Thursday, June 15, 2006


Thought For The Day

As seen this morning on Instapundit:
Terrorism is an information war disguised as a military operation. The press plays a symbiotic role, and isn't willing to address that.
I couldn't agree more.

Terrorists do, in the end, deal in information -- information intended to spread fear. After all, their purpose is to create political change by sowing terror throughout a society -- which cannot be done without the spread of information.

(For example: if a bus blows up somewhere, but nobody hears about it, then nobody will be afraid that their own bus might be next; in other words, the terrorists have achieved nothing, apart from a bus-full of murders. Contrariwise, if terrorists can achieve their objective with threats, without actually resorting to violence, that serves their purpose equally well... and terrorist organizations do that all the time.)

The interesting thing here is that journalists, too, deal in information -- getting the word out to people who are interested in going on, as many people as possible. The press is thus a vital ingredient in modern terrorism, because the terrorists would be utterly ineffective if their message doesn't get out.

That's not to say that the press should refuse to cover terrorist attacks, à la Tom Clancy's Patriot Games. The public does want to know that something has happened, after all, and sometimes no information can cause panic just as easily. Israel, a country long accustomed to terror in various forms, does not refrain from publishing newspaper reports of terror attacks. On the other hand, Israeli journalists, on the whole, understand the need to coordinate and cooperate with security forces. They also understand the dangers of unintentionally helping the terrorists.

Am I suggesting that American newspapers, magazines, television news, radio shows, etc. censor themselves? In a way, yes. I think that they should look carefully at the stories they want to publish; they should think about them in the context of how crucial their journalism is to the success of terrorism; and, if relevant, they should decide whether or not to spike the story.

(Military censorship of the press during wartime used to be the norm, not the exception. American journalists hardly ever need to worry about that today. But with increased freedom comes increased responsibility... and that includes an American journalist's responsibility to kill a story that is, in the long run, harmful to the American people. It also includes the responsibility to think carefully about such issues.)

It saddens me that many reputable American news organizations refuse to do this. They do not see the dangers in, for example, rushing to press with unsubstantiated reports of American atrocities, which will inflame passions and possibly wind up killing people, whether the report is true or not. (Remember the 'Koran in a toilet' story? It was rushed to press with only a single anonymous source, who was not even a witness, to back it up; more than a dozen people died because of it; and it turned out to be utter nonsense.)

Journalists, please remember this: TERRORISTS NEED YOU. If that scares you a little, good; keep it in mind.


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