FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Conspiracy of Fear-Mongers

by

Over the weekend CNN breathlessly reported as “Breaking News” — it breathlessly reports everything as “Breaking News” — a new poll indicating that people are increasingly frightened about terrorism. The accompanying web story stated, “Terrorism has eclipsed the economy as voters’ top pick for the biggest issue facing America, a New York Times/CBS News poll has found. Last month only 4% of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem, according to the New York Times. Now nearly one in five — 19% — believe it is.”

The story goes on:

Following terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, California, the poll said Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001….

More than four in 10 Americans — 44% — believe an attack is “very” likely to happen in the next few months. And 70% say that ISIS is a major threat to America’s security.

Nearly 60% of people are “very” concerned about the threat of terrorism against Americans committed by elements entering the U.S. from other countries. And 63% are “very” concerned about the threat of terrorism against Americans committed by people currently living in the U.S. who are inspired by foreign extremists.”

How likely is an American to be a victim? Curiously, CNN never bothers to say.

In fact, the likelihood is so low that the saturation coverage — which is better described as fear-mongering — looks ridiculous. Commonplace things are far more likely to kill Americans than terrorism — from any source — yet you won’t learn that by watching TV or reading the daily newspaper.

It’s not as though qualified interviewees would be hard to find. John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart have been putting the terrorist threat in perspective for years. Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism is their latest attempt to cool things down.

“Although the yearly chance an American will be killed by a terrorist within the country is about one in 4 million under present conditions,” Mueller and Stewart write, “around 40 percent of Americans have professed, in polls taken since late 2001, that they worry they or a family member will become a victim of a terrorist.”

Of course. The media work overtime to make them afraid. But getting killed by an asteroid is more likely. Richard Jackson of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Zealand says we have more to fear from bathtubs and vending machines.

After the attacks, American officials from the president on down sounded repeated alarms about how many al-Qaeda operatives (2,000-5,000) and sleeper cells were in America and about a coming second wave of terrorism. The lack of evidence was considered evidence. No operatives or cells were found and no second wave took place, yet no official apologized.

Thus the U.S. government’s expenditure of trillions of dollars since 9/11 is shown to be outrageous.

We’ve been through this before. In the 1980s a group of right-wing “experts,” aided by the media, tried to scare Americans into believing that Soviet-trained terrorists were among us. If so, they preferred living here peacefully to creating mayhem.

Why do the government, the media establishment, and an assortment of consultants traffic in fear?

It’s not a hard question. Many people profit from fear-mongering about terrorism. Politicians and bureaucrats gain more power. They also gain access to more money (through borrowing, that is, taxation of future generations). That money ends up in the terrorism industry, a constellation of firms that sell the government endless quantities of goods and services.

No presidential candidate dare tell the truth because rivals will portray him or her as a weak-kneed, head-in-the-sand appeaser. Fear-mongering brings the worst to the top.

Finally, the news media and the “sham ‘terrorism expert’ industry” it fosters have every incentive to exaggerate any danger. Fear-mongering attracts viewers and builds circulation. Why would CNN report something that might prompt viewers to change the channel?

Regular Americans pay a heavy price — in stress (which is a killer), in lost liberty and privacy, and in prosperity forgone. Fear of terrorism also makes people more willing to support American militarism in the Middle East, which creates more would-be terrorists than it destroys and keeps the scam going.

What will it take to change this perverse system that thrives on power, war, and fear?

More articles by:

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

CounterPunch Magazine


bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
September 22, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Killing of History
Anthony DiMaggio
Who Are the “Alt-Right”? On the Rise of Reactionary Hatred and How to Fight it
Paul Street
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “Vietnam War”: Some Predictions
Douglas Valentine – Lars Schall
The CIA: 70 Years of Organized Crime
Paul Atwood
Korea? It’s Always Really Been About China!
Jeffrey St. Clair
Imperial Ruins: Frank Lloyd Wright in Hollywood
Mike Whitney
Uncle Sam vs. Russia in Eastern Syria: the Nightmare Scenario   
Andrew Levine
Trump Flux
Paul Michael Johnson
Lessons on Colonial Monuments From an Unlikely Place
Benjamin Dangl
Masters of War: Senate Defense Budget Set to Exceed One Third of Global Military Spending
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Decomposing Corpse
Linda Pentz Gunter
Stanislav Petrov: the Ignominious End of the Man Who Saved the World
Margaret Kimberley
Is Trump a White Supremacist? Yes, But So is America
Stephen Cooper
When Racism Lurks in the Heart of a Death Penalty Juror
Robert Fantina
Bombast Unchained: Trump at the United Nations
Ralph Nader
The Censorious Vortex of the “Flash News” Barons
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Americanized Fascism
Don Fitz
Any White Cop Can Kill a Black Man at Any Time
Louis Proyect
The Cancer in Blue: Cop Documentaries
Mike Miller
A Small “d” Democratic Reflection on Hurricane Irma
John Feffer
It’s Time to Make a Deal With North Korea
John Eskow
MSNBC Goes Full Dr. Strangelove
Pepe Escobar
Unmasked: Trump Doctrine Vows Carnage for New Axis of Evil
Kenneth Surin
London Taxi Driver Chat
Georgina Downs
Poison in the Fields: Agriculture as Chemical Warfare
Basav Sen
The Brutal Racial Politics of Climate Change and Pollution
Jill Richardson
Finding a Common Language on Climate
Foday Darboe
Climate Change and Conflict
Brad Evans
An Open Letter to a Mexican Female Student
Andrew Stewart
A Few Things About Nonviolence: A Response to Yoav Litvin
Uri Avnery
Thank You, Smotrich the Fascist
Camilo Gómez
DACA and the Future of Conservatism
Myles Hoenig
Whose Streets? Their Streets
Caitlin Munchick
Busting Power, Not Shutting It Off
George Wuerthner
Megafires, Climate Change and Industrial Logging
Bob Lord
Trump’s Tax Plan: a Billion or Three for Guys Like Him
Dan Bacher
Westlands Water District: California WaterFix Is ‘Not Financially Viable’
Cesar Chelala
Breaking Up Barriers to Peace in the Middle East
Emily Norton
Can Anti-Racist Businesses Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?
Jimmy Centeno
Along the Border: the Artwork of Malaquias Montoya
Binoy Kampmark
Brexiting Hard: Boris Johnson Goes to War
Robert Koehler
Reclaiming the Truth About Vietnam
Martin Billheimer
Kzradock: the Imperialism of the Soul
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paul Yoon’s “The Mountain”
David Yearsley
Furore in Eugene!