Once Again, Media Terrorize the Public for the
By Adam H. Johnson
November 25, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "FAIR"
- Another devastating terror spectacle and another media panic
playing right into the script: spreading fear and sowing
Islamophobia. Better writers than I have
documented the latter, but not as much attention has been paid
to the former—how in the wake of the Paris attacks 10 days ago, much
of the media have needlessly stoked fears and acted, entirely
predictably, as the PR wing for terrorists.
Let’s take a look at one of the more entirely
pointless and trolly non-stories from last week:
Islamic State Releases Video Threatening Attack on
New York City
ISIS Threatens Paris, Rome, US in New Video
New ISIS Video Threatens France, Italy, US
Do media have an obligation to cover terrorism? Of
course. Is there any rule of journalism that says they have to jump
in panic every time some anonymous ISIS account tweets out a spooky
The right way to cover a “threat,” as I
noted last May, has as much to do with quality as quantity. Is
it covered as a news item, or is it sexed up and packaged just how
ISIS would want? Take, for example, the most cynical of these
reports, from Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post,
which not only promotes the highlights of the “ISIS threat to New
York” propaganda clip, but actually embeds the entire video
ISIS Threatens NYC in New Propaganda Video
Murdoch’s other troll factory, Fox News
(11/17/15), even interviewed ex-spook Morten Storm (yes, that’s his
real name) about the ISIS threat, where he says, in no uncertain
terms, that they will strike within two weeks.
This type of terror speculation has absolutely no
news value. Zero. None. Even if it were true—that ISIS was going to
attack us within two weeks—what is the average person supposed to do
with this information? As with
FBI warnings and the subsequent NatSec fear-mongering, it’s
never made clear what one is supposed to do in response to
unspecified threats other than curl up in a fetal position and watch
more Fox News.
Terrorism—to the extent the term is useful—is a
fundamentally postmodern crime. It requires two parties for it to be
effective: the violent actor and the media. As I’ve mention here at
before, blowing up a market 1,000 years ago, for example, before
mass communication, would have been entirely pointless. To properly
terrorize a population, the population must be aware of the threat,
and to be aware of the threat relatively quickly, mass communication
is required for economy of scale to be achieved.
Does this mean the media should not cover acts or
threats of terror at all? No, of course not; this would be a
dereliction of duty and infantilizing. What it does mean is that
when covering terrorism as such, a distinction between terror and
meta-terror (i.e., terror caused by terror coverage) is an important
part of journalistic discretion.
Unfortunately, as we saw after 9/11, many news
outlets have failed to make this distinction, aiming instead for
non-stop panic—even when the “threats” proposed are thin and
designed to elicit just such a reaction. By amplifying every idle
threat, the media have once again become ISIS’s defacto PR wing, in
a fashion that’s as journalistically sloppy as it is depressingly
Adam H. Johnson is an associate editor at
AlterNet and writes
frequently for FAIR.org.
Follow him on Twitter at @adamjohnsonnyc.