Why Is The US Media Helping Terrorists?

21 January 2015
Published in Blog

By Laith Saud

January 21, 2014

Terror. Just the word conjures up images that have splashed across your screen for two weeks. Terror. CNN has devoted literally over three-hundred hours to the Charlie Hebdo attack in France recently. Terror: an enterprise that does not exist without attention. Terrorism is more spectacle than reality in the United States. And the incessant obsession with terror, narrowly defined as any criminal act carried out by any Muslim, insures that terrorism will happen again, sooner or later. Yes, the media shares responsibility for terrorist acts.

As I said, terrorism is a spectacle in the United States. A conversation carried out in both horror and security, like one does with fellow passengers as you slow down past a car accident. You all recognize the horror and remain grateful that its not you, but could have been. Then, with the spectacle behind you, you speed up never thinking you will suffer an accident that day - or ever.

No one presumes an accident is inevitable. In fact, people rarely concern themselves with accidents, but driving is far more deadly than terror. The chances of dying in a car accident are 1 in 19,000; of drowning in your bathtub 1 in 800,000; of getting struck by lightning 1 in 5,500,000. The chances of being killed in a terror attack? 1 in 20 million. That’s right, 1 in 20 million. You have a significantly higher chance of being killed by lightning than you do a terrorist, but you wouldn’t think that watching CNN this past week. Even in Hebdo coverage hour 299, CNN was still reporting the attacks as ‘breaking news.’ If you really fear for your safety, the Weather Channel is of more use to you than any ‘terror analyst’ on CNN.

From the Twin Towers to the Twin Dummies

On September 11, 2001, in a dramatic way, terrorists (who happened to be Muslim) made an impression on television with the attacks on the Twin Towers. Notwithstanding the extent to which the Bush administration exploited 9/11 pursuant to the invasion of Iraq; the quantity of media coverage was natural, the attacks were a spectacle and surprising in scope and destruction. Over thirteen years later and all it takes is two guys with assault rifles to turn the entire world upside down. I will get to how this perpetuates terrorism later, but I just want to remind the reader, two guys with assault rifles. It has been said with all seriousness that freedom of speech is under threat as is all of Western Civilization.

Will world leaders and journalists really stand by the assertion that freedom and civilization are under threat because the dead-end twins managed to acquire a few rifles? It is all too easy to acquire weapons and kill and if that is all that is required, it will happen again. Terrorism is an enterprise and it requires money and success. Western media in its self-importance and correlating racism made the Charlie Hebdo attacks spectacularly successful; which brings me to my next point, anything that commands the kind of attention the media has devoted to terrorism will assuredly generate more acts for such attention. Let me be clear, as I do not want to be equivocal – the media is in large part responsible for terrorism. Two dead-end losers in Paris, two men who have done more harm to Muslim interests than anything, two men who would have lived and died completely unknown, are now known across the world. Their photos, their bios, their love lives are associated with an imagined and fantastic ‘existential’ threat to Western Civilization.

The Paris shooters have much more in common with the Columbine shooters psychologically, though their cultural references differed. And just as media coverage spurned copycat attacks, it will be likewise with terrorism.

Terrorism as Enterprise

For terrorist organizations to flourish, they require success and money. They require success in order to generate money. This type of attention is by definition success. If the Hebdo attacks were reported on the ticker at the bottom of our screen, we would not have noticed and thus cared. We would have dismissed it as a statistic, as we have the countless lives lost in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria during the same time frame. If the Hebdo attacks garnered little attention, they would have been a failure and would not have inspired re-enactment. During the first few days of the Hebdo incident, a white Parisian took over a post office and held hostages for hours. You never heard of it because he was white and the media is selective. But his timing was obvious; he thought by taking hostages two days after Hebdo, he would command the same type of attention (he was upset because his girlfriend left him).

CNN has to explain how as a world news organization it can legitimately devote over three-hundred hours to Hebdo at the expense of everything else that has happened in the world in that time. It really does. Anything that commands the kind of attention that this incident has insures replication – the act and the empowering attention are too lucrative. And CNN has become terror’s number one fundraiser.


Laith Saud is a Senior Fellow at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies and co-author of An Introduction to Islam in the 21st Century. You can follow Laith on Twitter


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