A Fearful Press
A Fearful Press
Lisa Finnegan talked about the effects of journalism in the manifestation of counteractive measures against the modern day terrorism. Her articles highlighted the “psychology of terrorism and its effects on the media” (Finnegan 482). She started her arguments by comparing the incident of the Madrid bombings and the 9/11 attacks.
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More so, Finnegan gave a different perspective regarding these terrorist activities which were widely perceived as the products of evil brought about by radicalism and racism.
The tragic occurrence of several trains bombed in Madrid, Spain on March 11, 2004 paved the way for a monumental event to transpire. Because of the incessant inquisitiveness of journalists in finding out the “real” instigators of the terrorist attack, they were able to disregard the false information disseminated by government officials in hope of protecting the Spanish-American diplomacy and at the same time, the media played a significant role in initiating change in the leadership of the Spanish government. The aggressive and direct approach used by the journalists to uncover the truth was very helpful in determining the actual root of the problem. Furthermore, this media tactic also aided in acquiring the public’s interest and sentiments which are powerful tools in initiating change. As a result, the Spanish were able to bring their army troops back home which prevented them from experiencing future catastrophic casualties in the Iraq War.
In contradiction, the reaction of the media with the 9/11 attacks was more passive, keeping in mind that this appalling event a happened 4 years before the Madrid bombings. Since this was one of the most disastrous security breach that happened within American soil after the Pearl Harbor attack, the response of the public was very emotional. Their sentiments were overwhelmed by the fact that the series of attacks at the World Trace Center and the Pentagon have cost them the lives of their family members, friends and colleagues. This was the main reason why the media opted to focus on investigating the after effects of terrorism on the US as a nation rather than looking on the circumstances that led to the attacks.
The difference between the media intervention used in these two very similar terrorist attacks was the journalist’s approach in reporting the tragedy. In Spain, the media did not portray the event as a personal attack on the Spanish and their democracy but more of a strategy to promote terrorism. Meanwhile in the US, they saw it as a personal assault over the American people. Through this, the Spanish were able to spare their nation from more imminent terrorist threats. On the other hand, the emotional response of the American public has led them to the Iraq War that has taken the life of many Americans and other nationalities as well.
However, the reaction of the Americans and their succeeding counterterrorism actions can not be fully reprimanded. There were a lot of factors to be considered that justify their passive response. First, the media illustrated the 9/11 attack as a very dreadful incident that can happen again in their territory if they continue to remain unaware of the consequences and evils of terrorism. Second, the constant and continuous transmission of news of the escalating threats and violence against Americans had also influenced the public to feel frightened for their lives and to develop a sense of anger towards the terrorists. Because of this, the Americans became helpless and highly dependent on their government to formulate ways on how to resolve their security and foreign problems.
More so, this outcome was not only triggered by media reports, the US government also played a major role in building up the hype against terrorism. Government officials used their power to disseminate inaccurate information in order to capture the sentiments and sympathy of the public so that truth behind the attacks will be obscured for scrutiny. More so, they needed the public’s approval in order to advance their goal for their own personal gain at the expense of the lives and future of many Americans and other nationalities. This tactic of the government became very successful. They were able to transform the negative image of President Bush as a laid-back national leader into the face of a hero who can reinstate the country’s confidence. Because of this, there came a time when government criticisms were at its all time low. Many journalists chose to write reports or broadcast news that would portray the “Bush’s administration as strong, trustworthy and reliable” (Finnegan 487). All along this situation helped the government in preventing the truth to come out and reach the public’s awareness. They were wary that if the people knew that the attacks transpired because of the oppressive foreign policies of the US and not because of their democracy and nationality, President Bush would have no basis for invading Iraq and he would not have won his second term as the most powerful man in the world.
It can be surmised that through the non-aggressive and non-straightforward reporting method employed by the media after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they have greatly influenced the perception of the public on terrorism and the ability of the US government to rise up after a tragedy.
President Bush continued to solicit the support of all the American people and Allied nations for his fight against terrorism. His words, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” was the battle cry for the head-on war against the terrorists. When he uttered this phrase, his audience was left with no choice but to back up whatever means that Bush will initiate to combat terrorism. In order to keep the public in line with his objectives, the government through the media had disseminated information about various threats of terrorist attacks in the US. Every story was magnified that started a craze of reporting and highlighting events that appear to be terrorist activities but not actually confirmed as such. Other news that could have shed a light to the real cause of the 9/11 attacks were totally ignored leaving most of the Americans clueless about the true colors of the officials of the US government. For those few who tried to tell the truth, they were either removed from office or were simply ignored. Furthermore, the series of reports on possible terrorist attacks on US soil continued to intensify while news that can uncover the truth had remained overlooked by the public. As a consequence, hysteria and paranoia prevailed within the society.
This outcome can be attributed not only to the lapsed handling of the government of the situation but also to the promotion of sensationalism by the media. Throughout the many events whether controversial or not, the media has always been there to cover the story in order to share it with the public. But as this industry became more competitive, the quest for a unique story or news that would sell quickly with their audience turned out to be one of the media people’s elusive objectives. Since the number of media companies and personnel had increased in the past years, the hunt for a great story became a struggle. Usually, many would feature the same stories. The difference would only rest on the manner of delivery by the reporters and their perspective on a specific story. This seemingly shortage of reports or news were compensated by stirring up a commotion. To prolong a reporter’s cover on a story, he or should would most likely sensationalize the issues. This tactic would relieve the reporter of the burden of finding newer or more interesting news. But the drawback of this method is that creates hysteria among the public. Once an issue is highlighted and emphasized, the attention and interest of the public will also be boosted. In the case of the 9/11 attacks, many dwelled on this issue for years. Some even reported stories that were not confirmed but since there were other who also reported it, it became the truth. It was just a simple cycle of issue generation to story report and followed by the public’s acceptance of the information as facts. Problems arise when these issues are sensationalized even without proper basis or supporting data. It is in this stage that irresponsible journalism enters. Many journalists opted to gain money and fame rather than reporting an accurate and truthful story. But still, they cannot be solely blame for their actions. The government’s manipulative hand also played a vital role in promoting fear and negative reactions from the public. Three years have already passed before the media realized that they were used as a tool by the government in helping to conceal the truth about the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. There is a saying that remorse or regret can only be felt once the action had already been executed. The 9/11 scenario and the succeeding events that happened can surely attest that this saying is a known fact. But in every fall or mistake, there is always a chance to bounce back and that was what the media has done ever since they realized that they were deceived by the government and that they were not really helping the people by not broadcasting investigative, aggressive, direct and accurate news.
Overall, this article by Finnegan described the immense participation and massive responsibility of the media in reporting a milestone event in the history of the US and the whole world. It was in the hands of the media to bring information about domestic and international terrorism for public information so that they will be guided accordingly on how to perceive and react with that kind of situation in their own territory.
On the other hand, the surge of emotions for the victims of terrorist attacks and the public’s feeling of rage towards the perpetrators were all capitalized by the media and the government. But between the two, the media possessed more power when it comes to influence and reach of target audience. The media can use various forms of mediums to convey their message which can be easily manipulated according to the discretion of the media personnel. In any news reporting, bias should not be present. Stories should be told as they are and as they happen. However, since the ego and security of the Americans were badly bruised during the 9/11 attacks, the behaviour and reaction of the American journalists can be deemed natural or expected. Initially, this kind of reaction would be normally accepted but as time passed by, they should have made an effort to get out of their comfort zones and face the challenge of reporting the other side of the story. It may seem very difficult particularly for American journalists to get to know the history or background of the people who executed and the masterminded the attacks. But in the spirit of professional journalism, they should have opened up to the stories that they had to tell. If only the media then were able to be open-minded and impartial, they would have realized that the so-called terrorist actions were deeply rooted on something far more serious than what the average American knew which was the notion that terrorists were against American freedom and democracy. The lapses of the US government as well as the superiority complex of many Americans were completely ignored. But in reality, these were the basis of the terrorists for instigating a war against the US.
In a statement by President George W. Bush,
I’m the commander—see, I don’t need to explain—I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation. (qtd. In Finnegan 482)
This statement clearly shows that the Americans really have this arrogance that many other nationalities find offensive and rude. Making the circumstances worse, the media jumps into the bandwagon and highlights even more this American arrogance. During the 9/11 attacks, the world witnessed how the US was hit hard but the Americans were able to show how quickly they can recover even though it was only a front for a solid and united exterior. The government ensured that the Americans will not be seen as the victims but as fighters against terrorism while the media aided in making this a reality. As a result, the US ventured into war that further escalated the proliferation of terrorism which left thousands of people dead and millions of properties destructed. For years, many believed that the Americans were on the good side and the terrorists were on the bad side. But as the substantial and accurate investigative reports have reached the awareness of the masses, the public’s negative perception on terrorism is changing and slowly enlightening them of the real situation.
Finnegan, Lisa. No Questions Asked : News Coverage Since 9/11. US: Praeger Publishers, 2006.