Obama to Vox: Media should stop hyping the threat of terrorism

It’s hard to be more tactless in addressing the threat posed by modern Islamist terrorism than by calling attacks like that which occurred on a kosher market in Paris “random” and comparing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to small town criminals in sore need of a sheriff. That is, however, how President Barack Obama chose to address the issue of terrorism in an expansive interview with the liberal “explanatory journalism” venture Vox.com.

When subjected to a line of leading questioning from Vox’s Matthew Yglesias as to whether or not the press “overstates the level of alarm people should have” about terrorism and understates it when it comes to issues like “climate change and epidemic disease” (Ebola, presumably, not included), Obama agreed that the media “absolutely” embellishes the threat posed by Islamist terrorism.

“What’s the famous saying about local newscasts, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right?” Obama said. The insinuation here is that the media’s focus on the war on international terrorism precipitated by the September 11th attacks is just ratings-grabbing sensationalism. After insinuating that, Obama went ahead and said it outright.

“You show crime stories and you show fires, because that’s what folks watch, and it’s all about ratings,” the president insisted. “And, you know, the problems of terrorism and dysfunction and chaos, along with plane crashes and a few other things, that’s the equivalent when it comes to covering international affairs.”

Obama insisted that airplane disasters and bloody acts of Islamist terrorism in places like Paris, Ottawa, New York City, Peshawar, and Sydney are “sexy,” while covering events like the global reduction in infant mortality rates are not. Then there are other issues like climate change, which both the president and his interlocutor seemed to agree represent a graver threat to your life than do murderous Islamist fundamentalists. But the changing climate is a matter that is, however, far too complex for the press to relate to the average reader. Only a loyal consumer of Vox.com click bait could be expected to wrap their arms around the Gordian Knot of global warming.

“Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people,” Obama conceded. “It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”

“We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that — the same way a big city mayor’s got to cut the crime rate down if he wants that city to thrive,” he continued. “But we also have to attend to a lot of other issues, and we’ve got to make sure we’re right-sizing our approach so that what we do isn’t counterproductive.”

This is perhaps the most disturbing element from Obama’s interview with Yglesias. Not only does he believe that Islamist attackers select their targets “randomly,” but that he regards his role as primarily to merely contain and manage the aftereffects of those attacks. Like crime, the president seems to concede that fundamentalist Islamist violence will always be a feature of life, and it is his job to ensure that bloody terrorist incidents are relatively infrequent and that the damage wrought by a successful attack is mitigated by a swift and judicious response.

Thus far, American counterterrorism officials have maintained the success they enjoyed during the Bush administration following 9/11 in preventing spectacular terrorist incidents from being executed on American shores. Unless he’s only telling the progressives at Vox what they want to hear (a distinct possibility), we now know that’s not because Obama views counterterrorism as a pressing priority for the President of the United States. Let’s all hope American security officials continue the work of keeping the public safe in spite of the disinterest of their commander-in-chief.