If it bleeds, it leads

Screenshot via Fox News
Screenshot via Fox News

Are news networks the real terrorists?

By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer

I extend my sincerest empathy to those affected by the Paris bombings. Fear, anger and sadness are all natural reactions to the random cruelties of the world, and we must never forget that the truly amoral and brutal people of the world are always fewer in number than the decent and kind.

I have never liked the way news networks react to these tragic events. The endless media circus that presents itself over the days that follow seems to take on the tone of a reality TV program, where the audience waits in suspense for each tearful testimony and epiphanic crumb of evidence.

I do not mean to say that these events shouldn’t be covered. Of course the public has a right to know. But it’s easy for news networks to exploit the emotional nature of these events for ratings. And when networks use the facts of the event to push an agenda, I find it disrespectful to the people who lost their lives and loved ones.

Consider the outcry against ISIS in the days following the attacks. Every political debate, news report, and public address made use of the Paris bombing to show how evil, powerful, organized, and secretive ISIS are, and how important it is to band together to stop their terrorist doings. Hard to argue with, but feel-good calls to action usually are. If France decides to go the way of post-9/11 America in its foreign and defensive policies, they will have to contend with the same problem that the Bush administration did: making a disorganized enemy seem monolithic.

If I said all perpetrators of school shootings were somehow connected, most would rightly call me a lunatic. The statement is patently false because the school shooter types—typically isolated loners with serious mental issues—would be incapable of organizing any kind of secret club for school shooters. The very idea is laughable. And yet, when the same personality types claim that their violent actions are dictated by the call to Jihad, suddenly they must all be organized.

There are many outspoken radical sects, but they have little to do with one another in their actions. Even those who associate themselves with ISIS before or during a violent act do not exhibit any sort of consistency. Their “terror attacks” always occur at random in different countries around the world with months or years of silence following. If they were a truly organized global terror unit with leaders and a budget, there would be more attacks day by day.

CNN reports that the French government is currently debating to what extent Syrian ISIS “bosses” were involved with the stadium bombers. Not if they were involved, but to what extent. There is no evidence at present to suggest that Syrian ISIS cells had any hand in the planning or the bombing, nor that their help was even necessary. The bombing itself was low-tech, and could easily have been accomplished by the five bombers alone. And yet, the CIA insists that the attack took months to plan and was encouraged by foreign ISIS powers.

The media, of course, leads with this idea because otherwise ISIS would not seem like a credible threat. This best expresses an idea I’ve believed for a long time: the most effective terror tactic is media advertising. If the perpetrators of school shootings received no coverage following an attack, would they be as motivated to kill? Would radical jihadists be? These groups could not ask for better advertising, and yet national news networks seem only too happy to provide it.

In 2014, Nightcrawler slithered in and out of theatres to the sound of momentary acclaim. The thrust of the film was that human beings have a primal fascination with the guts and gore of violent crime reports. “If it bleeds, it leads,” as the saying goes. Death’s the cheapest drama there is, and there’s no way to stop people from tuning in to watch. But we should all be critical enough to separate the facts from the spin, and always remember that the news is no different than Hollywood film—a product made to appeal to the broadest possible audience.