the U.S. government raises the alert level for terrorism -- as when
officials announced the orange code for 'high risk' on May 20 -- local,
regional and national news stories assess the dangers and report on what's
being done to protect us. But all that media churning includes remarkably
little that has any practical utility."
the rest of us, the publicity is very close to useless -- unless we're
supposed to believe that feeling anxious makes us safer or looking
sideways at strangers will enhance our security."
selectivity of U.S. media coverage reflects the political character of
'terrorism' -- and the slanted angles of customary reportage. It is not
the wanton cruelty or the magnitude of murderous actions that excites
media condemnation so much as the political context of such actions."
become fond of denouncing 'killers' and 'terrorists.' He likes to use
those words righteously and interchangeably. But they could be applied to
him and other top officials in Washington."
By now, it's a media ritual. Whenever the U.S.
government raises the alert level for terrorism
-- as when officials announced the orange code
for "high risk" on May 20 -- local, regional and national news
stories assess the dangers and report on what's being done to
protect us. We're kept well-informed about how
worried to be at any particular time. But all
that media churning includes remarkably little that has
any practical utility.
Presumably, the agencies that are supposed to help safeguard the
public don't need to get their directives via network news or the
morning paper. As for the rest of us, the publicity is very close
to useless -- unless we're supposed to believe
that feeling anxious makes us safer or looking
sideways at strangers will enhance our security.
Americans could be much better protected if journalists found
other uses for some of that ink and air time. For instance, a lot
of lives would be saved if news outlets did more
to encourage people to stop smoking and avoid
excessive alcohol intake. For that matter, public
health could benefit greatly if media did a better job of
confronting politicians who refuse to tighten
laws against air pollution.
But the media fixation on terrorism does nothing to step on the
toes of the tobacco and alcohol industries (which provide millions
of dollars in ad revenues every day). Nor does
the news focus on terrorism do anything to
challenge polluting corporations and their governmental
In mid-May, the internationally syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer
wrote a piece noting that the previous week had brought news
reports of terrorist attacks in Chechnya, Saudi
Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco and Israel, resulting
in a total of 153 deaths. He observed: "Last week was
the worst for terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. ... Yet there
were no headlines last weekend saying '750
people dead of gunshot wounds in the U.S. since
Monday' or 'Weekly traffic death toll in India tops
2,000,' and only small headlines that several thousand people had
been massacred in the eastern Congolese town of
The selectivity of U.S. media coverage reflects the political
character of "terrorism" -- and the slanted angles of customary
reportage. It is not the wanton cruelty or the magnitude of
murderous actions that excites media
condemnation so much as the political context of
In a May 19 statement, President Bush denounced "killers who can't
stand peace." He was referring to those who had engaged in deadly
attacks that took the lives of Israeli civilians. But the same
description could be applied to Israeli government leaders, who
often order attacks that predictably take the
lives of Palestinian civilians.
Bush has become fond of denouncing "killers" and "terrorists." He
likes to use those words righteously and interchangeably. But they
could be applied to him and other top officials
in Washington. We may prefer not to think so,
but such a harsh assessment would undoubtedly come from
thousands of Iraqi people who lost their loved ones this spring.
What we usually fail to notice -- and what mainstream media will be
the last to tell us -- is that news coverage of terrorism is
routinely subjective, even arbitrary. Those with
the power to use and not use the "terrorism"
label in mass media are glad to do so as they please.
In his recent column endeavoring to put post-9/11 media fixations
on terrorism in perspective, Dyer wrote: "There are several agendas
running in the Bush administration, and the one on top at the
moment is the hyper-ambitious Cheney-Rumsfeld
project that uses the terrorist threat as a
pretext for creating a global 'pax Americana' based on the
unilateral use of American military power. But the project of the
Islamic terrorists is still running too, and this strategy is
playing straight into their hands."
I would push the analysis a bit further. Both sides are playing
into each other's hands, and this is not mere happenstance. The
propaganda necessity is to portray one side's killing as righteous
and the other's as evil. Right now, it's fair to
say, each side is committed to large-scale
killing. Yet their lethal capacities are vastly
asymmetrical. The Pentagon has the power to dominate the world, while Al
Qaeda can only hope to dominate the headlines.
To exploit the evil of Al Qaeda's actions for its own purposes, the
Bush team is pleased to fuel and stoke the disproportionate
coverage by U.S. media outlets.
"Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't
Tell You," by Norman Solomon and Reese
Erlich, has just been published as a paperback original by Context
Books. To read The Juicy Cerebellum's
review of the book, click here. For the prologue to the book and
other information, go to: