In the Founders’ footsteps: Manufacturing terror

So far, we’ve been discussing ways in which to effect positive change in politics. But, have you ever given thought to how politics changes you? As you can imagine, it’s not always for the better. Specifically, the way the media portrays things can have a direct impact on how we see the world. This is something we need to be mindful of.

For instance, for over a decade the United States has waged a “War on Terror,” and this war has ostensibly provided the federal government justification for warrantless wiretapping, sweeping phone surveillance programs, and the execution of American citizens without trial, not to mention the actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In order to justify such policies, the War on Terror has got to be pretty important. So, who is it being fought against? Terrorists, presumably. But what’s a terrorist?

Here, a problem arises. There is no internationally-accepted definition of terrorism. It varies from country to country. This means we must rely heavily on the media for our understanding of terrorism. Here, a problem surfaces. The media treats people who commit similar kinds of violence very differently.

The way the media frames this narrative makes people more afraid of strange foreign people who want to hurt us for no discernible reason, and when people are afraid, they naturally want protection

Did you know that 75 percent of the acts of terrorism in the United States over the past several decades have been domestic? The media treats domestic terrorists very differently from foreign ones, though. Domestic terrorists are seen as misunderstood, but generally intelligent, people who commit violent acts to get attention, as pleas for help, because of some mental illness, or to accomplish some social aim. Foreign terrorists, however, are often portrayed as irrational and naturally aggressive, and their motives are typically not analyzed. This was true even of domestic terrorists with foreign-sounding names.

People tend to be more frightened of things they don’t understand, and the way the media portrays foreign terrorists masks them in mystery and paints them with the brush of irrationality. On the other hand, domestic terrorists are more intelligible according to the media’s narrative, so they aren’t as frightening. This in spite of the fact that they pose a significantly greater threat.

Why is this important? Because the government’s policies in recent years have aimed to combat terrorism from foreign combatants, our understanding of this terrorism (and, in a sense, its actual definition) is dependent on how the media portrays it, and the media does a very poor job of actually investigating the people it’s reporting on. The way the media frames this narrative makes people more afraid of strange foreign people who want to hurt us for no discernible reason, and when people are afraid, they naturally want protection. So they’re more likely to accept bad policies from the government as long as those policies appear to keep them safe.

In my opinion, we need to grow past this skewed way of looking at things. We need to recognize how our worldview is shaped by news outlets and other media sources, and not let fear corral us into giving up our rights for protection from something that, in the bigger picture, isn’t actually much of a threat.

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1 comments
mdimirco
mdimirco

"the government’s policies in recent years have aimed to combat terrorism from foreign combatants" I think the evidence would support the claim that gov't policies in recent years have aimed to alienate and erode the 4th amendment rights of American citizens. I do agree that the threat of foreign terror attacks are greatly overblown and it is definitely partly due to media hype. I think this environment of 24 hour sensationalist news outlets is really unfortunate. They do nothing but serve corporate agendas and care nothing about journalistic integrity. It's all about dumbing it's content down to reach the demographics that are most commercially viable. Government policy seems most concerned about keeping the public afraid of a terror threat to excuse the incredibly un-constitutional actions that it has taken in the years following 9/11. They use the fig leaf of homeland security to rationalize the warrant-less wiretapping, blanket NSA surveillance, agent provocateurs infiltrating protest groups like the Occupy movement, and a multitude of other extra-constitutional offenses