What’s bigger: ISIS threat or media scaremongering?
When Chris Hayes of MSNBC and Laura Ingraham of Fox News agree on something, you know you’ve stumbled onto something real.
I don’t mean to downplay the threat that Islamic State zealots pose in the Middle East. But we’ve gotten to the point where one YouTube video sends American media into a feeding frenzy of endless loop coverage, without context or information.
On his All In show, the liberal Hayes literally applauded the conservative Ingraham as he showed a clip of her schooling the hosts of Fox & Friends. “I don’t think we should jump every time the freaks with the Ace bandages around their faces put out videos,” Ingraham told them. Hayes’ reaction was “Amen, sister.” Ingraham urged Americans not to react “emotionally” every time ISIS released a video of a beheading and called for “clearheaded debate.” Hayes has been making the same points on his show for some time.
Of course, it would be easier for Americans not to react “emotionally” if cable news stations didn’t go hog-wild every time there was a new video from ISIS. Ingraham and Hayes are correct in their analysis, but both of their cable networks, as well as CNN and the broadcast channels, go overboard whenever a new video is released. And as for “clearheaded debate,” we’re certainly not getting that from politicians or talking head pundits who have brought scaremongering to a new level.
The latest video came not from ISIS but from the Somali terrorist group al Shabaab, which called for an attack on the Mall of America in the Minneapolis area. Minnesota is home to more than 25,000 people of Somali ancestry, and Minneapolis’s Cedar-Riverside neighborhood houses some 14,000 Somali immigrants. The neighborhood even is known as “Little Mogadishu” after the capital of Somalia.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar rightly saw the video as a recruitment tool for disillusioned Somalis in her state, but she stressed that the threat should be seen in context.
During an interview with a Minnesota CBS station, Klobuchar said state authorities have had success in going after recruiters and would-be terrorists. “Twenty indictments on al-Shabaab alone, nine convictions so far,” she said. “That is all because we were able to work [together], our law enforcement, federal and state level, with the community.” Minnesotans should not avoid the shopping mall, she said — advice echoed on Sunday morning talk shows by U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Al Shabaab was the group that led the 2013 brutal attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. But the group doesn’t have the capacity to launch an attack on a mall half a world away — just the capacity to make a video that U.S. media can play over and over to frighten Americans.
Al Shabaab has targeted Minnesota before, with marginal success. In 2013, al Shabaab released a video called the “Minnesota’s Martyrs: The Path to Paradise,” profiling two Minnesotans who joined the terrorist group to fight in Somalia and became suicide bombers. Some 40 Minnesotans apparently have joined the al Shabaab fight since 2007.
It’s hard to assess the real strength of any of these foreign terrorist groups. Western reporters — understandably! — can’t cover what’s really happening for fear of kidnapping and execution. So we’re left with partial news and overreaction from YouTube video-driven threats.
Richard Engel is the respected NBC News chief foreign correspondent who has worked and lived throughout the Middle East and speaks Arabic. His reporting and his tweets show that ISIS still controls a large amount of territory and has about 20,000 fighters. While Kurdish fighters have made major gains, he reports that Kurdish leaders say the U.S. airstrikes haven’t been enough.
Another report, however, from Vox News, says that ISIS is losing. Despite the executions of Christians in Libya and its horrific videos, ISIS is losing territory it once held — not everywhere, but in places that matter. “Coalition airstrikes have hamstrung its ability to wage offensive war, and it has no friends to turn to for help,” the Vox report says. “Its governance model is unsustainable and risks collapse in the long run.”
Yet CNN.com has a screaming headline that “3 tried to join ISIS” and that “Suspect vowed to shoot Obama, court papers say.” So three losers from New York who thought they’d fly to Turkey and cross the border to Syria, only to get arrested by the FBI first, are worthy of overblown coverage? Other plans from these dim bulbs were to shoot a police officer and steal a gun and a bullet-proof vest and then “shoot all police,” or to go to FBI headquarters and kill everyone there. Like any of that could ever happen.
Meaningful context and more responsible reporting from the news media would be a welcome change. If Chris Hayes and Laura Ingraham can agree on this, surely the rest of us can, too.