As the second airliner crashed into the World Trade Center tower, a TV audience of hundreds of millions around the globe watched it live. The pictures were then replayed on an almost endless loop.
More recently, reporters were “embedded” in units in Iraq. Via television, they gave live war coverage minute-by-minute to the world.
And as the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq have continued, the media have, perhaps, become even more powerful — and more problematic. The media may be — unknowingly, in fact — fanning the flames of fanaticism and terrorism in two ways.
The first has to do with reports about the war on Iraq. As I said yesterday, Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis has argued that the only thing Islamist terrorists understand is strength. They attacked us because they think that we are decadent and will not defend ourselves. Our actions in Iraq are demonstrations of strength and resolve. But instead of reporting our successes as successes, the news media constantly talk about a Vietnam-like “quagmire” — troops are grumbling, and members of Congress are challenging intelligence that justified our attack. Another Vietnam? Just what Bernard Lewis says bin Laden believed we would say.
What is being lost in the reporting is the liberation of Iraq: the story of mass graves uncovered, of torture chambers found, and of Saddam’s regime’s unspeakable cruelty and evil.
Of course there is still armed resistance. That was to be expected. Of course troops want to go home. All troops want to go home. As to the intelligence, the Washington Times reported that fewer than a dozen House members have taken the time to review the intelligence data about Iraq fully.
All this negativism that leads anyone to believe America is losing her resolve appears “above the fold” in the press and in the lead in TV news. That’s not to say that these aren’t legitimate stories or that there are no problems, but can’t we put it in perspective?
There’s a second way the media affect current events. According to Professor Philip Jenkins at Penn State, Western media are the most effective resources for Muslims.
When viewers in other cultures see American shows like Paradise Hotel or Baywatch, they recoil at the decadence and godlessness. Islam — particularly radical Islam — with its well defined, strict rules, seems the best defense against this Western degradation. The media make them identify this decadence with the West, and they identify it also with Christianity. I’ve often criticized the media as a corrupting influence here at home, but now, if Jenkins is correct, it’s also helping Muslims gain adherents.
The cultural rot that we export as entertainment and the unbalanced reporting of news undermine our position in the world, making us appear divided, decadent, and soft. And in doing this, we unwittingly fuel the terrorists’ cause, inviting attacks in Iraq and elsewhere and encouraging radical Islam.
Now, I’ll defend the First Amendment with my life. It allows me to make this broadcast. But along with every right comes a corresponding responsibility. I think it’s time for a little balance, and for those of us who listen to the news, not to be taken in by what the media are saying.