Sunday, December 27, 2009

Media Coverage and Government Response to Terrorism in the Christmas Skies

How did the media do in covering the resurgence of terrorism in the skies on Christmas day?

1. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's assessment on several news shows this morning that "the system worked" - by which she meant that, after the would-be bomber was stopped, everything went well and as expected - was one of the most clueless statements I've heard a government official make. At best, the smooth working of the "system" after the bomber failed was a footnote to the immensely larger, appalling story which is: the system did not work, insofar as its primary purpose, which is stopping people like Abdulmutallab from getting on board a plane with a bomb in the first place. That system failed miserably, and very nearly tragically. What stopped the bomber was not the system but a combination of the good luck of a bomb that didn't work, and the vigilance and heroism of the plane's passengers.

2. I've seen reports that some spokespeople in the government have been rankled by the media's persistent probing of what went wrong, and what our government is doing about it. Rankled? The media are doing their jobs, holding our government's feet to the fire, demanding that it do its job better: which is, to protect us. Even most libertarians agree that if the government has one undeniable responsibility, it is to protect the people from foreign aggressors.

3. One medium that has not been doing its job this weekend, I've got to say, is MSNBC, which presented another round of its "Doc Bloc" or documentary, canned programming rather than covering serious crises in the world. I first noticed this during the Mumbai massacre last year, and had hopped MSNBC might have woken up to its responsibilities as an all-news station (see MSNBC Runs Canned Doc Bloc as Mumbai Burns), but the most relevant programming we saw on MSNBC this weekend was about Tiger Woods, which is to say, not relevant to the near mass-murder and resurgence of terrorism at all. In contrast, CNN provided excellent continuing coverage, and Fox was pretty good on this, too.

Clearly, terrorism has not gone away. We need to our government's and our media's maximum attention to combat it.
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