Why Media Coverage on ISIS is Misleading

September 26th 2014

ATTN: Staff

Joel Silberman is a distinguished media critic, expert, and strategist as well as a partner at Democracy Partners. He is furious about how the American press has covered terrorism and ISIS. We recently asked him why:

Joel Silberman

Joel, you're a media expert. In your opinion, is the media responsibly covering ISIS?

The news media is the promotion and public relations arm of ISIS. War profiteers are among the media’s advertising elite; and these clients are served by showing/promoting fear. Responsible reporting means telling a story from all sides in order to inform the viewer/reader. Today the media is competing for viewers/readers by amplifying the most sensational news in order to get an audience. Fear drives media consumption and the media feeds that fear.

What specifically is the media omitting or over-emphasizing?

In our media if it bleeds, it leads. By over-emphasizing each horrific beheading video and war images, our media does its audience a terrible disservice. They are omitting the root causes for the rise of ISIS. Where is the funding money coming from? Who is buying ISIS’ oil at below market prices that subsidizes ISIS? Who and where are the banks facilitating the transfer of $2-4 million a day in oil sales to ISIS? Where are the banking regulators who have access that information? To be sure, this is a complicated story to tell to an audience that wants understand the situation but doesn’t want to invest a lot of time in getting educated. But that’s the story that I’d like to see.

Who is doing a decent job covering the crisis and why?

VICE NEWS is doing an excellent job of reporting the crisis with ISIS as is The Guardian. Both have invested resources on the ground capturing the story. They don’t simply put up the latest ISIS propaganda videos and use static photos of the war to wrap around their reporters’ talking head analysis. They both look deeply into the centuries old, inter-sectarian religious war and the resulting humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. I wish there were more resources being devoted to that reporting.

Do media outlets in other countries differ in how they cover terrorism?

The media covering terrorism best is in Israel. They deal with it completely differently than we do. Israel understands that terrorism’s goal is to create fear and societal paralysis. And in Israel, they steadfastly refuse to give them either. They report a terror incident once as news, and then move on. They do not reinjure their audience by continually broadcasting disturbing images. One of the ways to put out a fire is to starve it of oxygen.  By repeating the most horrible terrorist videos, our media fuels fear rather than starving it. In Israel, the focus of media is on rebuilding after a terrorist attack rather than repeating the violence of the attack over and over.