If you’re a news junkie – and the fact that you are reading this puts the answer at a 90% plus probability – you spent much of last night and this morning staring at a non-stop news feed from 7 News Sydney, the reporting of Chris Reason, and an endless parade of cable news talking heads dissecting every tidbit of news about the hostage crisis at the chocolate shop. We broke our usual posting cycle here last night and pushed back Quotes of the Day to pick up the live stream. The story is at the top of the page on every vaguely news related web site. The guy with the shotgun (or rifle) demanding an ISIS flag is the only story in town.
Are we doing the right thing when it comes to these (apparent) lone wolf terrorist attacks? Is this how we should be covering an event such as this or are we actually serving the larger purpose of the terrorists?
After all, when it comes down to it, what we have here is one man with a weapon (and the unconfirmed possibility of some explosives) holding some hostages in a single building surrounded by law enforcement. If you took away the demand for a black ISIS flag, this story wouldn’t be all that unusual. Hostage situations take place across the United States on a nearly weekly basis. Generally it’s a husband who is distraught over a divorce, an unstable worker who just couldn’t stand the fact that Mary in Accounting got a promotion before him or an alcohol or drug addled wretch who is just looking for the police to come and help him end it all. The majority of these stories end in tragedy but are handled on a local level and you will rarely see them on CNN in prime time unless it’s a really slow news day.
But because this maniac has invoked the magic word “ISIS” in his demands, the news cycle across most of the planet is frozen, riveted to the scene unfolding in a tiny chocolate shop on the other side of the world. We’re listening to talking heads droning on endlessly about how and why this madman came to be a participant in Islamic terrorism. But what new information of value are we delivering to the world? Is it shocking that yet another person has answered the call of ISIS? Is this some particularly important example of the inhuman brutality of our enemy? Does it represent some sort of tipping point?
I have to wonder if one guy with a gun and a few square yards of black fabric – even if he is a known extremist from Iran with a history of causing trouble – isn’t getting us to dance to the tune of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in ways the terrorist leader could never manage on his own. Look at us! Look at how powerful we are! See how our message brings followers from around the globe and the world stops to tremble at our coming! (All brought to you by our sponsors at Ford.) Isn’t that exactly what he wants?
We can’t simply ignore a terror attack, but it may be worth asking if the media should dial this back a bit. We’ve already established that ISIS is composed of despicable, dangerous, sub-human monsters. We know they have to be captured or killed at every opportunity. We know what they want, but we should make sure we aren’t inadvertently aiding them. Showering this much attention and global notoriety on the wannabe jihadi in Sydney just seems as if we’re fueling the perceived reward in the minds of other potential joiners. An announcement that the event is taking place, the occasional update if there is something truly new taking place, and then a comprehensive wrap-up after the perpetrator is dead or in leg irons should really be enough. And if we stop rewarding them with this kind of attention, perhaps it lessens the appeal for others.
Just some food for thought on a Monday morning.