Other Observers Critique Media Coverage

Insight on the News, October 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Other Observers Critique Media Coverage


First they used our planes to bomb our cities and kill our people, and now they use our media to divide us. More virulent than biological warfare, the terrorists have launched an insidious, well-executed media campaign of hatred designed to rip our nation apart.

In a devastatingly effective plan, the terrorists are spreading fear and hatred via our technology as news outlets scramble to show the images of the carnage. The attacks were well-timed, giving photographers a window to catch the second plane at various angles as it crashed into the World Trade Center tower. They achieved their objectives: Thousands died and images of terror and mass destruction now play nonstop.

We watch the carnage, hear stories describing Islam as the enemy and read endless accounts creating the cult of Osama bin Laden. We hear the growing drumbeat of a call to war. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell fan the flames blaming gays and feminists for the horror, and hate crimes are soaring.

As obscene as these savage and murderous images are, unless we counteract the hatred that grows from this terrifying public-relations campaign against America, it can lead us to the wrong war, against the wrong people -- us. -- Anthony Mora, head of a media-relations firm in Los Angeles and author of The Alchemy of Success.

It's difficult for responsible media to know when enough is enough. The networks feel an obligation to stay on the air with nonstop coverage partly because they want to inform the public and partly because they're afraid they'll be scooped by their competitors. There's also the risk of being seen as too cold-blooded and capitalistic by showing soap operas (and ads) while a national tragedy is occurring. Still, they often cross the line. Showing the [space shuttle] Challenger blow up for the 40th time and the reaction of Christa McAuliffe's parents repeatedly was far into exploitation.

A larger problem is the speculation that surrounds such crisis coverage. The facts are few and you're on the air constantly. What do you do? You bring in "experts" to speculate on who did it and how they did it. Rumors get reported because you don't want to miss the story that your competitors have, so you go with whatever information was just handed to you. There's no time to establish the credibility of the source. As a result, we get a lot of misinformation (reports of a plane crash near Camp David and of at least several planes unaccounted for). …

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