Mass Media and the Facilitation of Terrorism
Does the media, unknowingly of course, contribute to the facilitation of terrorism? Terrorists seek to do two things: commit a violent act and spread a message. Preventing the violent attack is the responsibility of the intelligence community, but who's responsible for stopping the spread of the message?
By Greg Lepore / filmsforaction.org

Terrorism, both international and domestic, is synonymous with the 21st century and as a society we have not done a good job of combatting it. Terrorists use violence as a means of intimidation to spread a message. Therefore we can rightfully break combatting terrorism down into two parts: preventing the violent act and halting the dissemination of the message. The first objective, preventing violent attacks, is the responsibility of the intelligence community. But who is responsible for the second objective? As we’ve all seen time and again, media coverage of terrorism is beyond extensive. Major events require major coverage; this is the creed by which any media outlet finds success. However with the recent spike in successful terrorist acts, one can’t help but wonder: is the American media unknowingly perpetrating terrorism?

A homegrown psychopath takes an automatic weapon into a public setting and murders a group of innocent people, a recurring story that has become far, far too commonplace in American society. At first, nothing is known about the attacker. But within a few hours after the attack, the terrorist has become a celebrity. His name and photograph headline every channel, radio station, newspaper and magazine for months after, and his background is pieced together by journalists until a complete story is attached to his person. We come to learn everything about his life by interviewing anyone he ever knew, visiting any place he ever travelled to, and scouring through anything he has ever written. The reasons for his madness are put together, analyzed, understood and echoed across every news outlet in the country. Now, if we consider that the violent attack was successful and that his message has been disseminated throughout the country, we find that the terrorist has succeeded in all that he tried to do. People are dead, he has become a celebrity, and his message has been made clear.

If we return to the definition of terrorism given above, we reiterate that to combat the phenomenon, the first objective, preventing violent attacks, is the responsibility of the intelligence community. The second objective, however, we find is the responsibility of the media. The more we make celebrities out of those who commit violent acts in this country, the more we encourage further acts. By turning terrorists into celebrities, we support them, not hinder them. TV refuses to show streakers who run naked onto a baseball field for fear that it encourages the act. Why not apply this thinking to terrorism? The American media, albeit unknowingly, has helped to construct the epidemic of homegrown terrorism that we are now struggling to break.

It’s understandable that media outlets feel a responsibility to report on catastrophes. Catastrophes are news, big news, and good reporting on events like the attack in Tennessee makes for a rapid increase in viewer ratings. If not only for viewer ratings, most journalists, pundits and producers alike will tell you they feel a deep responsibility to intensely report the unfolding of major events. In fact most of the media has dedicated their lives to doing exactly that. Therefore we cannot blame the media for doing what it has always done and what it was created to do: report the news. One must wonder, though, whether or not in the face of 21st century terrorism the media must find a new method for reporting on terrorism. Perhaps one day, sooner rather than later, they will realize that they are facilitating terrorism, one might even say encouraging it, and that they can report on terrorism without attaching a name, face or message to the psychopaths that continually seek to inflict pain and suffering on our country. Furthermore, do we need to know about every single beheading video released in the Middle East? Do we need to know every time a roadside bomb explodes in Afghanistan? Do we need to see every video of a terrorist in a cave talking about destroying our country? Terrorists are not celebrities, nor should they be treated as such. While our intelligence community can prevent violent attacks, only one aspect of our society can stop the spread of a terrorist’s message: our media. Think about it. 

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Mass Media and the Facilitation of Terrorism