The Media’s Sensation-Saturated Reality

At some point after Sept. 11, the gap between ‘paranoia’ and ‘justified concern’ has closed.
After all, it is an exceedingly rare day that viewers can turn to their regular news stations and not be bombarded with reports of the latest casualties, whether it be in Iraq or another place abroad.
For better or worse, the public’s seeming hyper-awareness of the situation in Iraq and the terrorism threat is due largely to the amount of media coverage that it gets. But while some people will inevitably accuse the media of sensationalizing the threat of terrorism and the purported quagmire in Iraq to the point of paranoia, the fact of the matter is that in all too many instances, that paranoia is justified.
Who besides the paranoid, after all, could have predicted that disastrous morning in Madrid last month, in which a series of subway explosions killed almost 200 unsuspecting rush hour commuters?
For that matter, who else could have predicted any of the countless terrorist attacks that have been dominating the world’s headlines since Sept. 11, attacks that refuse to be isolated within the battlegrounds of Iraq,and that seem to occur with epidemic-like frequency? Whether it be Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, the terrorism threat is real and it is everywhere.
Consider also the latest headlines concerning the war in Iraq: the four American security contractors who were mutilated and killed in Falluja; the repeated exhortations of cleric Muqtadaal-Saadr meant to intensify the Shiite insurgence against American troops; the three Japanese civilian hostages being held by Iraqi insurgents who had threatened to burn them alive if Japan did not withdraw its troops; the widespread Sunni and Shiite uprisings that have resulted in one of the deadliest weeks in Iraq for U.S. and Iraqi forces alike.
Who needs sensationalism when reality itself is sensational, when responding to reality is all the media can do at this point?
Admittedly, this same media has the habit of pursuing panic-inducing stories with almost obsessive thoroughness, stopping only when the next new potential apocalypse comes around. This was especially true in the months immediately following Sept. 11, during which time reporters eagerly attached the label of ‘terrorist attack’ to anything from unattended lunch boxes at the airport to derailed trains. In those days, the media resembled less an objective and reliable source of information, and more a hypochondriac.
Now, however, sobered by their growing familiarity with such stories, reporters seem to have scaled back their sensationalism while terrorism itself seems to have gotten bolder, its transgressions more frequent. It is a rare (and unwanted) case of reality finally catching up to the hype.
Gone now are the days of late night talk show hosts making cracks about shoe inspections, the days of brushing aside the color-coded terror alert system as a ridiculous medium for mass hysteria. And if we do allow ourselves to laugh about such precautions, the humor is often accompanied by the grim admission that we feel the slightest bit safer with these precautions in place.
In a sense, we can finally listen to the media without that same requisite sense of distrust and suspicion. In these days of war and terrorism, if the media say real threats are looming out there, they’re probably right.

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