David R. Henderson  

John Kerry, Anti-Terrorist

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Remember this: No country is immune from terrorism. It's easy to terrorize. Government and law enforcement have to be correct 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But if you decide one day you're going to be a terrorist and you're willing to kill yourself, you can go out and kill some people. You can make some noise. Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn't cover it quite as much. People wouldn't know what's going on.
This is from a recent statement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The comment of the Fox News Channel announcer at the above link was dripping with sarcasm. She says "This is something else," as if it's crazy.

But it makes perfect sense. Ohio State University political science professor John Mueller, in one of the best, and best-titled, articles of the last decade, "A False Sense of Insecurity," quotes the contention of Frantz Fanon, the 20th century revolutionary, that "the aim of terrorism is to terrify." How do the media help do that? By hyping the threat from terrorism.

The Fox News announcer stated his position as follows:

Secretary of State John Kerry just came up with the solution to end violent terror attacks around the world and this is something else. His idea: tell the media to stop reporting on terrorism.

Notice the two differences between what Kerry actually and what the Fox News person said he said.

First, she said this was his solution to end violent terrorist attacks. He didn't. Admittedly, he wasn't clear what he was saying, but in context, it makes sense to conclude that he was with Mueller. That is, he understands that although this would not end the incidents that trigger terror, it would reduce the terror.

Second, Kerry didn't suggest that the media "stop reporting on terrorism." He suggested that they not cover it "quite as much." Does she, or the person who wrote her script, see the difference? Apparently not.

I'm not nearly as big a critic of Fox News as some, but Fox News definitely earned the title Faux News today.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Greg G writes:

Nice post David.

Throughout history, reliance on terrorism has been the tactic of movements that were weak and had little popular support. The goal of terrorist attacks is always to provoke an overreaction that will increase support for the terrorist's cause.

It is not easy to react to terrorism in a measured way without overreacting. The key is to treat terrorism as a significant criminal act, not a legitimate political or religious act.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
Thanks. And I agree.

Richard writes:

Terrorism is to the right are what police shootings of blacks are to the left. Both are statistical freak events, killing a fraction of the people that die from smoking, obesity, or FDA regulations, or even regular murder. It just shows politics is about the story you tell yourself about who the evil people in the world are, whether it's Muslims or it's white racists.

Roger McKinney writes:

I doubt that the media is helping terrorists as much as Kerry thinks. Kerry has a very limited understanding of terrorism. BTW, terrorism existed long before newspapers and TV. Remember reading about the anarchists of the last 19th century?

Islam has used terrorism from day one when it was too weak to defeat an enemy's army. It would use terror on the border to get people to move away and then Muslims would occupy the territory given up.

A major reason Muslims commit acts of terror is that Mo guaranteed they would go immediately to paradise if they died in jihad, holy war. Another reason they do it is to provoke the West into attacking. That would cause Allah to intervene on their behalf in their theology.

Americans will be afraid of terrorists whether the media covers it or not. The reasons people fear things go deep into religion. If they don't have a higher power, such as God, to trust for their security, they will be afraid of their shadows.

Roger McKinney writes:

PS, keep in mind Mencken's statement that politicians exist only to frighten people so they will pay attention and vote for the pols to rescue them. He forgot to mention that it is the job of the media to assist pols in that activity.

David S writes:

I think a better method of dealing with mass-murderers might be to alter the reporting style, rather than not pass on relevant information.

For example, today's news might say "A disgruntled LexCorp worker named Simon Garfunkle blew up a train to protest whale hunting."

A better news story might be "An idiot blew up a train in a tantrum today."

If in all news coverage the assailant was referred to as only "that idiot" we would not have copycat killers, and most likely we would have fewer mass killing as well.

Andy Hallman writes:

I like David S's suggestion of not reporting the assailant's name. An even better solution is to avoid cable news. It is not a good way to learn what events are likely and which are not.

Martin writes:

I usually don't applaud John Kerry (this is a rare event) but this is a good message....perhaps he would have won over the hearts and minds of Fox audiences by saying "Oh, and by the way....this applies to mass shootings too"

Glen Smith writes:

The focus should not be on whether the media is helping/hurting/whatever terrorism but on the fact that Kerry is admitting the state cannot be correct 24/7/365 about an event before it happens.

MikeDC writes:

What Kerry is saying is certainly true and accurate.

On the other hand, there's an Orwellian element to the thought that I think should lead everyone to reject it outright. I can't see any reason or any rational line at which to end this sort of conspiracy of silence at terrorism.

There are all sorts of issues we could "improve" the discourse on if we simply kept people uninformed about them. And even if we have to silence a few outliers who won't shut up, well hey, it's a small price to pay to help so many more.

Tim Ozenne writes:

You left out Kerry's ultimate objective: "People wouldn’t know what’s going on."

MikeDC writes:

I should have made mention in my prior comment that systematic under-reporting of news would, itself, give rise to erode trust and give rise to conspiracy theories, thus making things worse.

My trip to Europe this summer drove this home as it came during the point at which small scale terror attacks were a seemingly daily occurrence in France, Belgium, the UK and Germany. All of these stories tended to be reported at subdued levels compared to what I'd expect at home. I read French and Dutch a bit, so I'm not totally confined to English language news either. The stance of the government, which is followed by the media, is that these are "minor" incidences to which people should pay little notice.

On the other hand, rude, "racist" comments about a boy from Belgium who died in Morocco took up half a newscast. Two police officers being attacked by a machete-wielding jihadi did not.

Point is... in talking to actual people, nobody sees this as a viable strategy to accomplish anything. Anything positive at least. There's a growing sense of anger and conviction that they're being misled by the government and media.

Ironically, the main topics of conversation directed towards us Americans were 1) "How can you people be voting for Trump!" and 2) "We need to ship all these Muslims back to Morocco!".

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