Terrorism PR

I’ve been working hard on a summary of political tech tools, but I’d like to pull some terrorism-as-PR threads together.

Doc can smell PR a half a world away:

“First, take it from an old PR guy: the Berg beheading was not an act of war; it was an act of publicity.

Second, stop and think of what that publicity was meant to do, and what it has the power to do regardless of its intentions. Hal Crowther puts it best: The best way to give a lie the force of truth is to soak it in innocent blood.

Jeff Jarvis points to Doc’s post and harvests comments:


It was precisely an act of publicity, as all terrorism is.
And the deliberate suppression of those images, and any substantive discussion of them, by our ‘journalists’ in the mainstream media is a calculated act of opinion-steering.
Posted by Insufficiently Sensitive at May 17, 2004 11:45 AM

Doc is right that is was a PR move. That’s what terrorism is: An attempt to frighten people into capitulation when you’d otherwise lack the ability to defeat them. The act fails if the intended target does not frighten.
Hafta disagree, though, that choosing not to publish image of the Berg beheading is a “calculated act of opinion-steering.” It seems to me an act intended not to sicken people. I don’t need or want to see tape of a beheading to be repulsed and angered by it, thank you very much. Imagination suffices. Making decisions about what to present to readers and what to leave out is essential to journalism. Readers do it, too. And so does Jeff and every other blogger when they decide what they want to write about.
Posted by billg at May 17, 2004 11:56 AM

“…act of publicity” – so are embedded journalists, the staged “toppling” of Sadam’s statue, the Jessica Lynch “rescue”….
Posted by mm at May 17, 2004 12:33 PM

Actually, I thought it was a lesson in beheading for all good would be muslim terrorists. Maybe the media is right not to be posting jihadi techniques of the dumb and the demented.
Posted by Kat at May 17, 2004 01:04 PM

On the same note, see Mark Borkowski’s posting — The vile PR stunt that escalates the hatred
Posted by Constantin Basturea at May 17, 2004 02:06 PM

Well, it seems the viewers from the ME were so huge in numbers that some sites could hardly handle the increase in traffic. Any site which posted the URL for the video got bombarded —and the majority were from the ME. Go figure. On line jihad for dummies with a demo on the art of beheading innocents.
Posted by Kat at May 17, 2004 05:09 PM

Decoding Terrorism

Dan Brown, the author of the Galaxy-class bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, wrote a prequel, Angels & Demons, which describes a lecture on terrorism:

“Terrorism,” the professor had lectured, “has a singular goal. What is it?”

“Killing innocent people?” a student ventured.

“Incorrect. Death is only a byproduct of terrorism.”

“A show of strength?”

“No. A weaker persuasion does not exist.”

“To cause terror?”

“Concisely put. Quite simply, the goal of terrorism is to create terror and fear. Fear undermines faith in the establishment. It weakens the enemy from within . . . causing unrest in the masses. Write this down. Terrorism is not an expression of rage. Terrorism is a political weapon. Remove a government’s façade of infallibility, and you remove its people’s faith.”

In a nutshell, Brown is saying that terrorists’ success depends totally on our response to the act. This is like a so-called social computer virus that scares people into bizarre responses to an email describing a computer virus that doesn’t exist. I’m not suggesting that terrorism doesn’t exist, but that we need to keep each attack in perspective in order to defeat the attackers. If one terrorist success causes us to re-engineer our society, why not just give them the keys to the kingdom?

I’ve previously suggested that our response to the terror was totally inappropriate to the act of killing 3-10,000 people on television. (10,000 is how many would have died if the planes had impacted an hour later. The body count is a distinction without a difference.) I’ve discussed with Jeff privately and publicly that we need to be warriors: take our losses, bury our dead, isolate our exposures, repair specific flaws in our systems and stick to our mission plan.

But what is our mission plan? The mission plan of the United States is not the Bush plan and never has been. In America’s third century, our mission plan has not changed for 228 years: Our God-given purpose is to demonstrate that a varied populace from disparate origins can live peacefully under an open government that governs minimally but humanely.

However, our current government’s response was not restrained and it was not enlightened. The Twin Towers attack was used for PR for a weak administration’s narrow purposes. Our current bureaucrats seem unaware that the our country was an expression of the age of enlightenment. Rather, our government responded in a way you’d expect from people who’d never been shot at: we overreacted and thus we engaged in our own acts of terrorism, as Dan Brown describes it: “Undermine faith in the [enemy’s] establishment.

I’ll say it again. All Americans are combatants who were drafted into combat when a couple dozen guys got lucky 2-1/2 years ago, leveling some expensive real estate and taking out .001% of our population. The 9-11 attack was like several other attempts, except that it was the first one that was effective, on our soil. The next time that happens, and it will, what shall be our reaction? Should we steel ourselves as might a nation of warriors, or shall we succumb to the appealing rhetoric of self-victimization and emotion? Shall we model ourselves on the actions of heroes or shall we behave, as we have been, like participants on the Jerry Springer Show?

Of course we’re not likely to act consistently. However, our leaders and our press could conceivably act with courage in mind rather than market share.

11:36:18 AM    comment [commentCounter (289)]

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