Is global television coverage the real cause of terrorism?

July 11, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

I’ve been thinking about why terrorism is such a hot topic these days.  I mean, bombs aren’t new; they’ve been around for centuries.  Religious fanatics obviously aren’t new; they’ve been around for millenia.  Fear isn’t new; it’s been around since the Dawn of Mankind.  People who are desperate or angry enough to die for a cause they believe in aren’t new, either.  So, what is it about today’s world that makes terrorism such a Big Deal?  As I see it, there is only one important factor that exists today that hasn’t existed before:  a global television industry hungry for sensational news stories.

What gives terrorists the power to capture world attention?  It’s not the ability to blow things up; it’s the ability to capture worldwide television air time.  Just like soccer’s World Cup or BrAngelina’s baby born in Africa, terrorists get their notoriety from the free publicity given to them by the world’s media giants.  Turn back the calendar a few decades and even the attack on Pearl Harbor probably didn’t get the sort of immediate, graphic, global television coverage that, say, last year’s London subway bombing received.

So, what is the best way to stop terrorism?  It’s probably not by trying to identify terrorists before they strike.  Instead, what if the world’s big media giants just stopped reporting terrorist attacks?  Would people blow themselves up knowing that those they wanted to terrorize would not even know about it?  Unlikely.

This is why the so-called “War on Terrorism” is not just going to prove futile; it’s going to prove counterproductive.  A “war” just attracts more media coverage…and media coverage attracts terrorists the way a light attracts moths:  turn up the light and you just attract more moths.  Accordingly, no matter how many dollars and lives are sacrificed in the “War on Terrorism,” we can predict that terrorist attacks will not only continue, but will likely get worse:  because the media (not the public) is addicted to them and no one is going to put a stop to that.

Of course, this raises a much deeper question:  is society better off censoring its press or accepting an increased risk of terrorist attacks?  Most people, including this author, would prefer to accept a higher risks in exchange for a free press.  But we should, at least, remember that we’re doing so.  And so should the media conglomerates, which are just as free to reduce their reporting of attacks as they are to increase it. 


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Category: American Culture, Iraq, Media

About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (1)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Grumpy: I sense you are overstating your case to make your worthy point. Some violence would have a huge local and even regional imprint without any media coverage (e.g., the WTC attack). I suspect that frustrated people will still blow some things up even without media coverage. But I agree that the corporate media and its consumers have glorified violent acts and threats of violence and even the notion of violence. We've put it on the corporate/consumer altar because it compels the attention of two types of people: 1) those who are genuinely concerned for their community and their safety and 2) those who thrive on the images and adrenaline as a form of entertainment.

    Even those who try to not obsess about the violent images in a pornagraphic way often get caught up these "terrorism" reports. Human animals just seemed geared to immediate sorts of dangers more than others. You know, the huge towers came crushing down, people screaming and several thousand died. It was compelling viewing.

    But what did we do about that other huge terrorist attack that repeatedly occurred each year, 2001, 2002, 2003 . . . and continues to this day? I'm talking about that corporate terrorist attack that kills 400,000 Americans every year. The attack I'm describing causes long tortured deaths, ruining many families and robbing us of many skilled workers. I'm talking, of course, about cigarette smoking.

    The corporate media doesn't often attack the corporations that peddle THIS form of disease and death. You see, the tobacco companies are too big–they pay the corporate media to advertise lots of their products, making it, shall we say, inconvenient, to attack the left hand when you are being fed by the right hand.

    It appears to be a human vulnerability (one of many) that quick deaths, those by explosion, bullets and fires, appear more salient than slow deaths. Human animals just have a hard time caring about insidious evil.

    Certainly, there are more responsible ways for television to report dramatic acts of terrorism. Television reporters really could try to stop salivating as they view the images over and over. If it looks to the viewers like the television reporters (based on their facial expressions and voice tones) are viewing pornography, I'd say they are beyond responsible reporting.  I therefore agree with you that a more restrained approach could make some violent acts less rewarding for some terrorists. But then again, there are those ratings to consider . . .

    In so many ways that we are victimized these days, we the victims lack clean hands.

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