Thoughts on the Media's Role in sustaining Terrorism

by Roger Bourke White, Jr., copyright August 2004

Balanced Reporting?

On July 22nd, 2004, a large commercial building in Suwon, Korea caught fire. The fire lasted for roughly twelve hours, and at its height the flames were gushing out of the top two floors while fire engines with huge fire hoses were spraying away to knock the flames down. It was quite spectacular to watch. I know because I was watching and photographing it from my office window, a few blocks away.

Big Fire in Suwon, Korea

The damage done: tens of millions of dollars for the building proper, and another tens of millions for the inconvenience of, first, cleaning up, and second, not having the building there for a few months while it gets rebuilt. (No lives were lost.)

But, spectacular as this fire was, I could not find an article about it in the Korea Herald (Korea's largest English language newspaper), The Asian Wall Street Journal, or using Google News Search on the Internet.

On July 25th, 2004, a United Boeing 747 airplane turns around 90 minutes after taking off from Sydney, Australia, and returns to Sydney airport. Why? Someone wrote "BOB" on a "barf bag" and dropped the bag near a toilet. Instead of assuming this meant the name Bob, or "Best of Breed" or "Best on Board" or "Boobs on Bounce" or something else innocuous, the pilot assumed this meant "Bomb on Board", and went into Anti-terrorist Panic.

The damage done: tens of thousands of dollars for the aborted flight, and little follow-on damage because all the passengers departed the next day safely.

But, stupid and low damage as this incident was, I found stories about it on Google News Search for two days, and in The Asian Wall Street Journal.

What does these two news items have to do with the War on Terrorism?

What do these two reports have to do with the War on Terrorism? They show why Terrorism and the War on Terrorism are both alive and booming today.

The first report has nothing to do with Terrorism, but in spite of it's decent visual nature, suitability for sound biting, and big economic impact, it's hardly reported. The second report has no decent graphics and no economic impact, but it's hot news for two days.

This means that Big Media is subsidizing terrorism.

Screw the "Muslim Charities", track down Big Media!

This kind of reporting means: screw the Muslim charities, the biggest source of financial support for terrorism is American- and World- media!

The terrorists, with full media support, are taking Page One from the Marketing 101 textbook:

Big Media is wholeheartedly behind the terrorists in this marketing strategy. Ever since the 9-11 Disaster, the news media have been filling up the "news hole" with a big percentage of stories with terrorist-related hooks. This kind of reporting is de facto subsidizing terrorism.

Breaking the News-terrorist linkage

As long as terrorist-related activities are considered hot news events, fighting the War on Terrorism will be as successful as fighting the War on Drugs was last decade. It will be a case of new fires popping up to replace any old fires that get beaten down -- the war will never be "won" in the sense that we can return to a pre-9-11 "bliss" when we didn't see "a terrorist behind every Bush."

To get back to that blissful state, we must work specifically for that blissful state. This means speaking out directly to the media and encouraging them to NOT report every terrorist "angle" in the news flow they see and generate.

How can we do this? I propose the following steps:


If this "reporting code" is self-imposed by Media, with public knowledge of it, the advertisers themselves will do much of the monitoring. With this kind of discount in place, Media can quickly learn to report news without waving the red banner of terrorism, and we will return to "pre-9-11 bliss" in our news reporting.


The Good News of Good News

We are in a vicious circle of fear causing more fear, and this fear is becoming institutionalized. We need to break this circle of fear and get back to living in a circle of optimism. This is not impossible, or naive. We simply have to believe in Roosevelt's Truism, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." A key element in regaining optimism and dismantling the institutions of fear is changing how Media report on terrorism. Media must live up to their own words about how they run their industry, and become truly "responsible" in their reporting on terror. This means being "brave" enough not to do hysterical reporting at every opportunity. This Terrorism Discount I propose is a way of "adding courage" to each and every media person, so it's easier for those in the industry to choose "doing the right thing."

When we break the cycle of fear, we as a community can do something that's been very slow to happen: truly get beyond the 9-11 Disaster and go back to being optimistic Americans -- the kind of Americans we all like the best, and the kind that will do the best things for the whole world.

Update: This 8 Nov 13 WSJ editorial, What Mass Killers Want—And How to Stop Them Rampage shooters crave the spotlight, and we should do everything possible to deprive them of it. by Ari N. Schulman, is describing how important the media reporting ritual is to mass shooters, a closely related topic. From the article, "What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater. Their purpose is essentially terrorism—minus, in most cases, a political agenda."

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