Term Paper: Media on Terrorism Acts

Pages: 14 (3734 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Terrorism  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Even more adults were tuning into the media coverage surrounding this incident.

Many adult studies revealed further information regarding the effect of media on terrorism, including the following studies (Hamblem, 2002):

Two hundred thirty-seven Israeli adults were divided into two groups. One group was exposed to television clips of terrorism and political violence; the other group was exposed to news clips unrelated to national threat. Individuals who watched the terrorism clips reported more anxiety than those who watched clips unrelated to terrorism (Slone, 2000).

In a sample of adults, those who had an intimate friend or relative killed in the Mount St. Helens tragedy reported that the media was a hindrance to their recovery. Adults who suffered property loss reported that the media was neither a help nor a hindrance (Murphy, 1984).

Dr. Neal Cohen was New York City's mental health commissioner at the time of the crash of TWA Flight 800 and one of the psychiatrists who provided services to family members. In an article in Psychiatric Services, Dr. Cohen wrote, "The mourners' involvement with the media had both positive and negative impacts. Certainly the media helped to allay the feelings of powerlessness that frequently afflict those stricken by a tragedy.... However, the presence of reporters and cameras also imposed a heavy burden on family members.... The most personal aspects of mourning could too easily become the subject of a television news feature " (p. 462).

In a letter to the Medical Journal of Australia (1986) about the effects of trauma-related media on adult trauma victims, psychiatrist Alexander McFarlane wrote, "media exposure following a trauma may reinforce the victims' feelings of vulnerability and fixate their images of death and destruction."

Media exposure also "may increase the risk of the development and maintenance of chronic PTSD following a trauma" (p.664)."

These studies indicate that the media plays a critical role in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. The media provides needed information, makes announcements, and lets the public know what services are available to victims and their families. The media serves as a community resource and gives a sense of hope to the community. However, there is such a thing as too much coverage, as many people become overly worried and addicted to watching the coverage.

The Effect of the Media

While the democratic nature of the U.S. obviously offers more freedom and choices, it also places a great deal of pressure on the government to please the people. For example, President Jimmy Carter's failure to resolve the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979-80 contributed to his loss when he ran for re-election in 1980 (Morgan, 2002). Many Americans had watched him on television during coverage of the terrorist event and decided that he was an ineffective negotiator and leader.

However, many researchers argue that it was media coverage that pressured Carter into launching a poorly planned rescue mission, despite the fact that the military estimated only a 65% success rate. This shows the effect of the media on terrorism, and how terrorists use the media to influence the public and decision-makers (Nacos, 1994, pp.140-41).

The U.S. has a strict policy that prohibits negotiating with terrorists (Morgan, 2002). However, the media presents a weak spot that terrorists use to coerce the government into putting the needs of a few over the needs of millions. Gary Sick, the principal White House aide on Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis, once said, "The media contribute to the process of transforming an international issue into a domestic political crisis for the president. There is perhaps no other type of situation that subjects the president to such intense public scrutiny, and the president is aware that his image as a decisive and effective leader is constantly at risk." (Sick, 1990, p.242).

How Terrorists Use the Media

Television is different than other types of media in that it presents a visual element. Television stations must use this visual element to compete with others (Morgan, 2002). Therefore, producers concentrate more on images than words. They also know that the human elements of a story are what keep viewers tuned in.

A successful station will not simply report that a terrorist took hostages (Morgan, 2002). It will provide full coverage on the hostages' families, stories about the hostages' personal lives, and what is being done minute-by-minute to rescue the hostages. This introduces the elements of emotion, depth, and drama to the story. Once viewers connect with the story, they have a personal interest in it and will keep watching.

Unfortunately, this drama and emotion are precisely the elements that the terrorists depend on to manipulate viewers in a democratic society and influence the actions of policy makers (Nacos, 1994, xxvii). Terrorists know exactly how the media works and rely on these outlets to further their cause, draw attention to it, legitimize it, and try to get their demands met.

Many people argue that if the media refused to cover terrorist incidents, terrorists would have a more difficult time achieving their goals. In many countries, the media is not allowed to cover terrorist incidents at all. In countries such as Spain and Italy, the press is forbidden to publish terrorist manifestos or to give any type of publicity to the terrorists (O'balance, 1989, p.118). In the United States, it seems that the same free press that serves as the basis of democratic society also helps terrorists threaten the country's democracy.

Terrorists are very smooth when it comes to using the press to their advantage (Morgan, 2002). The TWA hijacking in 1985 serves as a great example of the importance of media planning to terrorists. Special events were set up for news crews, including an exclusive television network interview with Amal leader Nabih Birri.

Another dramatic exclusive came from the cockpit of the plane. TWA captain John Testrake was shown to millions of viewers with a terrorist holding a pistol to his head. There was even a televised dinner for the hostages hosted by the terrorists at a beachfront hotel (Nacos, 1994, p. 128). This proves that the more dramatic the coverage that terrorists can get, and the greater the power to frighten the American viewer or make them emotionally connect with the hostages, the better chance the terrorist group has to get what it wants.

When the public is concerned with the welfare of the hostages, they are more likely to overlook the overall good of the country, so the government is strongly pressured to make urgent decisions quicker. According to Alexander Haig, "the emotional climate created by television in a hostage situation leads to national pronouncements in which the lives of the hostages take precedence over the broader interests of the American people as a whole (Hickey, 1985, p.22)."

Should the Media Show Terrorist Activity?

Regardless of the media's effect on terrorism, the media still feels obligated to cover terrorist action, as it is news. According to CRF (2002), "Many terrorism scholars have identified a symbiotic relationship between terrorists, who want attention, and news organizations, which want dramatic stories to boost readership or ratings. Most news organizations, while aware that terrorist groups are manipulating them, want to report on major events without becoming a platform for terrorists. Critics say live television news is particularly susceptible to becoming an unwitting partner in the theater of terrorism (CFR, 2003)."

Dan Rather, a famous news anchor, summed up the duty of journalists, saying, "If you are covering a hijacking and you aren't going to cover the activities of the hijackers-even if they're staged-then aren't you in the wrong business? (Broadcasting, 1985, pp.76-78).

According to Charles Caudill, VP Senior Executive Producer of CNN, "It's our journalistic duty to cover it. We can't start deciding what news to cover. We can't censor the news. It's our job to put it all on: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and let people decide for themselves (Morgan, 2002)."

While most people understand that the media will not censor themselves, there is a code of ethics that many journalists use. Most news stations will avoid showing the worst footage they receive. Choosing wide shots rather than close-ups of dead bodies still gets the message across but is not as horrific.

ABC's "World News Tonight" refused to show the horrible footage of hanged hostage Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins in Lebanon even though it had been shown on stations and networks nationwide (Nacos, 1994, p.158). In addition, most news departments do not report suicides unless it was a public figure, as they do not want to encourage suicides or send the message that the media will pay attention to those who take their own lives.

As far as terrorism is concerned, the media will show just about anything, as long as it does not endanger lives or hinder an important investigation. For example, the Reagan Administration asked the media not to disclose the fact that one of the hostages on board TWA 847 was a member of the National Security Agency, as this… [END OF PREVIEW]

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