The whole ActionFigureGate episode really makes me think about the standards applied by international major media (IMM) to the stories they disseminate. Why were major media so quick to disseminate pictures of an action figure as a genuine hostage photo?
More to the point, why are major media so quick to disseminate anything that a terrorist group, or purported terrorist group, releases?
The quickest way to get the prime spot in IMM today is to release a picture of somebody with a gun to his head. The IMM will immediately disseminate the picture and all of your demands and statements!
For the terrorist, it is like being given millions of dollars in free advertising.
Back in the 20s and 30s, businesses tried to advertise themselves by pulling dangerous publicity stunts. They used human flies, faked car crashes, exploding buildings or anything they thought would get them free media attention. After a time, however, the media developed a consensus that such events would not be reported, and the stunts for the most part stopped .
The media stopped covering the events for two reasons: (1) they sold advertising, so giving away free advertising hurt the bottom line, and (2) people were getting hurt, and they were getting hurt only because the media were paying attention. When they stopped paying attention, people stopped getting hurt.
The exact same dynamic applies to terrorism today, especially the spate of hostage taking in Iraq. These are essentially extremely brutal publicity stunts, intended to benefit the terrorists by providing them publicity they otherwise would have no hope of obtaining. The publicity is so important that without it the kidnappings would not occur at all.
ActionFigureGate reveals that the IMM are not only willing, but actually so eager to publicize the terrorists that they fell for an obvious hoax. Clearly, in this matter, they have surrendered all of their critical judgment. The question is, why?
Well, first, I’m thinking that terrorists don’t make a lot of ad buys, so the free publicity doesn’t cost the media anything. Second, the very gruesomeness of the stories draws profit-making eyeballs. Third…
… well, third, I think we have to conclude that at some level, enough people in the media want to publicize these crimes due to their own political agendas. It is hard to see how the first two factors would so cripple the IMM’s judgment that they would risk the damage from being made to look like fools.
Like Rathergate, this is the kind of mistake people make out of passion. They publicize these crimes, and the viewpoints and demands of their perpetrators, because at some level they feel that giving the terrorists a free platform on the world wide stage makes the world a better place.
I find that thought rather chilling.