Terror Post 9/11 and the Media. David L. Altheide. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2009. 214 pp.
It has been a decade since that awful landmark day of smoke and fire that we now know as 9/11. Among other things that changed with those attacks in New York and Washington was a growing need to know more about “terrorism,” its perpetrators, what they hope to accomplish, and how they can be stopped.
The media, of course—oriented to either news or popular culture more generally—have played a substantial role in communicating what has been learned and what is still unknown. This is the focus of David L. Altheide’s latest study.
Altheide is a long-time member of the Arizona State University’s School of Justice and Social Inquiry and author of numerous books. His focus here is less on the events of a decade ago than on how those events, and others since that have been related or attributed in some way to terrorists, have been used by the political system and by news media. Part of his larger project on fear, the media, and social control, the media portion of the equation does not come off well in Altheide’s analysis.
Chapters assess the varied and changing role of media in global crises, including terrorism—the all too evident “herd” mentality of flash and personality over declining substance and analysis. There are countless examples cited in Altheide’s discussion of terrorism and propaganda, terrorism and the politics of fear, terrorism and the problem of evidence, terrorism as moral panic, a case study of the Columbine school shootings in Colorado, terrorism programming, and the terrorism narrative and mediated evil.
Just that listing tells you how much of Altheide’s analysis focuses on fear and how the mass media build that fear as one way of building their audiences. “Team” and “sports” terms also abound with talk about our side and theirs, use of flags and other bits of nationalism, and a general “rah-rah” tone in reporting “our” wins and “their” losses. The biggest recent “win” over terrorism, of course, was the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. So are we feeling safer or less fearful now?
Sadly, little of this adds to real understanding of what is going on, though it does play to the desire of many for simpler answers to complex situations. Some of the media examples you will read in Altheide’s collection will make you shake your head in wonder. All of the discussion will contribute to your understanding of how we got here.
CHRISTOPHER H. STERLING
George Washington University