YouTube War/Other Videos, Other Image - Difference Choices

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It should be emphasized that the near taboo regarding the showing of dead bodies is a near taboo, not an absolute one. Obviously there have been quite dramatic images regularly transmitted from the war in Iraq that involve the human body in extremis, in particular many images of large numbers of dead Iraqis. But the graphic nature of these photographs comes from the shock of the number of bodies, not from the state the bodies are in. Most of these images involve victims of militias or death squads, and while the victims have been shot at close range, their hands bound behind them, the images are not particularly 63 gory. The images of those killed in the town of Haditha, whose deaths were themselves the point of controversy, were always displayed, for example, wrapped in blankets (just like the victims of American car crashes), shocking in number, ambiguous in presentation. While we hear that large numbers of bodies have turned up after having been beheaded, tortured, or mutilated, and the descriptions of the state those bodies are in is often quite graphic in the print press, those are not images we are likely to see in the American press anytime soon. No matter how graphic the description in the story, those descriptions have not been—and I predict, will not be—accompanied by pictures of any bodies that have been obviously decapitated, where the marks from the electric drill used as a torture device are visible, nor will a mainstream media outlet any day soon publish a picture of a corpse whose eyes have been gouged out, despite the fact that reports of such corpses have appeared in these outlets on a regular basis. Even the photographs from abu Ghraib, although they were published and displayed in the American media repeatedly, were the same small set from a much larger collection simply being shown over and over again. The reason is that the vast majority of those images were too graphic to pass the fairly narrow parameters of what is considered acceptable by the American press. The kinds of dilemmas confronted by the press when making decisions about which images to publish and how to use them, particularly in the case of hostage situations, were made especially clear in the case of Nicholas Berg. Berg, a young entrepreneur seeking his fortune in Iraq, was the first American whose beheading was videotaped132 and made available worldwide via the Internet by Zarqawi’s group (many believing 64 he himself wielded the knife.) No legitimate news organization was about to air the snuff film, but that did not mean news outlets were not facing agonizing choices. The decision to not air the entire video did not mean that it was not either necessary or appropriate to air some images from the video. Which images, then, should be aired? Networks confronted the additional choice of whether to air those images as moving images, as footage, or as stills “frame grabbed” from the video, while print outlets had to decide how prominently to display whichever images they chose to use. Often whether images are used on the front page or not does not reflect a newspaper’s assessment of how important the story the image is associated with it is, but their assessment of how graphic the particular image is. The belief is that those who produce the paper have no way of knowing who will pick the paper up in the morning, and an understanding that many read it at the breakfast table. Putting a particularly graphic image on the front page would therefore mean confronting their readers—and perhaps their reader’s young children—with it without providing fair warning. They will tend, therefore, to put such images on the inside of the paper, “teasing” such an image, if it reflects an important story, on the front page. (That is what happened, for example, with the Mogadishu images in most cases.) Today, of course, both print and broadcast outlets face the additional question: Should they provide on their websites hyperlinks to websites that do provide such a video in its entirety for their audience to permit them to view it if they so desire? It is when hostage videos are released by kidnappers that it can become most transparent that the media are serving as a direct conduit for the terrorist or insurgent message—not, that is, for the substance 65 of the information they wish to convey, but for the actual, original message as they constructed, designed, and staged it. There is as wide a difference as can be imagined in seeing or hearing the words, “today the kidnappers released a video in which the victim can clearly be seen and heard begging for his life,” coming from a reporter who is attempting to accurately distill, describe, and explain what is on a tape, and actually seeing some poor man or woman doing just that. And there is little question that it benefits the terrorist or insurgent group more to have the public view the emotional spectacle than to merely read or hear about it second hand. To be sure, there seems little question that these videos are newsworthy material, and that there is a basis for the choice the news networks made, early on, to air at least a few seconds of them. That does not mean, however, that the choice to do so was an inevitable or self-evident one, or that it was the choice that best served their viewers or that other considerations should not have outweighed whatever led them to use cuts from these videos. Certainly choices regarding how much to use from some of these videos were hotly debated, both before and after they were aired. This was seen most dramatically when the tape of Nicholas Berg’s beheading was released. The beheading videos, of which there were a number, are themselves part of a sub-set of hostage videos in which the hostage is executed on camera (and as the beheadings-forcamera seemed to taper off, perhaps for fear that the raw savagery displayed was hurting the very movement producing them,133 other forms of executions began to take their place). The Berg video was the first, and as discussed above, what gave the American media such pause in that case was the systemic taboo within American newsrooms over showing the human body 66 in extremis. That attitude is balanced against the news value of the given image, and while there was never a chance that the actual execution would be aired, (since it is literally impossible to imagine a news value that would justify using that image to producers—or convince them that their audiences would accept such an image being aired), it left open the question of what precisely would be shown. And yet all the networks opted for almost precisely the same image, give or take an additional second of footage. NBC Nightly News and ABC’s World News Tonight stopped the tape just as the killer drew his knife, while The CBS Evening News went a bit further, showing the killer grab Berg by his hair, slam him to the ground and put the knife to his neck. “I just think you really need to let people see as much as they can in a judicious way,” CBS Evening News producer Jim Murphy said after the broadcast. “By showing even that little bit, you got a better sense of what some very bad people are willing to do to Americans.” Both MSNBC and CNN stopped short of showing the knife being brandished. But Fox News—after not showing it throughout the day—did so by Tuesday night.134 Hostage videos come in a well-defined sequence, and although it is certainly possible for any or several steps in the sequence to be missing, and it is also possible for multiple videos to appear at several of these steps. The point is that videos will not be released out of order. First will come a video to prove that a particular group does indeed hold a particular victim. It is video that is used to establish the validity of the claim that hostages are being held. Thus, for example: Good morning, Gretchen. Well, this appears to be the first confirmation of the hostage taking. The men were kidnapped at dawn last Thursday from a house here in Baghdad. 67 The video, aired on the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, is frightening for what it shows—the three men at gunpoint—and for what it demands. The hostage takers say Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene “Jack” Armstrong and Briton Kenneth Bigley will be executed within 48 hours if women in two Iraqi prisons are not released. The three worked for an Arab construction company.135 Then will come a video or group of videos in which a group’s demands are made, and its demands are linked to threats to the hostages. Obviously, as this example shows, steps can sometimes be compressed. And then comes the execution tape. Why go to the extra trouble of filming these executions? Once the victim’s bodies are found, we know they have been killed—as well as the method of their execution. Why take the risk, even if it is a minimal risk, that such a tape might provide any worthwhile intelligence information to the other side? The answer is that these tapes are of enormous value to the groups who make them. They are of value for recruiting, they are of value in rallying those who already support the cause (particularly donors), and they are valuable insofar as they have the potential to demoralize the other side. It is noteworthy that for quite some time bodies were found in Baghdad day after day with no tapes being released of these poor souls’ executions. In those cases, the bodies themselves “embodied” the message of intimidation that was being sent. It is when foreigners have been killed that tapes have been made.136 Why are they using the Internet? Because the real battle here is for American opinion. Al-Qaeda’s aim is to break America’s will to stay in Iraq. And it knows that by killing 68 one American and filming and putting it on the Internet, there is more impact than a hundred hit and run attacks on American convoys.137 Put another way, The nightmare video of an American civilian captured in Iraq being decapitated by his captors was anything but a random act of terrorism, experts say—it was a press release, carefully designed for a global audience.138 But because of the sensitivity about what is shown of a graphic nature, there is no real difference between the distinct categories of video in terms of what is actually seen by American audiences: the initial video looks little different from the videos in which demands and threats are made, which look little different from the execution videos. All that we see of any of them is a Westerner, possibly in an orange jumpsuit, possibly heard begging for his life. We know that these tapes are different only because the reporter tells us so. But consider the power of listening to the quotes from these hostages, and consider the emotions that they elicit, when no other footage is seen or shown. On September 29, 2004, the group holding British subject Kenneth Bigley released a video of him begging Tony Blair for his life (in other words begging the Prime Minister to meet the kidnapper’s demands so that he would be released.) This was after the two Americans taken with him already had been beheaded. ABC showed two cuts from the video, first showing Bigley saying, My life is cheap. He [Tony Blair] doesn’t care about me. They then showed Bigley saying, They don’t want to kill me. They could have killed me a week, two, three weeks ago. Whenever. All they want is their sisters out of prison. 69 That cut was introduced by the reporter’s somewhat odd comment that: Bigley asked for compassion on both sides. The video as a whole was described this way: The video shows Ken Bigley held in a cage, chained at the neck, hands and feet. Did they mean to evoke an image of Abu Ghraib prison? 139 Thus Bigley is shown appealing not to the terrorists, those actually holding his life in their hands, but to Tony Blair, and is further shown stating that they obviously don’t want to kill him, since they have not done so as of yet. The reporter then suggests an equivalence between the terrorists and Tony Blair, since both have the ability to be compassionate, the implication being that Tony Blair has as much control over the situation as the men actually holding the knife to Bigley’s throat—which is certainly the argument the terrorists would make. That which would lead the viewer to anger against the terrorists most directly is precisely that which is not shown. There is no dark conspiracy afoot here: the shots that would arouse anger most clearly and sharply are so graphic and grotesque that it is difficult to imagine any network news producer or newspaper editor choosing to use them. Indeed, the one time a shot of a severed American head was used, (to my knowledge), the circumstances were somewhat exceptional.140 The argument made by the networks is that showing the beginning of the tape shows an audience more than enough to permit their own imaginations to fill in any necessary blanks. 70 “I don’t think anybody in our audience failed to understand what happened to Nick Berg,” said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, whose network described Berg’s murder but did not show it. “I don’t think anybody watching [World News Tonight] could fail to understand the brutality and violence of what was perpetrated. Therefore, we feel we did our jobs the way we were supposed to.”141 But would it generate the kind of anger a powerful image will? “If you turn America’s stomach, you turn around public support at the same time,” Felling said. “All the news reporting, all the language, all the written word in the world does not have the effect of one brutal video image.”142 And when anger is subtracted, what is left? What is going to be felt, watching someone wearing an orange jumpsuit begging helplessly for their life? Remember, Bigley was not begging the terrorists holding him for his life, he was begging Tony Blair. How do we feel, hearing these poor men blame our leaders, even suspecting that their statements are under extreme and extraordinary duress? To answer that, it is necessary to first go back and explain the symbolism behind the orange jumpsuits themselves. Obviously they are the omnipresent symbol of the detention center at Guantanamo, but leaving it there is too simple. When the very first detainees arrived in Cuba, a picture circulated around the world of them in transit to their cells, immediately after having been taken off the plane. They were in a narrow, outdoor corridor, chained off, in two rows, each row of men facing out, hands bound behind their 71 backs, kneeling, with some sort of goggles covering their eyes. The picture made waves—indeed, the very fact that their eyes were covered in such a manner was labeled as torture in some circles143—and was so controversial that it was raised in a press briefing with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. And since that was the first time the men were seen, it was, of course, the first time they were seen in orange jumpsuits. By the 10th day after the first men had arrived at Guantanamo, the press frenzy had reached such a fever pitch that Rumsfeld held an unusual briefing in which the only topic was the detainees and their treatment, and he promised to stay as long as there were questions to answer. It was then that the subject of the now-infamous image was raised: QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, since you want to clear the air about the detainees, one of the things that have aroused public opinion and the parliamentarians in Britain is this photograph that shows the detainees kneeling with their hands tied behind their back. Can you just explain that— RUMSFELD: I will, to the best of my ability. It’s probably unfortunate that it was released. It’s the tension between wanting to meet the desires of the press to know more and the public to know more, and what that was, I’m told, is not a detention area. That is a corridor or a walkthrough area that came—my understanding is something like this. When they’re on the airplane, they wear earpieces because of the noise. You’ve ridden on these planes. They’re combat aircraft. And we’ve all worn earpieces. It’s no big deal. There were a number who had tested—that were worried about tuberculosis. So in a number of instances, they were given masks for the protection of other detainees and for the protection of the guards. They come out of an airplane, and their back lowers, and they walk out. 72 RUMSFELD: And then they loaded them into, I believe, buses, and they took them down to a ferry, and they were still restrained—their hands and their feet restrained because of the dangers that occur during a period of movement. They put them on a ferry, if I’m not mistaken, and the ferry takes them across to the other side of the Guantanamo Bay. They get off of the ferry and into a vehicle that then transports them to the detention center. They get out of that vehicle and in relatively small numbers are moved into this corridor that is a fenced area, and they are asked to get down on the ground. They get down on the ground, and they take off their ear pieces. They take off their masks. They do whatever they do with them before taking them in small numbers into the cells where they then would be located, at which point they are no longer in transit and, therefore, they are no longer restrained the way they were. What happened was, someone took a picture and released it apparently, of them in that corridor kneeling down while their headpieces are being taken off and people drew a whole lot of conclusions about how terrible that was, that they’re being held in that corridor. Now, you know, if you want to think the worst about things, you can. If people want to ask questions and find out what is reasonably happening, it seemed to me not an unreasonable thing, when you’re moving them from the vehicle they’re in towards their cells to have them stop in some area prior to that and do what you do to get them in a circumstance that’s more appropriate for being in a cell than how they were arranged in the buses, the ferries and the airplanes. And I think you’re quite right, I think that a lot of people saw that and said, “My goodness, they’re being forced to kneel,” which is not true. 73 QUESTION: You said it was unfortunate that that photograph was released. I would just argue that it was unfortunate that it wasn’t released with more information. RUMSFELD: Maybe. That’s fair. QUESTION: The lesson here ought not to be... RUMSFELD: I mean, I’m not blaming anyone for releasing it, but... QUESTION: ... less information or withholding photographs, but simply releasing more information... RUMSFELD: Fair enough.144 This picture was an ultimate visual representation that the terrorists being captured in Afghanistan were not just under our control but under our submission. In that sense, it was a visual inversion, coming years later, of Mogadishu, a message to the Islamic world that as you do to ours, so we shall do to yours (obviously this is in symbolic and not literal terms.)145 Then, of course, there was the release of the images from the abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and in several of those photographs as well, prisoners are wearing orange jumpsuits (and if those images aren’t about submission, then the word has no meaning.) This matters because those responsible for the kidnapping and subsequent beheading of Nick Berg claimed that their action was a response to the abuse of prisoners at abu Ghraib. And the claim that the beheading was in revenge for abu Ghraib was noted by CBS, by NBC, and repeatedly by Fox and by CNN in their initial reporting. Since Berg, the association between the jumpsuit as seen on detainees held in the West and hostages held in Iraq is constantly 74 underscored and highlighted by the press. Whenever hostages appear in these videos wearing the jumpsuit, even when images from the videos are being shown to viewers, reporters make a point of drawing attention to that detail, and sometimes they go further, linking the detail to its origins. After a South Korean businessman was beheaded, CBS’s Elizabeth Palmer noted, “Kim Sun-Il’s execution video, broadcast on the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera, looks chillingly familiar. The captive, in an orange jumpsuit like the ones worn by Guantanamo prisoners and Iraqi detainees.” (sic)146 When Berg himself was killed, the New York Times reported that, “Mr. Berg appeared to be wearing an orange jump suit similar to those issued to Iraqis in American-run prisoners here. (sic)”147 In point of fact, the claimed rationale was most likely false. But most experts said they doubted Berg’s videotaped death was a result only of those abuses. Several, noting that Berg apparently had been kidnapped nearly a month ago before he was killed, suggested that the prison scandal merely provided the terrorists with an opportunity to make a point. “In the journalistic world, the prison photos provided the terrorists with a ‘hook,’” said Matthew Felling, an analyst at the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, DC. The terrorists’ real motives, the experts said, probably were more wide-ranging and more subtle than simple revenge. One motive, said Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan, is to frighten Americans, especially the nongovernmental groups and the population of some 25,000 civilian contractors— mainly security personnel—working in Iraq who provide a sizable armed “auxiliary” to the U.S. military and the Coalition Provisional Authority. 75 “The reason this video was made was an attempt to destroy that auxiliary,” Cole said. “It’s not going to scare the U.S. troops out of the country, and it’s not going to get rid of the CPA. But there are a lot of (nongovernmental organizations) and contractors that are going to decide this is not the time to be doing business in Iraq.” Another goal, the experts said, is recruitment—drawing new members to the cause by portraying the killers as defenders against anti-Muslim forces. “They are trying to tap into anti-American sentiment and use it to their own purposes . . . get more followers, get more cash, finding more political support,” said Jim Walsh, an international security expert at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. A third, even more subtle motive might be a power struggle within the radical Islamist movement itself, Walsh speculated. The tape is entitled “Abu Musab al- Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American,” and the Website that released the tape reportedly identified al- Zarqawi as Berg’s killer. U.S. investigators say al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, has ties to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. By taking such a high profile, Walsh suggested, al-Zarqawi might be trying to establish himself as the active leader of the radical Islamist movement, leaving bin Laden in the shadows.148 Yet few outlets explored the plausibility of the claim, and as time went on, any qualifier fell away from press reports so that the association became hardened: Nickolas Berg was beheaded because of the abuses at abu Ghraib at the very least, and perhaps for the perception of abuses at Guantanamo. In that context, the orange jumpsuit made sense. Nicholas Berg, in other words, died for our sins, and the use of the jumpsuit was a visual method for making the point unmistakable and preparing it to 76 cross any language barriers. There were some people, after all, who accepted the claim that Berg was killed because prisoners had been abused, and even took his death as evidence for their arguments against the way detainees were being treated.149 With no image from the end of the tape, without the final frame that reminded us that the blame for this unspeakable act—which could not be justified in any terms—rested squarely with those who had committed it, the appearance was created that this was in some sense if not a legitimate, then an understandable titfor- tat. We had reaped as we had sown. Again, I am not arguing that this is what the networks were arguing. I am arguing that they used footage that made this argument in a subtle, powerful way—this is, after all, ultimately, propaganda material—without showing that part of the footage that puts the lie to that visual claim. In essence, they aired extremely effective propaganda material without doing any of the necessary work of unpacking or deconstructing it to make it less effective. Indeed, rather than explain how these tapes work to communicate the terrorist or insurgent message, rather than explain the strategy underlying the construction of these tapes as persuasive texts, the reporters in some cases did the work of the terrorists by explaining (and therefore magnifying) their message. McGINNIS: Barry, what is the impact of this hostagetaking on stability in the region and the rebuilding effort? PETERSEN: I think it’s going to be very, very bad for any effort to rebuild this country. I think it’s going to send a signal to foreign workers, American engineers, people who have the expertise that the rebuilding is going to take, that this is not a place to be. It’s a very unsafe place. And even if the people want to go, you can imagine the 77 kind of family pressure they’re going to be facing from loved ones who say, “Don’t go to Iraq.” Susan.150 Furthermore, every time a victim was shown begging for their life and wearing the orange jumpsuit, a subtle legitimizing effect took place. Who wears these outfits? Detainees. And who takes detainees? Those with some authority and legitimacy. After all, we hold detainees, we do not kidnap hostages. Repetitively showing these hostages dressed this way, and furthermore usually going out of their way to draw attention to the way they were dressed, begging for their lives, but not showing the ultimate denouement captures a sense of shame and guilt, rather than a sense of anger and blame. Given this real impact, consider Hoffman’s argument about the danger of press coverage that over-emphasizes the personal, the individual anguish of specific families in the midst of a hostage crisis.151 In past crises, he argues, this has had the effect (sometimes intentional) of creating almost unbearable pressure on the government to violate long-standing U.S. policy and negotiate with terrorists. Because, after all, is not the most important thing to do whatever is necessary to bring our people home now, and end these families’ concrete and visible suffering, and damn the consequences (for example, the possibility that more— and abstract—families might suffer in the future)? When a video is released of Bigley pleading for his life, it provides an opportunity for precisely the type of situation Hoffman writes about: the pressure is put squarely on the government to void its policy of not negotiating with terrorists. How can they not move heaven and earth to bring their man home and end this specific family’s anguish? 78 Mr. KENNETH BIGLEY (Hostage): I don’t want to die. I don’t deserve it. Please, please release the female prisoners that are held in Iraqi prisons. Please, please help me see my wife, who cannot, cannot go on without me. She really can’t. And my son... PETERSEN: And it was his son who pleaded as desperately to the kidnappers. Mr. CRAIG BIGLEY (Hostage’s Son): Be merciful, as we know you can be. Release Ken back to his wife and family. We ask you as a family to be all merciful. PETERSEN: The kidnappers abducted Bigley and two Americans a week ago, and this week beheaded the Americans. As for letting Bigley make his plea, it fell not on deaf ears, but on the ears of a government that says it cannot negotiate with terrorists, even to save a life. Mr. JACK STRAW (British Foreign Secretary): I’m afraid to say it can’t alter the position of the British government. And as I’ve explained to the family, we can’t get into a situation of bargaining with terrorists, because this would put many more people’s lives at risk, not only in Iraq, but around the world. PETERSEN: His wife, Sombat, issued her own plea saying, “As a loving wife, I beg you once more for mercy.”152 Peterson introduced this clip by saying that the kidnappers allowed Bigley to make this videotaped plea. This framing reflects a critical misunderstanding of the tape’s purpose and importance: while it may have presented an opportunity for the hostage, he was conveying the kidnappers’ message, not his own, under duress, and the message and images in the tape constitute a carefully constructed and extremely powerful propaganda text: to view it otherwise is to 79 seriously underestimate its power. In short, they did not allow it, they demanded it. It is extremely unlikely that a network would ever air more of a comparable tape, if another one were to be made available. But why not air less? Is it necessary that any of these tapes be aired for an audience to be informed? Indeed, this seems to be the direction that the networks were headed at the end of the spate of brutal executions of hostages in 2004. When Hensley was killed the next day, the video was mentioned by NBC, but no clips were aired. The question is, was the viewer ill-served when NBC subtracted the increment of information that could be gained from their watching him on the terrorist’s video, as opposed to their simply hearing NBC’s reporter say, The report tonight on an Islamic Website claiming Jack Hensley, a contractor from Georgia, has been executed, the second American hostage killed in as many days.153 CBS mentioned the second video but did no story about it and provided no quotes from it. In that case, on September 29, 2004, Dan Rather merely says, For the second time in a week, Al-Jazeera television has aired a disturbing video of a Briton held hostage in Iraq. This latest video shows Kenneth Bigley in a cage, chained and weeping, begging Prime Minister Tony Blair to save his life by meeting the demands of his Iraqi captors. Blair would say only that Britain will respond immediately if the militants make contact. So far, they have not.154 One must again ask if the difference in what CBS’s viewers learned on the two nights was so enormous as to justify the fact that on the first night CBS exposed their audience to the powerful manipulative effects 80 of enemy propaganda. Did they do so purposefully? Hardly. But they did do so without explaining that the material they were airing was designed and intended to manipulate, in part precisely by drawing powerfully on the viewer’s emotions. Indeed, they made the situation worse by highlighting precisely those emotional appeals when they went to the family, who could hardly be expected to have anything in mind beyond their loved one’s safety at that moment. In this way, CBS at least replays precisely that aspect of the earlier coverage of the TWA 847 hostage crisis of 1985 that brought the networks so much criticism. When a tape was released threatening a kidnapped group of Christian Peacemakers, NBC only described the tape: Kidnapped two months ago, the Christian activists included two Canadians, a Briton, and American Tom Fox. The video ran on Al Jazeera and appeared to be a week-old. The kidnappers threatened to kill the hostages, saying this is the last chance for the US to meet their demand to free thousands of Iraqi prisoners. That same threat was made in a video released last month. But two deadlines passed with no news.155 CBS only quoted the video after the body was found: I offer my plea to the people of America, not to the government of America, a plea for my release from captivity and also a plea for a release from captivity of all of the people of Iraq.156 There was no other coverage: no stories prior; no mention of those earlier videos until Fox turned up dead. Was the simple description of the tape by NBC really a disservice to their audience? 81 If the practice of taking Western hostages, then passing on videos of them to the press (perhaps taking Western hostages in order to pass on such videos) has essentially ended in Iraq, there is no reason to believe the tactic will not be used again. It is well worth examining the tactic and its implications to take note of lessons learned, because there is every reason to believe it will be coming around again soon enough.157 Indeed, asking why the various insurgent groups in Iraq stopped using Western hostages to gain media attention is a reasonable place for analysis to begin. Surely any number of factors was at play, but researchers should be asking whether one was that when networks stopped playing the tapes, taking Westerners hostage stopped being a way to gain access to the vast American audience. It is interesting that toward the end of the use of the hostages as part of a media strategy, some of the most prominent victims were journalists.158 A cynic might wonder whether the very real risk to the hostage attendant to giving these groups the amount and degree of air play they no doubt would have wanted was suddenly brought home in a way it had not been before. Certainly it is the case that the families of reporter-hostages were left alone and accorded a degree of respect that was never the case for the families of any other hostage, inevitably convinced, one way or the other, to appear on a couch on the Today Show and answer insipid questions about how they “felt” and “how hard” this must be for their family until the requisite tears appeared. Of course, once a question elicited tears, it was that question that would then be replayed over and over again on the cable networks, all day long.159 At a minimum, whether or not there is a relationship between the end of the use of hostages as a media 82 strategy and the end of network use of hostage videos is both a productive question for future research and—until a definitive answer is determined—a good enough reason to keep any subsequent hostage material off network air, as a hedge.160 If these groups believed the footage would not be used by the networks, that certainly does not necessarily mean such attacks would stop. This is propaganda footage, and there are multiple audiences for it, including their own followers, who view it over the Internet. It is also uploaded to the Internet for recruitment purposes. But it surely does not hurt for the terrorists to know that their footage will get a wider dissemination—to one of the audiences they care most about—than they could ever achieve on their own. But the press seems to be an institution without any institutional memory. For them, a lesson learned but forgotten after TWA 847 was: don’t let terrorists take control of network air. A corollary, although it was not phrased this way at the time, don’t let terrorists air their propaganda material without comment or critique. For the modern era, it seems that a critical lesson ought be: Certainly don’t let them do so without transparency. What makes this all the more amazing is that in the 1980s, after some high profile decisions by networks covering terrorist events that were widely considered controversial or even of extremely questionable journalistic ethics, the networks agonized over how to handle their coverage of terrorist events. The coverage of the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 was widely denounced as “Terrorvision” and a “media circus,” and many in the media conceded that their performance had been less than their finest hour.161 The hijacked plane was ultimately brought to Beirut. Once there, the hostages were split up, with some kept on the plane 83 and others distributed around the city to make a rescue impossible. Those in the city were then made available for interviews, in one particularly spectacular instance, in a press conference staged by the hijackers. The press negotiated with the hijackers for these interviews, and turned the press conference into a “circus,” despite the fact that the hostages were obviously under duress and not able to speak freely. And the hijacker’s allies in Beirut were frequently interviewed, executing a press strategy said to be designed by the graduates of the media departments of American universities. Few doubted that the American media were being openly and successfully manipulated.162 And since the hijackers and their allies in Beirut were working aggressively to favor broadcast and shut out print, this was primarily a question of the performance of television journalism.163 There were also questions regarding the choices made by some journalists during the long Iran hostage crisis. Did that coverage do what was necessary to keep audiences as well informed as possible, or produce the best visuals? After all, it became well known— although, long after the fact, when it might have done some good—that those holding the American embassy in Tehran only actually walked the perimeter in protest with their placards when the cameras showed up (just as it was also only pointed out in retrospect that the protest signs were in English, not Farsi, and for a reason.) It was not until much later that it was made known that these “protesters” were in fact so industrious that they actually had two sets of signs. Knowing that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, (CBC), served a bilingual population, they would march carrying signs reading DEATH TO CARTER only until the cameramen signaled they had enough good footage, at 84 which point they would grab the signs reading MORT A CARTER, so that the same camera crew could get sufficient footage for their French-speaking audience as well.164