Al Qaeda's spin machine in the news room

Michael Totten:


Journalists don't put Al Qaeda's spin on the news because they sympathize with it. No one sits around the copy desk thinking of clever ways to shill for the enemy. It gets in there anyway, partly because of acute feelings of guilt over some Americans' bad behavior in Abu Ghraib but mostly out of sheer laziness. Al Qaeda provides ready-made "news analysis," so why not just stick it in there? It takes more effort to get contrary quotes and, besides, debunking propaganda is "editorializing."

Journalists should ask themselves what is the news value in characterizing a brutal act of terrorism in Al Qaeda's terms in the first place, whether or not it's in quotation marks. Every detail that goes into a news piece is weighed for its relevance and necessity. No rule of journalism requires the inclusion of Al Qaeda propaganda.


The idea that Al Qaeda murdered Nick Berg in retaliation for anything is absurd on the face of it. We already know Al Qaeda says every Jew (Nick Berg was Jewish), every American (Nick Berg was American), and every "infidel" (Nick Berg was an "infidel") has a hit put out on his head. This was the case years before most of us had ever heard of Abu Ghraib, even years before September 11. Nick Berg would not be alive if Abu Ghraib were a soup kitchen. Saying one event triggered the other flies in the face of everything we know about Al Qaeda.

The problem is this knowledge, though common, collides with a contradictory Middle Eastern narrative that itself is almost as common. That is "the cycle of violence."


It's brilliant and effective propaganda, really it is. The Arab-Israeli conflict is routinely referred to as a tit-for-tat "cycle of violence," as though Israelis and Palestinians are chimps with sticks beating each other over the head for no good reason other than that the other chimp just did the same five minutes ago. It belies the fact that Israelis are still defending themselves from a half-century-long eliminationist onslaught. Hamas and Islamic Jihad don't need provocation to commit atrocities. They seek the total destruction of Israel and its replacement with a Taliban-style police state.

It is a war not a cycle. The recent "think tank" study suggesting that the war on terror has increased the number of terrorist is another example of this "cycle" of thinking. Remember, it is a war. Both sides will increase their recruitment during the conflict. Were their more Germans under arms after the British and French declared war on Germany? Were there more Americans in the military after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor?


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