There was a tragedy in Austin TX this past week. A small plane was flown deliberately into a public building with the intent of killing as many innocents as possible. The perpetrator – we’ll call him Mister Whacked-Out-Cowardly-Murderous-Nut-Job, for lack of a better name – left a “rambling manifesto” on a website detailing his grievances, and – in his own mind – justifying this heinous act because he felt put upon by the government. I hate to tell you this, Mister Nut-Job, but if everyone who felt disenfranchised by society or had a beef with the government opted for the murder/suicide option, the human race would cease to exist.
But, as angry as I am at this whacko for treating human life with so little respect, I’m equally miffed at the news media. Yes, they should report the event. That’s their job – that’s their responsibility. What bothers me is that they not only gave the guy’s name (granting him, in some circles, folk hero status), but also detailed many of the grievances left in his “manifesto.” Everywhere I looked I saw excerpts and commentary on what Mister Whacked-Out-Cowardly-Murderous-Nut-Job saw as the ills of society. In other words, the murder of innocents gave him a voice.
I.e., he was successful.
This is what he was after, a platform, an opportunity to get his message out. It’s Terrorism 101.
“Oh, I’m not getting my way. Waa, waa, waa!”
“Why don’t you start a petition, call your congressperson, maybe even run for office or start an organization dedicated to change?”
“Nah, too much work. I’d rather kill a bunch of complete strangers. It’s quicker and easier that way. Can I borrow your Cessna?”
And why do these fruit-loops think this approach will work? Because it does. The national media is buzzing with the details of this story. They’ve listed his complaints, legitimizing them, ensuring they’re the topic of conversation around every office water cooler in the land. I sat in a restaurant yesterday listening to a waitress rattle off this guy’s grievances to a customer. The networks have even interviewed his friends. “Oh, Mister Whacked-Out-Cowardly-Murderous-Nut-Job was really a nice guy. He wasn’t anti-social in the least.”
Nice guy. Really?
I’m sure there are plenty of people in downtown Austin that disagree with that statement.
This type of news coverage scares me. By playing into this radical’s plan, by promoting his ideas, quoting his “manifesto,” could the media actually encourage other such atrocities? I believe so. As long as the crazies think their bell will toll on the six o’clock news, they’ll continue to consider terrorism a legitimate option. In this case I believe the media is, in essence, an accessory before the fact. Think of it as someone shouting “Fire!” in a crowded building. This free speech, this “reporting” can cause further havoc, possibly even loss of life. I believe there’s a responsibility to use sound judgment when reporting these crimes, a responsibility to look at the long term implications of feeding the terrorist mindset by giving them a voice.
So, how can we prevent this and similar tragedies from occurring?
By making terrorism ineffective. By castrating the suckers, taking away their power. Report only the event. Don’t give the perpetrator’s name. Don’t even hint at his motives, much less promote, analyze, and dissect his propaganda in public. If the FBI needs to get in there and psychoanalyze his lunatic ramblings, so be it. Let them. But don’t give these murderers – and that’s exactly what they are. Not martyrs, not crusaders, but simple, cowardly, disgusting murderers – the means to use the slaughter of innocents to promote a cause. Even a cause that is otherwise worthy.
Should the media be held accountable for promoting domestic terrorism? Should there be fines, or, perhaps, loss of licenses for broadcasting the details of a murderous manifesto? That’s a tough one. Free speech is a cornerstone to our way of life. It’s a slippery slope to inhibit such a liberty. One I hesitate to tread. Perhaps the better solution is for you and me – the public – to complain to the news outlets that unwittingly promote terrorism. Give them a good old-fashioned, sixties-style protest. Tell them we won’t watch their networks or support their sponsors if they continue with such irresponsible journalism. Let them know that this is unacceptable, that no matter how valid the point, murder is never an acceptable form of free speech.
Perhaps it all comes down to you and me, and what we’re willing to tolerate.
Thom Reese is a Las Vegas based writer whose weekly radio show, 21st Century Audio Theatre, previously aired on the 50,000 watt KDWN. Fourteen of Thom’s audio dramas will be released by Speaking Volumes Quality Audio Books throughout 2010. Thom studied comedy writing at The Second City and works in market research for CBS Broadcasting.
Copyright 2010 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.
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