The world, I believe, would be better off if we reported on terrorism a little less.
This will never happen, of course. Salacious and frightening headlines do really well in the news world. “Breaking” stories about someone coming to kill you will almost always grab your attention over good news stories, like some billionaire donating his or her money to cancer research. Baddies blowing shit up or gunning folks down in the street get top billing. (A celestial object barreling toward Earth might trump them every now and then).
While terrorism and terror-related subjects are extremely important — and we should devote a significant chunk of news time to these topics (no one is saying don’t report on them) — here are five very good reasons why that chuck of time should be reduced just a tad.
1. Calming People’s Nerves
Lots of communities are on edge. The media keeps telling them about the boogey man (in the guise of fanatical terrorists) coming to get them. And while there are people out there, from jihadis to soldiers serving in foreign armies (North Korea ring any bells?) who want to do you in, screaming about them non-stop (as our talking heads on news programs are wont to do) won’t make these problems go away — but all of that screaming just might turn you into a nervous wreck.
2. Time for Other News
Let’s face it. News about violence attracts us. Again, the fight against terrorism and the tragic events surrounding these struggles should be reported on. That being said, there are lots of other problems we, as citizens of the same planet (unless you’re residing somewhere I haven’t heard of), need to learn more about. A little less time spent on terrorism would afford busy people with limited attention spans a broader view of what’s going on with Mother Earth and humanity as a whole.
Read more: The Curious Case of Crisis and Media Amnesia
3. Creating Less Propaganda
I believe, in essence, most forms of communication are propaganda to one degree or another. Sometimes propaganda can be for good things (don’t bully, get vaccinated) and sometimes for bad (kill, kill, kill). Acts of terror, a violent form of communication, are propaganda. The information communicated is fear, the projection of fear-based power and the accusations and stereotypes that feed our xenophobic natures. If we could avoid devoting, let’s say 50 percent of any news broadcast to terrorism, the propaganda of murderous men and women — and those who would use a fear of terrorism to promote less-than-tolerant agendas — would likely diminish.
4. Understanding Comparative Risk
If you hear about someone abducting a child in another state or country, it would be only natural to look at your own kids and wonder about their safety. If the news media sensationalizes the event for weeks on end filling airtime and garnering viewers, you would understandably freak out — even though the risk of abduction hasn’t increased where you live. The same goes for terrorism. Bad things happen in the world every day — most you don’t even know about — but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily affect you. Understanding the comparative risk to your own well-being in relation to the terrible news you’re fed can help put national and world events in perspective.
5. Deterring Future Attacks
Projecting strength and a willingness to go after one’s enemies is a good way to deter future attacks. Terrorism is not going away. If the world knows that when a democratic nation is attacked, it will respond with kinetic special operations or some type of retaliatory bombing that can dissuade many from attacking. It would simply be a cold, routine fact. By reporting the news without incessantly and disproportionately beating the war drums, public policy could be geared more toward deterring attacks rather that appeasing the desire of a riled up and often misinformed electorate to go to war or blow stuff up without a lot of planning or thought for what comes afterward.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.