Sunday, November 15, 2015

Profiles in Cowardice

My thoughts are with Paris today, and with Beirut. We were in the airport, waiting for a delayed flight, when the news broke Friday evening, and so the Paris new broke to us through cable TV and the Beirut news did not reach us at all. There is too much to say about these crimes. For now I can only say that the United States has, at this point, precisely the news media that terrorism wishes us to have.

CNN was on the TV above us. And we added a bunch of French new sources to our twitter feeds. Not so shockingly, the death toll reported in France (and by the other European news outlets on our feeds) was always significantly lower than the numbers being thrown around on CNN. I woke on Saturday in the weird position of being both sickened by how many lives were lost and queasily grateful that the number is lower than American media first said. No matter how bad things seem, Wolf Blitzer can always make them seem worse.

In fact, making things seem even worse is American TV's primary job. Profiting from fear is TV news's main business strategy, from your local station at 11 pm to the 24-hour networks. TV news will literally ask us, in its commercials "Should you be worried?" Listen, and you will hear that phrase coming back over and over again. They want their audience as frightened as possible. For a group dedicated to spreading terror, they are perfect.

Long before anything was clear in the reports from Paris. CNN was asking who else should be worried. Should Germany be worried about an attack, since they have so many refugees? Will there be attacks on the United States? Is New York tightening its security? These questions are not just idle and irresponsible. These questions amplify terrorists' signal. The terrorists spent their resources, probably a healthy share of their resources, trying to terrify the people of Paris, and then CNN deliberately terrifies people thousands of miles away for them, for free.

And, like all fear-mongers, cable news (and some right-wing political figures) turned swiftly to a weak, powerless scapegoat for their fears. Friday night, that meant scapegoating Syrian refugees, refugees from Daesh, for violence committed by Daesh. Before the identity of even one terrorist attacker was confirmed, even before the attacks themselves were over, cable news was proceeding as if it were a confirmed fact that the terrorists were refugees. Of course, the investigation so far is finding French and Belgian nationals. Closing the borders to refugees will not keep out Daesh; Daesh already recruits in Paris itself, and in London, and in Chicago. Instead of going after the funding that allows terrorism to flourish, our native fear-mongers demonize the tired, the hungry, and the poor, the tattered refugees struggling to be free. And that, too, is exactly what Daesh wants. Because Daesh does not want those people to escape them.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

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