We live today in an age of soundbites and 'spin', in which arresting footage or pithy phrases are valued above considered analysis and detailed exegesis -- and are frequently mistaken for good journalism. One of the enduring axioms of terrorism is that it is designed to generate publicity and attract attention to the terrorists and their cause. It is, accordingly, an activity custom-tailored to mass media communication at the end of the twentieth century. Terrorist acts are only too easily transformed into major, international media events -- precisely because they are often staged specifically with this goal in mind. Their dramatic characteristics of sudden acts of violence exploding across the screen or printed page, rapidly unfolding into crises, pitting enigmatic adversaries against the forces of law and order make these episodes as ideal for television as they are irresistible for broadsheet and tabloid journalist alike.
In Britain, the media (and public) fascination with terrorists is second perhaps only to that with the country's royal family. How else can one explain the small article that was featured on page four of the London Times on 3 September 1997 as part of its coverage of the Princess of Wales's tragic death, and the repetition of its content the following day as part of a larger article on page six? Both described how Leila Khaled -- the Palestinian terrorist who gained international notoriety as a result of her involvement in the in-flight hijacking of a TWA flight in 1969 and of an El Al passenger jet the following year -- had been touched by the princess, to whom she dedicated a poem that she sent to the princess's two sons. 93 Apart from the fact that there could be no two persons more different than a former terrorist, whose actions on those two occasions deliberately endangered the lives of hundreds of innocent airline passengers, and a woman whose life was dedicated to ameliorating the suffering of the innocent and infirm, that Khaled and her thoughts should be considered newsworthy is testimony to the powerful magnetic attraction exercised by terrorists and terrorism for the media in even the most unlikely (and absurd) circumstances.
For terrorists, media coverage of their activities is, as we have seen, something of a double-edged sword, providing them with the attention and publicity that they invariably seek, but not always in a particularly useful or even helpful manner. In this respect, while the 1985 TWA