The Media's Relationship with Terrorism

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The Media's Relationshipwith Terrorism

The Conflict

The media played an important role in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. As it had in the past, the media kept the public informed about what was going on, consulted with government officials, and tried to give the audience background information to better understand the perpetrators. Complaints about media-reported rumors, inaccuracies, and networks' attempts to win viewers with sensationalized coverage emerged soon after September 11. Did the media do a good job or was it carried away with the drama of the moment? Did the media relate terrorism coverage informatively or did it help promote the fear the terrorists' hoped to impart?

Media Manipulation

  • Terrorists often seek to pull off high-profile attacks in an attempt to gain media coverage for their cause or their group. In reporting on an event, the media must be mindful not to legitimize the terrorists or sensationalize their attack.
  • Government officials have "leaked" secret information to the media, who then report on it. Leaks such as this run the risk of compromising U.S. actions. In its quest for information, can the media go too far in reporting?
  • Under the Ronald Reagan administration, government officials gave false information to the media in an attempt to achieve foreign policy goals. Rather than be the government's pawn, the media responded by initiating more investigative reports.


• In its reporting, the media has the power to sway public opinion. Its treatment towards a terrorist or terrorist group, if too sympathetic, could affect support for government policies and actions.

The developments that have followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are more than a headline-making occasion. The attacks themselves, the response at home, and the deployment of forces abroad—all culminating in the first war on terrorism—may mark a turning point in world affairs. Yet if what is at hand does prove to be a watershed, it will be so for an additional reason, one that is being defined as much by television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet as by the crisis itself. Through mass media, every American not only is learning about, but is living through this terrorist event.

The crisis became a domain of the media at a very early stage, in fact at the same moment the first jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center. Morning traffic reporters for New York City radio stations had been flying in helicopters nearby. Thousands of New Yorkers had heard live, eyewitness accounts. Within minutes, wire services and each of the major television networks flashed bulletins of what first was reported as an aircraft mishap. No sooner had the second tower been struck than newscasters proclaimed a terrorist attack. By the time the third jetliner struck the Pentagon and the fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, not just the military but the media had been mobilized. News crews and equipment were dispatched to various locations, and newsrooms became command centers. Minute by minute, each new facet of the crisis was reported to a nervous world.

President George W. Bush (2001-) and administration officials went into seclusion. Their brief public statements only hinted at official options and responses. Military action, however, was already being anticipated. Public opinion was quickly consolidated by the media in support of the U.S. government and against the attackers. By midday on September 11, 80 percent of Americans were aware of what had occurred. Through that afternoon, mixed with televised scenes of shock and destruction, calls for retaliation were voiced. That night, Americans witnessed an extraordinary scene on television. Almost every broadcast, cable, and satellite network—more than 100 in number—suspended regular programming. Most Americans tuned to news coverage either on news channels such as CNN or Fox, or the main networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC. Yet even on channels that ranged from QVC to A&E, and from Animal Planet to ESPN, terrorism was the only subject. The media had united the nation in a resolve unmatched since the invasion of Pearl Harbor (1941). Epitomizing the drawing together of Americans was the night-long appearance of aging CBS news anchor Dan Rather on MTV.

The public remained riveted both to the crisis and to the media. Through sophisticated Internet searches, newspaper reporters rather than official sources were the first to identify the hijack suspects, the first to publicly finger Osama bin Laden as being behind the attack, and the first to publicly trace bin Laden to the caves of Afghanistan. Americans were informed of recovery efforts at "Ground Zero," stepped-up security measures, and where to purchase American flags. The retaliatory U.S. invasion of Afghanistan finally began on October 7. The swift removal of Taliban leadership was covered as intensively as the September 11 attacks. This was followed by weeks of intrigue when bin Laden's whereabouts could not be pinned down.

Media Performance Under Attack

Despite unprecedented efforts to keep the public informed, concerns and critiques were soon voiced. From commentators, critics, and others who followed them closely, the media received few high marks for their performance during the crisis. First heard were complaints about rumors, inaccuracies, and network's attempts to win viewers. To surpass rival CNN, Fox had Geraldo Rivera join in the search for Osama bin Laden. Soaring above all the others, though, were two special concerns—manipulation of the media and the media's ability to inform—which are core issues in a longstanding terrorist-media relationship.

Groups such as al-Qaeda claimed not to be terrorists but rather ideological entities whose objectives were ignored by the world. Fundamental in politically-motivated terrorist strategy is holding the media "hostage" to distribute their message. This way, terrorists seize the world stage. For mass casualty terrorists, such as those who perpetrated the September 11 attacks, the media is a tool through which to create greater fear and hype over terrorist actions and threats. False reports of bombs on aircraft, biological contamination, and the destruction of bridges were ongoing after the September 11 attacks. A spectacle was made of the anthrax scare, in which contaminated letters were sent through the U.S. postal system to various people in the media and government. The mail attacks frightened millions of Americans and did take some lives, but responsibility for them has not been definitively determined. There are lingering concerns, however, that the anthrax letters and al-Qaeda are connected.

Nevertheless, the fear and confusion that arose with the anthrax scare are precisely what many terrorist groups want to instill in their targets. As much as the media has shamed bin Laden, it has also rushed to reach him. Concerns about "legitimization" of bin Laden as an acceptable ambassador of the causes he purported to support were touched off when U.S. networks televised their catches of exclusive bin Laden interviews from the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera. Every time bin Laden appeared on al-Jazeera, he also was bannered on American TV, increasing his recognition level for Americans and raising his profile to his supporters. The media, then, was caught in the middle of the problem of manipulation—report on bin Laden to inform the American public and at the same time risk increasing the terrorist's reputation with his own supporters by increased coverage.

There were also concerns, voiced by the U.S. government, that bin Laden used his videos to provide his followers with hidden or cryptic messages. On Oct. 10, 2001, Condoleezza Rice, President George Bush's national security adviser, held a telephone conference call with major television news executives. She asked them to stop airing live or unedited anti-U.S. video statements from Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. She cautioned American television networks against being used by bin Laden and his followers for dissemination of their hidden messages and propaganda.

Equal attention grew around the other big issue: whether the media had kept Americans properly informed. In the minds of many, the shock of September 11 was a function not just of unthinkable acts but of an American public oblivious to global terrorism. Opinion polls showed that most Americans had not known of the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, which dates from the Gulf War (1991). This was among the factors that bin Laden claimed as motivation for the September 11 attacks. Reports later surfaced that the hijackers had trained at flight schools in the United States. They had been welcomed into the United States by unsuspecting hosts unknowing of their guests' true motives. Reporting after the attack revealed lax airport security measures, as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies tangled in bureaucracy. Most agreed that the media had not done enough to keep the public informed about terrorism in general and threats to U.S. interests in particular.

For example, news agencies had given little coverage to reports of an anticipated al-Qaeda strike in the United States during the millennium celebration on January 1, 2000. When al-Qaeda attacked the USS Cole nine months later in the Yemeni port of Aden, the media's interest had dissipated. Further, as President Bill Clinton prepared to leave office, members of his administration had warned of a possible terrorist action on American soil. Reduced to sound bites, these warnings had not been amplified in any sector of the general news media.

To alleviate public confusion and fear after September 11, the media began work on their own antiterrorism response. One step especially visible in the local media followed the newsroom sentiment that many news stories had done more to alarm than to inform. Through October 2001 news providers had rushed to cover all types of hijacking and bomb scares and unsubstantiated threats. Camera crews had not wanted to miss scenes of building evacuations and airport shut downs. Concerns that such coverage was adding to the public's problems reached a climax in November when California governor Grey Davis held a news conference and, based on information he said was credible, announced the possible destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge and other highway structures. After it was determined the threat was a hoax, most news media stopped covering threat spectacles. Earlier, the government had announced that the bin Laden tapes might contain hidden messages directed toward terrorist operatives still at work, which added to sentiment that editors and producers needed to demonstrate greater restraint.

The news media's efforts to increase religious and cultural awareness of Arabs and Muslims was a notable effort to prevent a backlash against Arab and Muslim Americans by other ethnic groups in the country. As a result, Americans learned that some of the most vehement anti-American Islamic leaders had condemned the September 11 attacks. By publicizing the outrage of Arabs and Muslims over the September attacks, the nonviolent doctrines of the Muslim religion, and examining the Arab and Muslim cultures the media helped alleviate what could have been a spiraling pattern of reprisals against Arab-Americans, though more than 1,500 anti-Arab and anti-Muslim attacks did take place after September 11, 2001. Even so, questions continue. The United States' "free press" tradition enabled the media to remain free to cover terrorism as they pleased.

Historical Background

The Media and Domestic Terrorism

The media has covered terrorist activities for a longer period than most people realize. Fear of terrorism gripped the country after the assassination of President William McKinley (1897-1901) by anarchist Leon Czolgosz in 1901. Apprehended and condemned to death, Czolgosz assumed celebrity status as a martyr. Flocking to "death row" interviews, aghast yet fascinated reporters became unwitting conduits for Czolgosz's pleas for more violence.

The McKinley assassination stimulated the media's interest in what became an onslaught of organized violence. By 1920 roughly two dozen major terrorist acts had been committed by a militant pro-labor organization called the Industrial Workers of the World. These acts had included the assassinations of local political figures, the bombings of railroads, and the destruction of mines in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Idaho. The media had a notable brush with labor terrorists in 1910, when a group that had failed to unionize the Los Angeles Times destroyed the headquarters of that newspaper. Although publicity had not been a main goal of these early terrorists, writers and editors remained captivated by their activities. During the so-called "Roaring '20s," newspapers reported on many of the thousands of kidnappings, bombings, and lynchings perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan. A distant glimpse of media-directed terrorism had been coverage given to New York's so-called "Mad Bomber" in the 1930s and 1940s. Later arrested and identified as anarchist George Peter Metesky, this figure was linked to about two dozen bombings and bombing attempts that, he said, were aimed at publicity. One of his targets had been the seventy-story RCA Building, the headquarters of NBC.

It was not until the 1960s, however, that the connection between media and terrorists assumed modern form. The key development was the emergence of television (TV). Prior to the widespread popularity of TV, the public had been exposed to violent acts through still photos, newsreels, and worded accounts on radio and in print. During the 1960s TV expanded into a high percentage of American homes. With this, terrorism became a living-room experience. Two events in that decade further defined the media-terrorist relationship—the first air hijacking in the United States and the formation of the Weather Underground.

The first U.S. air hijacking occurred on August 3, 1961, when a Continental Airlines jetliner took off from Phoenix, Arizona. Communist sympathizers brandishing small knives forced their way into the cockpit and took control of the plane, and ordered the captain to fly it to Cuba. When the jetliner refueled in El Paso, Texas, and authorities stormed the plane, TV cameras recorded every detail. The reporting of the terrorists' methods was extensive. Growing numbers of successful hijackings subsequently occurred around the world. Apparent from each episode's intense publicity was the value of aircraft as a terrorist tool.

From the rise in left-wing terrorism in the late 1960s came the second event. It was the formation in the mid-1960s of a domestic terrorist organization known as the Students for a Democratic Society, comprised of college-educated radicals united in their opposition to the Vietnam War (1964-75). The group spun off from the non-violent League for Industrial Democracy, a social-democratic organization originating in the 1950s, which was the main force behind campus-based radical movements in the 1960s. The Students for a Democratic Society became increasingly revolutionary and, in 1960, split into two groups.

One of these was a radical offshoot that soon garnered more attention as a domestic terrorist group—the Weather Underground. Opposed to the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, and what they perceived as American imperialism, the so-called "Weathermen" were not only the first to recruit and train operatives within a military-like command structure, the organization's leaders were among the first to perfect a "hit-and-run" strategy that further demonstrated how news media could be lured into the coverage of terrorist acts. After planting bombs at buildings and landmarks, such as banks, courthouses, and federal buildings—all targets of U.S. authority, democracy, and power—operatives sent "communiques" to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and police. The evacuation of target locations, and often the actual explosions, became regular scenes on that period's television news.

By 1975 the Weather Underground lost impetus when each of its fugitive leaders were apprehended, and it officially disbanded in 1976. They had, however, cut a significant swath. According to official FBI reports, Weather terrorists were responsible for thirty-five bombings. Author Jay Robert Nash has written that as many as 4,000 bombings had links to the Weather Underground. The takeover of Columbia University in 1968 and a four-day rampage of riots and destruction in Chicago in 1969 were Weather-directed events. Rare was the American who had not seen these incidents depicted in the media. Also portentous had been this group's tying together of other terrorist elements in a cooperative "network" not unlike that directed by al-Qaeda. The first hint of a cooperative terrorist network beyond national borders was the Weather Underground's alliance with several terrorist groups outside the United States, including Germany's violent Baader-Meinhof gang, the Puerto Rican Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the Palestinian al-Fatah.

Especially noteworthy towards bringing terrorism still further into the lap of the media was another left-wing extremist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). The SLA began in 1972 and its activities increased dramatically in 1973 when leader Donald Freeze escaped from prison. Rather than attracting sporadic notice with hit-and-run episodes, the SLA sought to commandeer the entire media complex with a single, high profile act. This was fulfilled beginning on February 4, 1974, when the SLA kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst, who was first confined to a closet for several weeks before she herself became active in the group. Through 1974, only one event—the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon (1969-74)—surpassed the SLA in levels of coverage. Television networks interrupted programming each time a tape-recorded SLA communique was retrieved.

Further, a landmark in the media's reaction to terrorism occurred on May 18, 1974, when Los Angeles police stumbled onto an SLA hideout. Although television had made terrorism more real, Americans still were accustomed to seeing it after the fact. Coverage had consisted of filmed reports edited for the next day's news. In 1974 the Los Angeles station KNXT, however, had perfected the first "mini cam," a miniature TV camera with microwave capability that permitted live coverage from any on-the-scene location. Fifty million Americans witnessed a two-hour shootout and fire bombing exactly as it occurred. Live television brought a striking new dimension to terrorism. Hearst, who escaped the maelstrom, later affirmed in her memoir that from the perspective of her terrorist captors live coverage promised a "gripping" and "surreal" effect, just what they wanted.

The Media and Terrorism Abroad

Despite its long history, the fusion of terrorism and media at the domestic level only partially traced the direction and scale of the relationship. Conflict abroad, notably in the Middle East, had given rise to rebels whose objectives encompassed not just political discourse but social and religious revolution, the seizure of military power, and the undermining of a world order that had turned a deaf ear. Insurgent unrest had mostly only simmered as colonial rule ended in the period after World War II (1939-45). No group had had the potential for reaching the entire world, but sweeping advancements in global mass communication were soon made. A "global village" had formed from the extension of television and its worldwide linkage through instantaneous satellite delivery. With the globalization of media came the "modern era" of terrorist-media affairs.

Media and the Rise of the PFLP

This "modern" relationship between terrorism and the media began to take shape in 1967, the same year an organization known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was formed. Visionary and media-minded, the PFLP was among the first groups to form in the pro-Arab underground movement. The PFLP operated under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its leader Yasser Arafat until 1993, when it refused to participate in the Oslo peace accords. Unlike many other terrorist groups from the region, which are religiously organized, the PFLP operates primarily as a political organization that opposes peace with Israel.

Created by a ruthless yet educated and media savvy figure named George Habash, a Palestinian Christian, the group maintains a nationalist and Marxist-Leninist ideology. Habash, along with PLO leader Yasser Arafat, was among the first spokesmen for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the area that, after World War II, became the nation of Israel. The fortunes of these Palestinians, and their need for a homeland, was central to Arab legitimacy in the post-colonial period. Several Arab states battled Israel in 1948 and 1956, as well as later in 1967 and 1973, over the small nation's right to exist and the dispersal of the Palestinians who had once lived there. Some concerns were mollified by a 1949 treaty affirming the original 1948 United Nations (UN) partition of Israel, though many Arab states remained closed off to ties with their new neighbor. The partition allocated the land of the Golan Heights in the north, Gaza in the south, and the area in and around the holy city of Jerusalem known as the West Bank to the Palestinians.

Then in 1967 came the turning point that would herald the PFLP's formation. On June 1, Israel declared war after Egypt blocked shipping lanes and several other Arab nations took belligerent steps towards Israel. In decisive attacks over the next six days, the Israelis claimed all of the previously withheld territories. For Habash and other Arab leaders, vows by the United States that American forces would protect the new and enlarged Israel were ominous. Over impassioned Arab protests, the Israeli conquests were sanctioned by the UN. With diplomacy foreclosed and the Arab military in ruins, terrorism was considered by many to be the only potentially effective pro-Arab response.

Immediately and publicly, Habash detailed sweeping terrorist initiatives. The PFLP charter had promised a continuous "death" conflict with Israel. The role of the media simultaneously was set forth. Secretly, Habash preached expropriation of the media to Arafat and other disciples. Notably, too, the rationale for media-directed terrorism had been articulated by Habash in a 1970 article, "A Leader of the Fedayeen," in Life magazine (Oriana Fallaci, June 22, 1970). Habash told Life that "to kill a Jew far from the battleground has more effect than killing 100 of them in a battle; it attracts more attention. And when we set fire to a store in London, those few flames are worth the burning down of two kibbutzim. [Through the media] we force people to ask what is going on." Few Americans responded to what seemed to be Habash's anti-Israel diatribe.

Fatah Stages a High Publicity Event

Passing attention was given to early strikes by Fatah in Europe and at Tel Aviv's Lod Airport. Fatah is a guerrilla faction that served as the main wing of the PLO and relied on Arab support for its efforts. The PFLP formed in opposition to Fatah and pursued a strategy that included enlisting help from sources such as Russia and China, which Fatah was disinclined to do.

The world finally awakened to the growing threat of terrorism in August 1972 during the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Fatah's Black September unit penetrated the dormitory that housed Israeli athletes. After murdering a coach and a weightlifter, the hostage-takers announced that they would kill an additional Israeli every hour unless their demands for the release of prisoners were met. All of this had been planned with the certainty of worldwide media publicity. More than 100 countries' radio and television networks were deployed in Munich for the Olympic Games. The episode finished with a horrific conclusion. Expecting safe passage back to the Middle East, the terrorists killed nine more Israeli athletes as they themselves were gunned down at the Munich airport.

The Munich bloodbath was the first truly global terrorist spectacle. It revealed the ease by which terrorists could manipulate not just national but multi-national media. Additionally, the intense glare of the Munich events had dramatized Habash's most chilling pronouncement: that Middle East terrorists would stop at nothing, and would sacrifice their own lives, toward bringing their demands to the attention of the world. Famed ABC sports commentator Jim McKay won that year's Emmy Award for his expert coverage of the breaking news. Again and again, McKay had emphasized that had global television not converged on Munich, the tragedy would most likely not have occurred.

The Media's Eye on the Iran Hostage Crisis

Likewise inspired by the PFLP, the next showcase was the Iran Hostage Crisis between 1979 and 1981, which began as an unauthorized hostage taking situation but later achieved the support of the Iranian government, thus becoming a state-sanctioned act. Its status as a purely terrorist event is up for debate, but again, the matter of media complicity was aired. Yet it was not this issue but rather its complement—the effectiveness of media-delivered information—that would stare back from this more precipitous event.

On November 4, 1979, armed Islamic dissidents stormed the U.S. embassy and claimed 63 people inside as hostages. What began as a publicity maneuver by the hostage-takers wound up as a protracted media melodrama. American news agencies competed with one another for "scoop" stories and the latest "hostage tapes." Nightly newscasts were headlined by the number of days the hostages had been in captivity. Ceaseless and emotional interviews with hostages' families stirred intense public concern about the hostages' safety. This had severely weakened President Jimmy Carter's (1977-81) response capability, as he could not effectively bargain with the Iranians due to the high media scrutiny and publicized fears amongst the American public that the hostages would be killed.

Among the effects of this stasis situation was an ill-fated rescue attempt. Carter's handling of the Iran Hostage Crisis was one of the main issues contributing to his 1980 presidential election defeat by Ronald Reagan (1981-88). The hostage crisis was the very first event covered by the first 24-hour television news channel, CNN. The first late-night network news broadcast, ABC's "Nightline," was another of the media's reactions to the crisis. "Nightline" evolved from terrorist updates ABC had entitled "America Held Hostage."

In the midst of this crisis, however, a gaping breakdown of understanding was observed. The public had been given little information on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism, leading to the underestimation by most Americans of the dimensions of the movement that led to the embassy takeover.

The Iran Hostage Crisis had shock value greater than Munich and was only equaled later by September 11. Most attributed the surprise to the failure of the American news media to effectively report recent changes in the Middle East. Massive U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other political developments of turmoil in the Middle East had been relegated to back page news, while the historic 1977 meetings between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin—engineered in part through overtures by CBS's Walter Cronkite and ABC's Barbara Walters—consumed the media and the public in an image of peace. By initiating a presence in Saudi Arabia and encouraging the softening of Egypt towards the existence of Israel, the United States had inflamed Islamic extremists who objected to the culture, politics, and style of the Western superpower.

The new leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had been swept into power by a strong surge of Islamic fundamentalist and anti-American sentiment. Still focused on the peace forged by Sadat and Begin, however, the media left the public with the impression that Middle East conflicts were on their way to resolution. In reality, a new and more frightening conflict had begun and was being left behind in many news reports—the rise of the United States as what Iran's Khomeini called the "Great Satan" of the Islamic world.

Not all of the Iranian coverage was devoted to the spectacle. An outpouring of articles, documentaries, forums, and discussions aimed at helping Americans better fathom Arab and Islamic perspectives was noteworthy. In part because they too were confused, editors, publishers, and news executives recognized a need for public education. Starting with Iran, background analysis was included in terrorist coverage. For the first time, news providers enlisted policy experts and military consultants. Through the media, Americans learned of the mix between the religion of Islam and politics in the Middle East, while news agencies placed correspondents in more Arab capitals. The media's drive for Islamic awareness did become less intense but continued after "Day 444," when the hostages were freed.

With the rise of Khomeini in Iran, however, the media-terrorism nexus entered a new phase. For groups that had included and sprung from the PFLP, terrorism was limited because money was needed. If they acted as bandits, terrorists risked discovery and destruction. Khomeini shifted the paradigm by sanctioning terrorism as an official function of the Iranian government in an attempt to export its revolution. New groups such as Hizballah received support from Iran in its formation and drew from the country's government coffers as well. It became a primary example of how terrorists were coming to operate under the protection of some governments. This concept of state-sponsored terrorism soon spread to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had just emerged, and to Libya, where Muammar Qadhafi had consolidated control. Sudan and Afghanistan, the eventual havens for Osama bin Laden, would also join this group. For the media, the advent of state-sponsored terrorism brought a thicket of new complications.

Chief among these was an expansion in terrorist activities that left terrorism still more difficult to portray. Not only did terrorist cells thrive under protective umbrellas afforded by the governments of Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan, but these societies became increasingly closed, making reporting on events within them extremely difficult. Changes in Iran were notable. Khomeini's predecessor, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, had actively reached out to the West. Iran's domestic media system had been one of the more open and progressive among countries in that part of the world. Few restrictions were placed on Western correspondents. Through the 1970s Iraq, too, had been a relatively open nation.

Yet with the emergence of regimes like those of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, both in 1979, flows of information deemed credible in the West ground to a halt.Cadres of American and European journalists had sought to expose the massing of arms and the training of terrorist guerrillas. To do this, these journalists needed to penetrate terrorist enclaves, potentially facing death if they were caught. This fact was brought home in Pakistan in 2002 when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed while investigating a story.

Only through half-informed sources and second-hand accounts was the world aware that terrorist militants had formed. Packaged as Islamic covenants, official pronouncements had reached out to Islamic fundamentalists. Publicly, Khomeini stated: "God is our goal, the Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our Constitution, struggle is our way. Death in the service of God is the loftiest of our wishes." In the West, such rhetoric was discredited as government propaganda. Khomeini and his followers trumpeted increasing violence against the West. These claims had seemed so unlikely that they were passed off as more fundamentalist rhetoric. One of the most noteworthy of these was Khomeini's announcement that: "All the rulers of Islamic countries are servants of foreigners … and have left the entire Islamic heritage in the hands of foreigners …We have to spread Islam everywhere, and in this path we have given a great deal of blood, and we will give more …Whatever is necessary to destroy them must be carried out."

Sensitive Information and the Media

The arrival of state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East presented new problems for U.S. policymakers that would test the relationship between the media and the U.S. government. A key issue was the media's handling of sensitive and top secret information. It was not until the increase in state-sponsored terrorism that the government formulated policies. This began in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan, whose Secretary of State, George Schultz, issued the first counterterrorism National Security Directive. This secret plan prescribed sneak attacks on terrorist bases and the uprooting of terrorist networks through covert means. Leading newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post had sources inside the State Department who related what the plan entailed. Schultz met with publishers and media executives. He insisted that exposure of the plan would compromise antiterrorist action and urged the media to withhold what they knew.

For the media, this became and remains a very difficult task. Confronted on the one side by the terrorists' own secretive nature, and on the other by the public's presumed "need to know," much of what the media knew in turn became known to everybody. Although major news agencies agreed to protect most of the Schultz directive, parts of it did seep out. Then, a notable example of media exposure occurred in 1986, when in an undercover operation, U.S. warplanes struck at terrorist hideouts in Libya. CNN was on the air and detailing the attack with planes still en route. These planes would have been easy targets had Libya been forewarned by CNN's broadcast and possessed anti-aircraft fire to shoot the planes down. Additionally, in 1987 and 1988 sensitive initiatives aimed at freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon were prolonged by the media's prying reports.

An issue of increasing concern was, and still is, the "leaking" of information by the government. Versed in the media's obsession for "inside knowledge," government officials knew that they could use the media to channel counterterrorism ventures. The Reagan administration perfected this strategy. In a 1981 case, administration "insiders" leaked as "classified information" vague reports that a presidential assassination attempt by U.S.-based Libyan terrorists was imminent. American news agencies trailed this story for weeks. Although it lacked substance, the coverage helped mold public support for the passage of antiterrorist legislation. Following the U.S. strikes on Libya, insiders acted again by feeding false reports of an all-out invasion of that country. While no such plan existed, the publicity was sufficient to make Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi back off some of his anti-American rhetoric and action and lower his profile for a while. State Department spokesperson Bernard Kalb, formerly a CBS correspondent, resigned in protest over the government's handling of terrorism with tactics such as these.

The media addressed these cases of misinformation through protest but also through a more likely and effective tactic, investigative reporting. Investigative reporters used different, more accurate "inside" sources to uncover the other "insiders" who were leaking false reports. One of these reporters was Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, a figure who had achieved fame for helping reveal the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. In 1986 Woodward published a series of scathing front-page exposés on the Reagan administration's misinformation program. These exposés, which had roused Reagan's opponents and placed the administration in a negative light, demonstrated how the media could keep the government in check.

As concerns about terrorism continued, controversies over the handling of sensitive material also continued. Policymakers still complained that prying reporters impeded antiterrorist measures, while reporters realized that their dependence on government sources made them captives of managed information.

Up Close and Personal with Terror

All of these matters bore down on the media as global terrorism became what it is today: a long chain of heinous crimes and nightmare news events. Like moths to a flame, the media was drawn to every incident. From his overtures to Israel, Egypt's Sadat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978, and in 1981 he was gunned down by an Islamic extremist hit squad and the assassination televised live on Egyptian TV. In 1982 Bashir Gemayal, the president-elect of Lebanon, was killed by Syrian terrorists who used a 440-pound percussion bomb to carry out their assassination. In 1983, 241 U.S. Marines stationed in Beirut were killed when a truck packed with TNT exploded. The attack is suspected to be the responsibility of Hizballah, though the group has denied involvement. Other sources allege that the group Islamic Jihad was responsible.

In June 1985, in the largest terrorist media event since the Iran Hostage Crisis, two Lebanese Hizballah terrorists hijacked a TWA jetliner en route to Rome as it took off from Athens. For seventeen days, as the plane flew between Algiers and Beirut, passengers were beaten and held at gunpoint. Then, in October 1985, the PFLP hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. While describing their maneuvers on radio, the terrorists seized the documents of the Americans on board. After choosing at random the passport of wheelchair-bound passenger Leon Klinghoffer, he was killed on the spot.

Indignation over the Achille Lauro affair sealed enactment of the 1986 Antiterrorism Act. Section 1202 of the act made it a Federal crime for a terrorist overseas to kill, attempt to murder, conspire to murder, or to engage in physical violence with the intent to cause bodily injury to a United States national. It was based on this legislation that President George W. Bush launched his "war on terrorism" after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Observers agreed that passage of the 1986 act had hinged no more on terrorist incidents than it had on the fact that through the media Americans could not escape them. The first major expressions of doubt within the media community came early on after the passage of the act.

Urging his colleagues to reconsider their fixation with the suffering of victims' families, ABC commentator George Will referred to this aspect of terrorism coverage as the "pornography of grief." Troubled that his own network had been a marionette in the TWA affair, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw complained of "too much … unexpurgated television transmission coming from Beirut. The people were getting a kind of voyeurish experience. There was a real exploitation going on, which I don't think we should allow."

Nevertheless, whenever incidents erupted, and wherever terrorists, authorities, and victims crossed paths, the media, too, were there. In 1986, 204 revelers were injured or killed when a Libyan bomb ripped through a disco in Berlin. In 1988 a New York-bound Pan American jetliner with 259 passengers was blown up as it flew over Lockerbie, Scotland. In 1989 the world gasped again when television networks transmitted yet another hostage tape. Provided by Lebanese terrorists, this tape showed the tortured body of Marine Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins following his execution by hanging.

Known, but marginally reported in 1991, was the continued presence of half a million U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and their public denunciation by a Saudi millionaire named Osama bin Laden. Little attention was paid by the media and the public to bin Laden's expulsion from Saudi Arabia and his moves to Sudan and Afghanistan. At the time, he was not a known terrorist who had acted against U.S. targets, but he was a credible threat the government was watching. One of the most publicity-minded of all terrorist leaders, bin Laden granted interviews to Western journalists. He is suspected of having links to the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, the 1998 attack on U.S. embassies in Africa, and the 2000 strike on the USS Cole, though bin Laden himself has only talked publicly (via videotape) about the September 11 attacks. Vowing the United States "would die," bin Laden boasted of operatives in the United States after the attacks, lauding their knowledge of aircraft systems, weak U.S. airport security, and his communication to the operatives during their preparation. The implications of these boasts were something that the media had yet to investigate.

Recent History and the Future

The history of terrorism is more than a progression of politics, ideology, and senseless events. It also is the story of normal human beings—from policymakers to people on the street—who through the media have witnessed terrorism countless times and who again and again have been struck by the next terrorist act.

This pattern has not been confined to terrorism centered in the Middle East and the regions nearby. British-controlled Northern Ireland struggles to maintain its peace accord and eliminate threats of continued violence in the region. One of the deadliest incidents perpetrated by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a bombing near Belfast that killed or injured 250 people, occurred as recently as 1998. One of the most fearsome terrorist events of recent times occurred in 1995 in Tokyo when the radical Aum Shinrikyo cult killed 12 and injured a thousand more when it released sarin nerve agent in the Tokyo subway. The 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City was a sure sign that American domestic terrorism was far from eliminated. Like those in the Middle East, these recent spectacles unnerved people. Yet life went on and normality returned, while terrorism continued to be a threat.

The "war on terrorism," launched against al-Qaeda and terrorism in general in the wake of September 11, finally may mark the break in this pattern. Terrorism is a top priority of the current U.S. presidential administration. For the first time, Congress has approved military intervention and homeland security and public opinion is behind these initiatives. In the past the media may have numbed the public to terrorism and over-simplified the terrorism problem. If the war on terrorism is successful, however, the media will have played a history-shaping role. The media's magnification of the September 11 events contributed significantly to the U.S. public's attitude that terrorist actions are not tolerable and should be punished. Just as the media can buoy public support, however, it remains a double-edged sword through which the terrorist's cause may be promoted or sensationalized by the same media seeking to inform and win the higher ratings.

Questions of Time, Resolve, and Media-Terrorist Legitimacy

The "war on terrorism" will be a long and uncertain affair. After September 11, Americans braced for a terrorist assault. Terrorism, however, is often not the engagement of battle but rather of secretly planned acts spaced years, if not decades, apart.

Accordingly, a pivotal question is whether interest and national unity against terrorism can be sustained over a prolonged period of time. Experts foresee a continuation among some groups of traditional terrorist strategy, which has always assumed several objectives, including attention-grabbing attacks, demands on a government or society, and—for politically motivated terrorist groups such as the Irish Republican Army and the Basque separatists—legitimacy for their cause.

Complicating this picture is the recent increase in the number of terrorists with no immediate political demands who provoke violence from feelings of outrage and alienation. Many of these groups are more ideologically and religiously, rather than politically, based. Al-Qaeda is one such group. Although its demands have been explicit for the removal of American interests in the Middle East, al-Qaeda neither stepped forward nor voiced particular demands before or after September 11, 2001. In the meantime, the war on terrorism must address threats from individuals and groups who have no particular constituencies but whose violence can be just as, if not more, dangerous. Politically-oriented terrorist groups risk losing support if their acts kill too many, too indiscriminately. For those groups without specific political demands, there are few restrictions beyond financing and the opportunity to commit acts of mass casualty terrorism such as those seen on September 11.

Although the dimensions of terrorism are diverse, terrorist objectives will continue to involve the media. Two of these objectives are manifest in terrorist violence. First, terrorists plot incidents to arouse supporters and alert the world that causes, such as the political conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, are worthy of human sacrifice. Second, terrorists have grievances and a variety of demands—among them political, ideological, and religious—that they feel can be met by holding a government or a people hostage to the threat or reality of violence.

Less visible, though—and a potential corrosive to national resolve—is what experts consider a third terrorist objective, one predominantly specific to groups with a political orientation. This is the achievement of legitimacy. Terrorists with political goals, such as Northern Ireland's IRA and the Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA) in northern Spain and southern France, seek independence. In the case of Northern Ireland, the IRA long sought the ousting of British control from Northern Ireland and that region's unification with the Republic of Ireland. ETA seeks a separate Basque homeland. Groups such as these exhort that they would forego violence if given a fair voice and equal seat from which to address their issues. Some observers have gone so far as to propose that if these groups and their complaints were recognized, political terrorism would become less frequent. While this view is highly uncertain and subject to debate, the political terrorist's quest for legitimacy is unquestioned—and can be helped by the media.

In sustaining the "war on terrorism" over the many years envisioned, success may rest on how well the U.S. administration continues to demonize terrorist leaders. One of its challenges will come from a media establishment whose tendency has been to portray top terrorist leaders in less-than-draconian terms, often playing up a cloak of mystery around them. Calculated public relations efforts by increasingly sophisticated terrorist groups will be encouraging the media in this regard. More of a push will be the media's own instinct to personalize figures in the news and perhaps seek to humanize a terrorist and, in the process, neglect the terror this person perpetrates on others.

This penchant was well-revealed—and the subject of much professional debate—when after September 11 the media probed every nook and cranny of Osama bin Laden's life. Portrayals, however, had negative consequences. By working in step to demystify bin Laden, the media actually raised his public profile. News reports emphasized bin Laden's family ties in the United States and that bin Laden had once helped the country as an informant for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Bin Laden's videotapes were analyzed for what commentators saw as his serious, stable, and calm reactions. Background stories went on to tout bin Laden's intelligence, education, command of high technology, and that he was spiritual and worshipped by those he led. Time magazine even considered naming bin Laden as its 2001 "Man of the Year."

While bin Laden hardly was legitimized, the media's interest in his personal affairs was a typical reaction. In cases where terrorists seek political leverage, this practice of showcasing terrorist figures is believed by many to have significant effects. Former U.S. secretary of state Alexander Haig maintained that such treatment "risks making international outlaws seem like responsible personalities." In reporting the results of a 1994 study on the media's legitimization of terrorists, Brigitte L. Nacos concluded that it "does not make a difference whether an interviewer is tough on the terrorist or his sympathizer. The mere fact that the terrorist is interviewed by respected media representatives … elevates the person virtually to the level of a legitimate politician."

The PFLP's George Habash is a prime example of a terrorist leader once lambasted as the "devil" but who later thrived from his many invitations to appear in interviews and on TV talk shows. The interviews and photo opportunities given to Amal militia leader Nabih Berri during the 1985 TWA hijacking crisis is another example of media-terrorist legitimacy. Speaking for the hijackers, Berri was accorded live television interviews on at least fifty occasions. He appeared with CBS anchor Dan Rather on ten different editions of the "CBS Evening News." Additional interviews were carried on the ABC and NBC evening newscasts, ABC's "Nightline," NBC's "Today," and throughout the coverage provided by CNN.

On ABC's "Good Morning America," anchor David Hartman ended an interview by asking this terrorist, "Any final words to President Reagan this morning?" Hartman's question implied that Berri's words would be considered in official corridors, thus granting him a level of status beyond "terrorist" and closer to official spokesperson for his cause. History is rife with further examples. After the overtures for peace to Israel by Egypt's Anwar Sadat, Sadat's preceding career as one of the staunchest supporters of the PFLP, a figure vilified in the West, was expunged as the U.S. administration rushed to support Sadat's overtures and encourage peace between Egypt and Israel. The media's attempts to reach Iraq's Saddam Hussein, whose country is suspected of having biological and chemical weapons capabilities, during and since the 1991 Gulf War have also been relentless. PLO leader Yasser Arafat, a high profile individual heading the PLO for much of its history as a terrorist organization, eventually joined President Bill Clinton in strolling through the Rose Garden at the White House. The media gave little attention to Arafat's past position as the leader of a group that for years refused to recognize Israel's right to exist and refused to renounce terrorism. Indeed, under Arafat the PLO engaged in numerous terrorist acts. It finally acknowledged Israel's right to exist and renounced terrorism in December 1988.

Legitimization will not be an issue in the case of al-Qaeda. In the future, however, the government's "war on terrorism" will not target only this group. To succeed it must confront an array of leaders whose interests can be advanced by terrorism, by opportunities to be heard through the media, or by a combination of both. The media's handling and portrayal of these individuals may influence the war's direction.

Questions of Terrorist-Media Manipulation

More immediate is that question posed by the terrorist-media experience: will the media fall prey to terrorist manipulation against a backdrop of threats and violent acts? A case in point was the anthrax scare that dominated news reporting in the fall of 2001. At first, the prolonged coverage was accepted as positive because it heightened public vigilance. While few were physically affected, five victims did lose their lives. After several weeks of hearing about the dangers of biological terrorism, opinion polls suggested confusion from Americans, and a public less informed than it was dis-oriented. Even within the media community there were concessions that although anthrax was never traced to Osama bin Laden, the disarray in the U.S. government and public proved a major bin Laden coup. Although the anthrax attacks were considered not to be linked to bin Laden, the events as they unfolded fulfilled the terrorist determination to wreak havoc and disorder inside the United States. The degree to which the media may continue to help terrorists will depend on future events. While such events are impossible to predict, several points of interest will present themselves.

Notable among these is the handling of the media by those directing the war on terrorism. Thus far, the war has been pursued with success. At present, an overwhelming proportion of Americans both support the war and feel it is helping to address the terrorism problem. Still, the administration walks a tightrope. Through the media, the president must establish a war climate. Simultaneously, though, the president must also use the media to promote normality and alleviate fear. Adding to the president's dilemma is the abstract nature of a war against terrorism. After September 11, President Bush took forward-looking steps by declaring a "war on terrorism," having Congress approve a "war on terrorism," and vowing terrorist extermination through this "total war." Too much attention to terrorism, however, could straight-jacket the country and signal terrorist victory in paralyzing a nation with fear and uncertainty. Too little attention could lead to complacency—and another round of terrorist surprise.

Too often a more compelling reference point is not terrorism itself but anxieties inside the media community. When global terrorism rose in the 1980s, coverage was controlled by a handful of news agencies and, in the United States, just three television networks. These entities were authoritative. Today, new cable channels and Internet services have fragmented the audience and created a competitive melee. Critics fear that this "news war" will give terrorists more avenues to exploit. Not only is competition the root of "scoop" stories that lead to overtures to terrorists, but competition also feeds on sensational, attention-getting material, which fits terrorism like a hand-in-glove.

The anthrax scare was followed in the media by a ratings battle between CNN and the four-yearold Fox News Channel. Each week that the Nielsen ratings were publicized showed the Fox Channel's ratings victory. The public's window on the War on Terror will be colored by this competitive melodrama. When Fox hired Geraldo Rivera to hunt down bin Laden, ratings soared and viewers saw the gun Rivera had packed and said he was going to use. MSNBC used the war on terrorism to usher in Ashleigh Banfield a new news "star." Former presidential advisor Gary Sick has suggested that "the true genius of America [is] to transfer a political disaster into a commercial bonanza." These words have meaning as the war on terrorism moves forth with the media seeking to report all it can on the events taking place.

Finally, the media's own antiterrorism response can be followed with interest. Not since the Iran Hostage Crisis have newsroom decision-makers been more sensitive to their manipulation by terrorists. The news community continues to insist that as much as the media may be a conduit for terrorists, worse would be a world where terrorist acts go unreported. Within the bounds of this principle, however, is sentiment that the media must exert greater control on what they do report.

Centering the media's own war against terrorism is a movement to restrain and self-censor terrorist coverage. One result: within a few days of the Trade Center attacks, replays of the aircraft striking the buildings had almost disappeared. The media saw no value in indulging in this gut-wrenching event. Professionals—among them news managers and editors belonging to the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA)—now agree that if photographers should capture a gruesome scene, such as an actual terrorist strike, limits should be placed on how it is shown. Under RTNDA guidelines affirmed in 2002, blood, bodies, and screams either are to be kept off the air or televised only with explicit preceding warnings to viewers. Moment-of-impact video is to be limited to same-day newscasts and shown only sparingly, such as in documentaries and special reports, thereafter.

Further, newsrooms are now encouraged to de-emphasize if not avoid building evacuation and airport scares. As a further step, the media endorsed the system enacted in 2002 by the Office of Home-land Security in which terrorist threats are communicated based on levels of possible danger. On the fringes of these discussions are media-terrorist laws in other countries. In Germany and Greece, excessive and overt coverage of terrorism can result in criminal prosecution. In Great Britain, antiterrorism policy contains an emergency provision that enables the government to intervene. British news providers who amplify a terrorist crisis, for example, are subject to arrest.

As for the American response, the ultimate issue is whether the threat of terrorism is sufficiently grave that it supercedes the principle of "freedom of the press." Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the media has extensive freedoms to publish and televise material. One limitation is cases in which reporting poses a clear and present danger to the U.S. government. Another limitation is the possibility of libel cases in which reporting that bears malicious intent falsely de-fames a public figure. Still, media freedoms under the First Amendment are vast. It is the First Amendment that enables the U.S. media to hold up portraits of terrorist leaders to the public and tout terrorist acts without government censorship, a freedom that is not always the case in other countries. A question for the future is whether the media will still function in a mostly open environment, or whether, with the wakening of the country to terrorism, greater restrictions will be imposed.


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Craig Allen


1901 The media's attraction to terrorist figures is established in the assassination of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. As Czolgosz awaits execution, newspaper and magazine reporters flock to interview him.

1910 The U.S. media's first major brush with terrorism occurs when two labor extremists bomb the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times in response to the publisher's fiercely anti-labor views.

1961 The first terrorist incident widely reported on television is the first aircraft hijacking in the United States. Although authorities regain control of the plane, filmed accounts dramatize the value of aircraft as a terrorist tool.

1967 Worldwide publicity accompanies the formation of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Using U.S. media, leader George Habash promises terrorist action until Israel yields territory claimed in the June "Six Day War."

1968 Domestic terrorism swells with the formation of the left-wing Weather Underground. Thousands of bombings are orchestrated for filmed coverage on television newscasts.

1972 In the first global media terrorism spectacle, Israeli athletes are gunned down at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

1974 The impact of live television is first demonstrated during a two-hour shootout between the Symbionese Liberation Army and Los Angeles police. The captors of heiress Patricia Hearst, SLA terrorists compete with Watergate as the period's most-covered news subject.

1979-81 The 444-day Iran Hostage Crisis marks a turning point in terrorist-media affairs. Blanket news coverage prolongs resolution. The rise of both Islamic extremism and state-sponsored terrorism begins in earnest. Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini proclaims the United States as the "Great Satan" of the Islamic world.

1985 The globalization of media dramatically showcases the escalation of terrorism. Spectacles include the assassination of Egypt's Anwar Sadat, the killing of 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut, a seventeen-day hijacking drama, and the killing of a wheelchair-bound passenger on the cruise ship Achille Lauro.

1986 Indignation in the United States over the terrorist killing of a U.S. wheelchair-bound passenger on the Achille Lauro speeds passage of the 1986 Antiterrorism Act. For the first time, concerns about terrorist manipulation of the media are widely expressed.

1988-89 Terrorist spectacles continue with the destruction of a Pan American jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. Weeks later, American networks broadcast a video showing the body of a captured U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel after his execution by hanging in Beirut.

1991 The Gulf War ends with American military based in Saudi Arabia. Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden assembles a communication network to publicly denounce the "seizure" of his country.

1993-2000 During interviews where he invites Western media, bin Laden tells Western journalists that an attack on the United States is imminent. This furthers speculation that he is responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, and the 2000 strike on the USS Cole.

September 11, 2001 The hijackings of four jetliners and the destruction of the World Trade Center and Pentagon inspire unprecedented media coverage. Instant public reaction assures the first "war on terrorism," which U.S. President George W. Bush declares the following day.


Al-Jazeera, the pre-eminent Arab news network, may be relatively new on the media scene to those in the West, but it is already no stranger to conflict—both in the Middle East crises on which it reports and in the controversy created by what some consider its biased coverage.

In fact, while the name al-Jazeera has only been in use since 1996, most of the staff are old hands at news reporting. In April of that year, BBC Arabic Television, a BBC partnership with a Saudi Arabian company, was forced to shut down because of a Saudi attempt to censor a documentary on executions in the country. A new satellite channel, however, quickly took its place, funded by the emir of Qatar and other Arab moderates. Many of the journalists who had been with BBC Arabic began working at the new network, al-Jazeera. Broadcast un-censored except in Qatar, al-Jazeera swiftly began top-ping viewer ratings in the Middle East and rivaling its Western counterparts for the quality and timeliness of its reporting. It was al-Jazeera that broke the story of the April 7, 2002, ambush in the West Bank town of Jenin and broadcast the only pictures of Afghan demonstrators attacking and burning the U.S. embassy in late September 2001.

While al-Jazeera's credentials might not be in question, however, the topic of its integrity has spawned fierce debate. Some newspapers have charged al-Jazeera of being Osama bin Laden's mouthpiece, an accusation perhaps partly born of the fact that bin Laden chose al-Jazeera to broadcast his videotaped statements to the Muslim world. Other critics have likened al-Jazeera's news coverage to a rallying war cry, claiming the repetitive shots the channel airs of dead and dying Pales-tinians—while ignoring or impersonalising Israeli losses—stokes Arab anger. Still others denounced what they perceive as an anti-Western bias embraced by the network.

Defenders of al-Jazeera are quick to point out that Israeli authorities and journalists appear regularly on the satellite channel although they have been all but banned on other Arab networks. Al-Jazeera has also aired interviews with Western officials such as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. It should also be noted that the network doesn't shy away from controversy out of any notions of self-preservation. Al-Jazeera's bureaus around the region are periodically closed due to its insistence on broadcasting stories about government corruption in various Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Ironically enough, in light of all this contention, al-Jazeera's motto is "We get both sides of the story." Regardless of what Western journalists may think about the veracity of this statement, it would seem that the Arab world is content enough to embrace al-Jazeera as one of its primary sources of information during these troubled times.

September 11: The Media Respond

Swift approval of President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism" was the main outcome of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Before the president could speak to the public, television and other media had riveted Americans to the crisis. Instantaneous marshalling of public opinion cleared the way for the United States' new war. Even so, questions were raised. Issues were not new but nested in a long-standing "terrorist-media relationship."

  • Notable was the mobilization of television, radio, news agencies, and Internet sources within minutes of the mid-morning September 11 attacks. Eighty percent of Americans knew of these events by noon of that day.
  • Reminding many Americans of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was the media's blanket response. On the night of September 11, virtually every broadcast, cable, and satellite channel suspended regular programming and provided crisis coverage, which galvanized national unity.
  • Coverage peaked again on October 7, 2001, with the launch of the war in Afghanistan. Through the media, Americans followed the removal of Taliban forces, the routing of al-Qaeda, and, then, the military's search for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
  • The first questions arose when the media fomented public fears during a purported anthrax assault by terrorists. Concerns also appeared when American networks rushed to televise interviews with bin Laden. After related concerns about threat spectacles such as airport evacuations, the coverage of such events was reduced.
  • A second questionable area was the media's effectiveness in informing the American public. Several factors suggested that Americans were oblivious to global terrorism prior to September 11, 2001.

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