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How Cable News Terrorizes America

Why tens of thousands of gun deaths a year can be taken in stride as "the price of freedom", while a single bombing prompts calls for the suspension of civil liberties.

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While violent terrorism is undoubtedly real, it is worth restating a few basic statistical facts about the level of threat it poses to the average American. In their 2010  report for Foreign Affairs, John Mueller and Mark G Stewart constructed a comparative analysis of terrorism  compared to other potential causes of death to Americans. What the results showed was that the average American on an annual basis is more likely to be killed by one of their home appliances, drowning in a bathtub, or in a car accident involving a deer, than they are to be killed in a terrorist attack. This is to say nothing of the threat of ordinary violent crime, which poses a greater threat by several orders of magnitude than that of terrorist violence and continues to churn on at  an industrial scale throughout the country.

Nevertheless, due in large part to unbalanced and sensationalist media coverage, Americans have been more willing to part with their rights and freedoms in response to perceived threats from terrorism than they have from violent crime - the latter of which receives proportionately  scant media attention. Viewed in this light it is easier to reconcile how tens of thousands of gun deaths a year can be taken in stride as "the price of freedom", while a single bombing can prompt calls for the suspension of the once-cherished civil liberties granted to citizens by the American Constitution.

Terrorism by media

Aside from the millions of Americans who are regularly victimised by a media which they trust to provide them with information - but which instead manipulates their deepest existential fears for financial gain - the aftermath of the Boston bombing coverage produced another, unique, type of media-victim. On April 18, 17 year-old high-school student Salah Barhoum woke up to find  his image plastered on the front page of the New York Post along with the suggestion that he was in fact the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing.

The directionless chaos and hysteria provoked by the media's designation of an amorphous "brown-skinned suspect" had led internet forums to circulate Barhoum's own brown-skinned visage as a potential threat - something which the Post had no qualms about reporting as fact in order to gain a scoop on a major story. The allegation turned out to be completely unfounded, as Barhoum  was merely an innocent bystander whom Boston Police had never viewed as a suspect in the crime; but the damage to him was nevertheless done.

Despite acknowledging his innocence, the Post  refused to apologise for the reputational damage and potential danger they have put Barhoum in by falsely identifying him as the perpetrator of a crime which provoked the anger and fear of an entire country. In his accounting of the days after being falsely implicated by a major news organisation, Barhoum  described running home from school in terror after seeing a man whom he thought was tailing him from a nearby car. In his own words he would say of his future: "I'm going to be scared going to school... workwise, my family, everything is going to be scary." In many ways, he is another individual whose life has been terrorised by a major media outlet, except that due to their actions his fears today are far more well-founded.

Stoking the flames

The American citizenry today is being compelled to give up  their sacred rights and freedoms over a threat which is more remote than that which emanates from their own home furniture.

In a rational assessment of future policies, the problem of terrorist violence must be addressed in a manner which is both sober and reflective of the true level of threat it poses. This however will continue to be impossible when a pliable public is subject to the unscrupulous 24/7 noise machine which passes for news media today. The same establishment news organisations which peddled the hype and lies that convinced millions of Americans to fight a ruinous war against Iraq on utterly false pretenses are today attempting to convince them to submit to  more government surveillance and further diminishment of their civil liberties.

 
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