John Kerry wants less news coverage of terror.
The Secretary of State raised a stink when he told reporters he wished the media wouldn’t cover terrorism “quite as much.” This is from the State Department’s transcript of Kerry’s remarks in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
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. (Applause.)
The fact is we have to stand together, and the United States is standing with Bangladesh in this fight. (Applause.)
Now, just as important, we understand that to defeat terrorists, we have to uphold, not betray, the democratic principles that we cherish and they abhor.
I hear three messages in Kerry’s words, but I can’t say which one (or ones?) reflect his thinking.
First, I hear an understandable reluctance to give unnecessary glory to terrorists. (The French media, for example, took this to an illogical extreme when several news services decided not to publish the names and photos of terrorists.)
Secondly, I also hear in Kerry’s words a desire to sweep terror under the rug, as if its reality is some kind of political inconvenience.
But I want to focus on a third issue. Kerry’s words may reflect a shortcoming in how journalism covers terror.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that
1. Democracies can’t fight terror without public support.
2. Elected leaders can’t have public support without informed debate.
3. Informed debate requires journalists providing relevant, informative news.
It also applies to foreign reporters covering how other countries battle terror because A) world opinion matters, B) we can learn from each other how to fight terror and show social resilience, and C) we can demonstrate international solidarity in the face of common terror threats.
What If the News Is Flawed?
We cherish the press freedom and freedom of expression that terrorists abhor.
But what if the news is flawed?
What if journalists are putting a premium on speed over accuracy? What if editors won’t call terror by its name because they don’t want to offend or appear judgmental? What if headlines skew stories by emphasizing an attacker’s death instead of his intent to kill? What if context-free infographics look at death tolls as nothing but a scoreboard of who bleeds the most? What about irresponsible click-bait headlines such as, say, from the BBC.
And what if public discourse is further poisoned by the extremists who repeatedly shout down voices of moderation?
What are we left with?
I could glibly agree with Kerry and say it’s better that the media not make things worse. Perhaps this ties in with Jim Geraghty‘s wonder at the applause Kerry received.
Think about that, the audience is applauding the vision of a world where “people wouldn’t know what’s going on.” This applause came during Kerry’s remarks at the Edward M. Kennedy Center in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a joint project between the Bangladeshi Liberation War Museum and the U.S. Embassy. The Center is “committed to open dialogue, informed action, individual and artistic expression, and personal and professional development.” So people applauded “people wouldn’t know what’s going on” at a center devoted to open dialogue and informed action.
But the media isn’t broken beyond repair. And in order to govern ourselves, we need a free, responsible press to do that.
Featured image: Yossi Zamir/Flash90
Before you comment on this article, please remind yourself of our Comments Policy. Any comments deemed to be in breach of the policy will be removed at the editor’s discretion.