idea.
THE MEDIA SHOULD AVOID SENSATIONALIST COVERAGE OF TERRORIST ATTACKS
Studies have shown that sensationalist media coverage of terrorist acts results in more such acts being committed.
Avoiding sensationalist coverage includes keeping terrorism, and the threat of terrorism, in perspective.
To hear politicians and pundits, terrorists have every one of us in their sights, and they are living next door. In truth, the odds are infinitesimal that any of us will ever face a terrorist attack. For example, eighty four people were killed in Nice, France last week. Meanwhile, 736 Americans were killed in auto accidents over the same period. Terrorism is not new to the world. There were terrorist bombings in New York in 1919. But we survived then, and we’ll survive now.
A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE OF WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT
It is not clear at this time whether the man who killed 84 people in a truck was motivated by either politics or religion, but the media has labeled the event terrorism and accepted ISIS’ statement that it praised the attack as proof that it was guilty of the attack. Reporter Jim Naureckas of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), a media watchdog, makes these points in an excellent analysis. His thesis is that the claim of terrorism was based on the driver’s ethnicity and not evidence.
The media narrative thus adopts the destructive claims of the Donald Trumps and the Newt Gingriches of the world who blame Radical Islam for Terrorism for all that ails the world. They fail to acknowledge that the vast, vast majority of victims are Muslims, themselves. Its not about religion. Its about power.
Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren believe that it is self-defeating to blame all Muslims for the attacks even if the perpetrators are also Muslim, as we need the support of Muslim countries to battle the scourge of terrorism. The solution cannot be imposed from Washington or London or Paris. Islam must heal Islam.
HOW CAN THE MEDIA SHOW THE EFFECTS OF TERRORISM WITHOUT SHOWING IMAGES OF DEAD BODIES?
Photo:2016 Nice attack shoes abandoned By Jesmar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
Cover photo: ID photograph of Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, perpetrator of the 14 July 2016 Attack in Nice, via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.