Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Charlie Hebdo, the Realities of Terror and the News Media

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. - Soren Kierkegaard

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. - Nikos Kazantzakis

As the world mourns the senseless slaying of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris today and the policemen who were assigned to protect them, there are two grim realities that we must come to accept in the 21st century:

    1. We can choose to have security and safety in our society or we can choose to have unlimited freedom.  We cannot have both.
    2. Whatever side we lean towards produces greater opportunity for compromise in the other.

Given that the average person in the western world demands freedom as an inalienable right of humanity, we trade away the opportunity for perfect safety and thus make terrorist attacks in the west not only possible but inevitable.

If we accept that such attacks are inevitable, then the notion that they are shocking and surprising is simply not logical and yet the news media runs banners such as this one on CNN.


As they run such banners, the rest of the world reels in shock, anger and dismay, falling to the negative emotions that modern news media seeks to evoke – negative emotions that will not produce any measurable, effective solutions moving forward but serve to keep us off balance.

Some would argue that the news media is reporting the news but I would counter that argument with the notion that if such events are inevitable, then they are in fact not news at all but rather just another routine event.

Meanwhile, other news that is much more shocking but cannot be leveraged by the news media goes unnoticed.

For example, 24,000 children under the age of 5 will die today from tainted water but that is not news since it doesn’t evoke enough emotion that can be used to attract viewers and ratings.

We have infrastructure including energy and water production and distribution that is open to an attack that could kill tens of millions but this is too frightening to comprehend so we don’t talk about that either.

But sadly, a terrorist attack offers just the perfect blend of outrage that touches our heart and spirit, drawing an outpouring of anger and grief that is just right for the news media.

Even more sadly, a group of innocent people died today in the Charlie Hebdo attack at the hands of misguided cowards.

And most sadly of all, innocent people will die from terrorist attacks in the future.because we collectively choose freedom over security.

When we make such choices, attacks like the one in Paris today shouldn’t surprise us because such attacks are inevitable.

And since we have made the choice that enables such an inevitable event, it is not newsworthy at all.

That’s not to say that such attacks cannot be prevented.

I’m also not suggesting that we not take a moment to honor those who died at the hands of cowards today.

But a preventable attack is something we are unwilling to invest in and in doing so, we acknowledge that today’s loss, while shocking, is somehow still acceptable.

While many would protest such a supposition, I would counter their protest with the idea that it is results and not merely desires and intentions that define how we see society.

If we truly wanted a totally safe society, we would draw a line in the sand and say that no more innocent people like the ones lost today will ever be lost to terrorism and we would then do whatever it takes to accomplish this.

However, I think we lack the desire to do what it takes, thereby defining a level of “acceptable losses” in society despite our cries to the contrary while making those lost today to have been lost in vain and without surprise. 

I also think in making the choices that we make, we give “the news media” more opportunity to share negative information that serves no value at all outside of shocking the people who made the collective decisions in the first place.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,



One of my readers asked me what we define as “acceptable levels of loss” in society. 

It’s a great question that I don’t have an answer for.

Do you?

Addendum 2 – January 9, 2015

It is more than three days since these events began and as I write this, the terror suspects are holding hostages as news media blasts this story live around the world.

This is unfortunately providing terrorists with the very thing they desire – free press for their cause.

I wonder what would happen if we didn’t report terror events at all (or just minimally), thus not providing the mouthpiece that the terrorists desire.

I doubt that the news media could be so self-disciplined as to give this a try.

What do you think?

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