Trump’s Wrong on non-Coverage; But, Top 6 things actually Wrong with Terrorism Reporting

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump on Monday continued to troll the world, this time by alleging at CENTCOM that the media is not covering terrorist attacks. He means terrorist attacks by Muslims, of course.

This bonkers idea comes from far right wing conspiracy sites who no doubt also complain that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is unfairly neglected in school classes.

The real problems with terrorism reporting, of course, are quite different.

1. First of all, there is way too much of it. Terrorism as a daily matter in the United States is statistically unimportant, however much we mourn any victim of it and sympathize with their families. In recent years, Muslim terrorists have killed an average of 9 Americans a year on US soil. White supremacists of the sort Steve Bannon is trying to rehabilitate are responsible for far more deaths every year. But the fact is that with the exception of a black swan event like September 11, terrorism just isn’t a major source of death and destruction in the US, year after year.

2. The true costs of so-called counter-terrorism (a discipline that has signally failed to accomplish anything at all) typically go unreported. We’ve done way more damage to ourselves by spending all that money on fruitless Middle East wars and militarization of our domestic police, etc., than terrorists ever did to us. Maybe it is hard for the media to report opportunity costs.. That is, there are lots of American schools that could be better if we spent more money on education and less on so-called counter-terrorism. Between direct war costs, indirect costs, and health care for our very deserving veterans, the Bush wars cost us at least $6 trillion that we don’t have. Some advice on counter-terrorism: don’t go abroad looking for dragons to slay.

3. Hysteria about terrorism is a form of misdirection of the sort professional magicians perform. If you were really worried about things that kill large numbers of Americans every year, you’d cut down on smoking cigarettes and air pollution. Heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases are the top three killers and together they polish off hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Unintentional accidents (is there another kind?) come in fourth. Terrorism isn’t even on the list, it is so far down. About 17% of Americans still smoke. There are 242 million adults in the US, so that is over 40 million people. They are almost guaranteed to get lung cancer or have a heart attack, and take years off their lives. They are addicted to cigarettes because the blackguards in Congress let the cigarette companies actually spray extra nicotine on the tobacco leaves to make sure consumers get hooked. This is much worse than heroin dealers because heroin isn’t guaranteed to kill people, however bad its effects. And this is legal. That’s the real terrorism against Americans: cigarette companies.

And then a lot of respiratory problems and heart attacks come from smog. In some cities you are smoking a pack or two a day whether you want to or not. Smog is caused by burning coal, gas and oil– hydrocarbons. The same fuels are causing a rapid and potentially catastrophic warming of our globe. But if you don’t care about the latter, you should at least mind the lack of clean air. A rapid adoption of clean energy like wind and solar, and a move to electric vehicles, would save thousands of lives a year.

4. The terrorism that is actually not covered as much in many newsfeeds is terrorism in Muslim majority countries that have been targeted for destabilization by lunatic fringes among the fundamentalists and by lunatics like the people in the Bush-Cheney administration who fell upon Iraq for no discernible reason. When a bomb goes off in a European capital, we rightly sympathize and put a spotlight on it. But where is the love for people in Istanbul, Beirut, and Baghdad? The point, in any case, is that the major terrorism is perpetrated against Muslim publics in non-fundamentalist countries like Iraq by groups hoping to polarize people, drive them into extremism, and then take over. For the Breitbart alt-Neonazis to go all snowflake about Muslim terrorism in the US tells us about their own cowardice or malice, not about the real world.

5. Terrorism carried out by people of Muslim heritage is treated differently by the media than white terrorism (such as the mosque killings in Quebec).

6. Terrorism hysteria means that media are looking at the 3.2 million Muslim-Americans through a skewed lens. We’re not focusing on how many of them are physicians and nurses (about 3% of US physicians are Muslim). We’re not focusing on how many are artists, film makers, teachers, poets, novelists, scientists, actors. A full, rounded, human image of Muslim-Americans is seldom presented by US media.

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17 Responses

  1. So if President Trump is lying, and our wonderful MSM is lying, then where’s that leave us poor lied too peons?

    It’s all a lie, it’s always been a lie, and it will continue to be a lie, until we break up our conglomerate MSM into a thousand pieces. While downsizing our news media into smaller run agencies of truth tellers, we would do one better by finishing the job on our CIA which JFK had barely started to do, and scatter these instigating spooks to the wind.

    Think of it all in the terms of life, and tax dollars, and then all these lies do add up to something awful, and that’s putting it mildly.

    • I’ve been following media bias since FAIR put out their study showing how biased ABC’s Nightline was by their history of using almost all white/male establishment guests. So we’ve known for a long time how unrepresentative the MSM has been, which completely destroys the right’s claim of a liberal bias. So I agree with what you describe Joe, which is nothing short of a revolution to break up and to seize control of the MSM by putting it in the hands of the public, which supposedly owns it in the first place, right?!

      But I do, however, want to point out that I’ve noticed that the CBS Evening News w/Scott Pelley is doing a pretty good job of calling out Trump and his administration on their lies and disinformation campaign. It’s still not enough, though.

      But, at least, there’s that…

      • Eli, not everything is bad, and I as an older fellow need to come to grips with myself and understand how the new generations interest in entertainment is driving creative programmers into a frenzy of programming delight. It’s not a bad thing that SNL or the Comedy Network do a slant comedy bit on a given issue or event, but when News cable networks go to spinning this is not the news. Humor and Cable News are becoming a blur, for a reason….it sells!

        Even just to have one, or two, networks free of corporate interest ownership, coupled with programming not aimed at purely getting high ratings, but is the type of news outlet which is chartered to just report the actual news as it happens kind of network. Equal op-Ed, and counter punch debates….I don’t care, but get us something that is thorough, and reliable, and then let’s debate, and vote.

        Incidentally after listening to Rachel Maddow the other night, and her take on how Putin is Donald’s puppeteer I came to the opinion that by this coming Friday that MSNBC will have rolled up onto the steps of the Kremlin, and demanded Vladimir’s head…and oh, his shirtless body, MSNBC just loves using those shirtless Vlad pic’s.

    • That is why it is important to support sites like this one, or, say, Josh Marshall at TPM, or Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. It’s more important now than ever to support independent media, much of which relies on those of us who demand genuine reporting, not tin foil conspiracy theories or MSM pandering. The best thing you can do is give to support sites such as this one – because in the end, who ya gonna believe re: mideast policy, Sean Hannity or Wolf Blitzer . . . or Juan Cole? My money is on the professor who’s intimate with the language, culture, and politics of that region!

      As for the MSM, I still think there are a few good people out there, but I too am becoming increasingly disillusioned. E.g. I generally like Chris Hayes on MSNBC, esp. his focus on climate change, a big bee in this farmer’s bonnet. But this week he is doing a town hall in Chicago to report on the violence there – yeah, it’s bad, but 18 or so other cities in this nation are statistically worse, and he appears to me to be playing into the narrative of the Orange Menace. It’s disappointing.

  2. There is serious underreporting of right wing terrorism. Even when reported in the press, it is seldom described as terrorism. About the closest most media come to accuracy is occasionally describing it as a hate crime.

  3. I thought that was one good thing to come out of the news and protests of the travel ban: we saw real people who happened to be muslim tearfully and joyfully greet family members at the airports. So human. So relatable. Made me realize how little that kind of “full, rounded, human” image is shown.

  4. Just an addition on the effects of air pollution. As more and more research is done, scientists are finding out that small particulate matter (soot, especially from diesel engines) has been largely overlooked in the past and is very harmful. In addition to COPD, asthma, and other respiratory problems, a recent study found that 21% of Alzheimer’s cases could be due to this type of pollution. And, of course, to all this you could add how under reported has been the danger of climate change. And now we have a President who seems determined to adopt policies that will exacerbate most of the major causes of death on your list.

  5. Perhaps the money spent on keeping the Homeland safe could include teaching parents of toddlers how to avoid killing themselves or other children, teaching children (up to 70 years old if we see the POTUS tweets) that global warming is a real threat and that nuclear weapons are fatal if used, and that people in other countries are actually human and deserve to be treated as such even if they are not US evangelical Christians.

  6. This algorithm supports Prof. Cole’s article. It is disgusting how the media deliberately fails to mention that Muslims suffer most from terrorism, and that it is indifferent to crime when it is caused by non Muslims. There is a huge disparity when it comes to the coverage, and this can be seen as anti Muslim.
    link to pbs.twimg.com

  7. “Trump on Monday continued to troll the world…”

    HA! Classic line, Juan.

    Here’s what’s really scary about Trump, the fact that he’s relying on these tinfoil hat sources for his information, whether he reads/watches them directly, or is getting this indirectly from a Bannon.

    He’s doing the same with the murder rate statistics. He’s lying about those as well, claiming the rate has risen over a 40 yr period, when, in fact, the opposite is the case. The rate peaked in 91-92, and has dropped ever since, with a slight rise over the past 2 yrs, and that’s without factoring in US population growth over the past 40yrs!

    When the POTUS rejects the facts gathered by his own law enforcement agencies, while believing the propaganda given to him by the likes of Bannon or, God forbid, an Alex Jones, then we know we’re getting further and further down the rabbit hole…

  8. I agree with the article’s argument as a whole in terms of media misdirection; my quibble is with the idea that heroin doesn’t kill in the same way as nicotine, because it certainly does. The lethality of nicotine vs opioids at a molecular level aside, the social costs of both drugs are simply terrible. Here in New England, in Appalachia, in northern Michigan, in the mountain West, because Big Pharma owns the government, legalized heroin (oxycontin, oxycodone, and other opioids) have been pushed on the population en masse for 20 years. There are something like three opiate prescriptions per adult in the State of Utah. As a consequence, nearly a whole generation is being lost in a number of these places, part of the general decline in US life expectancy seen recently. And it’s not just overdoses, though people are literally overdosing driving down the street in my town on a regular basis; it’s the associated breakdown in personal and communal health that comes alongside a society dealing with a crisis of this level (AIDS in the 90s is the only equivalent in our recent history; see also the breakup of the USSR).

    This is some of the human and social wreckage of the bipartisan economic policies of the last 40 years that have led the country to this pass. Indeed, the same strategies of corporate malevolence underlie much of the general crisis of our ecosphere.

    Yet I’m cautiously hopeful, as there is little other choice but to fight. Even if the economic conditions are not changing here, or are even getting worse, people are beginning to talk about this substance abuse and mental health problem that is claiming our people young and old, and I will take small but significant victories such as that at times like this.

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