Nacos analyzes terrorism, media

By on September 18, 2003

As the Quinnipiac community prepared to honor the second anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks in American history, an expert on terrorism propaganda spoke to a large audience in the School of Law’s Grand Courtroom Wednesday evening.

Brigitte Lebens Nacos, Ph.D., a journalist and adjunct professor of political science at Columbia University, delivered a public address entitled, “Terrorism and the Media,” to a standing room only audience.

During her lecture, Nacos analyzed the connection that terrorism and the media have to one another.

“I am not saying the media and terrorists are accomplices,” Nacos said. “It seems that media and terrorists are strange bedfellows in a marriage of convenience.”

Nacos discussed that the goal of terrorists is to spread fear in society, intimidate the public and cause anxiety. In this way, terrorists simply feed off the media to accomplish this goal.

Nacos explained to the audience that terrorists thrive off of media attention, and use the media’s reporting of their activities to their advantage. At the same time, the media seeks high sensation and shocking stories that will captivate their viewers.

“Terrorists do what good politicians do; make good communication with their targets,” said Nacos.

Similarly, she explained, the media must make good communication with its target – its news consumers. Because of this relationship, it allows both terrorist groups and the media to feed off each other to serve their own personal agendas.

She also talked about the difficulty that the media faces in reporting and covering terrorist incidents while avoiding the manipulative strategy used by terrorists. The problem of how much to report seems to be a question with no real answer.

Nacos offered that the media should show “restraint” in covering terrorist activities. As an example, she felt it unnecessary for the media to report every time the “threat level” rises and falls, because it only serves the purpose of the terrorists’ goal of instilling fear in society.

Following her speech, Nacos answered questions from a panel of responders and the audience. The panel included David Taylor Ives, executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute; Mahmood Monshipouri, chairperson of political science; and Kellie Gleeson, editor-in-chief of The Chronicle.

Nacos was introduced by Paul Janensch, an associate professor of journalism. According to Janensch, he invited Nacos to deliver this address at Quinnipiac after hearing her speak on the subject at an event at Columbia University.

“I had been impressed by the depth of her research and the clarity of her presentation,” said Janensch.

Janensch said he felt the topic would be appropriate to the Quinnipiac community in that attending the lecture, students would become smarter consumers of news about terrorism.

“They will be better able to judge whether a news report is truly informative or whether it just wallows in violence and plays into the hands of terrorists, who crave publicity to frighten their adversaries and motivate their supporters,” said Janensch.

Rich Hanley, Graduate Program Director and Assistant Professor in the School of Communications, also felt that “Nacos spoke to this issue with clarity and passion.”

“It was a significant presentation in showing the historical links between the goals of terrorist organizations and the media’s role in playing to those goals simply by lavishing sustained coverage on terrorist incidents,” said Hanley.

Aside from the educational aspect, students found the lecture fitting to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

The lecture was co-sponsored by the School of Communications, the College of Liberal Arts, the Albert Schweitzer Institute, and the Office of Academic Affairs.

Nacos is the author of “Mass-Mediated Terrorism: the Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counterterrorism,” which traces the linkages between terrorism, the media, public opinion and decision making from the Iran hostage crisis to the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City.

She is also a long-time U.S. correspondent for newspapers in Germany.

Her other publications include “The Press, Presidents and Crisis,” “From Bonn to Berlin: German Politics in Transition,” and “Decisionmaking in a Glass House: Mass Media, Public Opinion, and American and European Foreign Policy in the 21st Century.”


About Holly Pullano