When it comes to mass media, there are three main interest groups that compete with one another. The government, terrorists and journalists all participate in a constant battle, vying for the public’s attention and support. Of course, their strategies differ greatly, but the media remains the leading platform used by all three to garner widespread acceptance.
Political leaders maintain mostly selfish motives for using the media. Advancing political agendas, boosting images and protecting reputations are their top concerns. Terrorists also vie for public support, relying on the media to promote their ideologies and broadcast their actions in hopes of gaining worldwide support from sympathizers and potential recruits.
But for journalists, their actions can quickly transform the media into an instrument of propaganda for government agencies and terrorists.
I can think of a lot of mishaps carried out by the notorious journalists of Fox News, but nothing speaks to me more than the network’s tasteless exploitation of the violent killing of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh by ISIS terrorists.
Fox News remains the only network in the United States to have aired the graphic images that show the hostage burning to death, even putting the complete video on its national website and ultimately marketing an execution. This comes after the network’s previous condemnation of other media outlets displaying comparable content.
In 2005, Fox News openly displayed its opposition to al-Jazeera’s airing of photographs from the Iraq War, claiming that such images – dubbed “terrorist propaganda” – incentivize future attacks by providing reference material for Iraqi terrorists, namely Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
*Note: ISIS was Al-Qaeda in Iraq; now it simply operates under a new name, and as of February 2014, it is officially no longer affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
But still, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith entered uncharted depths of this so-called terrorist propaganda with his detailed, ten-minute narration of the gruesome act. At one point he mentioned that the pilot “cover[ed] his face with his hands” before “collaps[ing] to his knees.”
Already apparent is the fact that Fox News has neglected accuracy and impartiality, which are the most important qualities of newsworthiness. But now the network has clearly abandoned sensitivity as well. Ever since journalists have found terrorist acts newsworthy, reporting with a sense of urgency and drama has become far more important than reporting with political and social correctness.
The once-cherished didactic tradition of reporting, which aimed to educate the public with factual, reliable information, has now been replaced with sensationalism.
Fox News tried to justify its move, of course, claiming that its intent was to show the public the barbarity and wretchedness associated with ISIS, and according to Fox anchor Bret Baier, “bringing [the public] the reality of Islamic terrorism and labeling it as such.”
But Fox News did nothing more than play into the hands of the terrorists and proliferate the very fear that ISIS desperately wants to spread. Within hours of Fox News’ broadcast, Twitter erupted as ISIS supporters around the globe shared the video. Nearly all videos linked back to the Fox News website.
What the Fox News organization failed to understand, in its insensitive pursuit of television ratings, was that foreign terrorist organizations thrive off of publicity —whether it is good or bad attention. After all was said and done, ISIS had a platform and a new audience.
The simple fact that ISIS chose to record the killing in a theatrical fashion proves that that’s all it wanted after all: a platform and an audience.
The Poly Post, Vol. 30 (Condensend version)