What They Want

What They Want April 23, 2013

I agree with Paul Campos, a routine line of thinking — and a right one:

So how should the authorities treat political crimes of this sort? While of course every case is unique, it would be good to keep a few basic principles in mind.

First, giving politically motivated criminals more publicity than necessary is giving them exactly what they want. It’s important to remember that the Tsarnaev brothers were a couple of nobodies, whose only real power came from their ability to use their very limited capacity to engage in acts of public violence to create a level of public terror out of all proportion to any threat they could pose to the public as a whole. (Again, I emphasize that none of this is to deny the horrible suffering they managed to wreak on their victims).

Second, terrorism only “works” to the extent that people are terrorized. Telling 1 million people to cower in their homes for an entire day (as opposed to prudently closing off a particular neighborhood) is giving those people – indeed, all of us – exactly the wrong message.

Sensational news sells; because it sells, news media gravitate toward sensational news. How can we discourage the sensational news?

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  • Pat Pope

    Well, we can ignore the sensationalism and maybe if enough networks have their ratings go down, they’ll realize what people are really interested in. But it’s not just the news media. Terrorism on the level that we’ve seen in this country is still new to most of us and an unknown. So, if you tell me there’s someone roaming my city with explosives, I’m likely to stay close to home. Hard to go about one’s normal routine when you don’t know who the enemy is, where they are and what they plan to do. Hindsight is 20/20 and maybe law enforcement should have just had a few affected neighborhoods shelter in, but with a carjacking and potential plans of going to New York, a decision had to be made to try to minimize the amount of potential loss of life. I don’t know what the right answer is, but we’ve got to get smarter about all of this because terrorism is not likely going away anytime soon.

  • Phil Miller

    I did find it kind of crazy that two people were able to completely shut down a huge metro area like that, not to mention the huge investment in manpower to capture them. It was a like a small army assembled to get these guys.

  • kent

    I have two thoughts. The first is that it easy to second guess those who are responsible for public safety on the decisions that they make in the midst of the crisis. They too might change things, but they are making the best choices they can with the limited information they have.

    The second thought is that the benefit of the 24 hour news cycles and new channels may be less than originally thought. I know of very few stories that take more than an hour to fully cover, after that you are trying to fill the time and often what fills it is less than helpful.

  • Adam

    Sensational news sells because we buy.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    i accept most of what has been said. But I wonder about “terrorized” and “public.”

    President Obama and others were proclaiming that Americans, and particularly Bostonians “will not be terrorized.” Meanwhile their minions are acting in ways that could not help but (and were intended to??) fan the flames of “Foreign Terrorists: Be very afraid.” All of those proclamations ran little more true than George W. Bush’s plea for Americans to “go shopping! America is open for business” 12 years ago.

    I also wonder about defining this crime as or “political.” Are we to universally declare public crimes as “political?” I don’t mean to be insensitive, but these bombs killed three people and the two young men appear to have acted on their own. If it were not for Americans’ reflexive reaction to the mention of Islam in relation to this, would we be anywhere close to labeling this crime as “Political?”


  • metanoia

    To the second point. At what point do we determine what is a prudently closing off of a particular neighborhood? A hostage situation where the perpetrator is holed up is one thing. An ambulatory suspect who had previously hijacked an automobile is another.
    First responders train for just about every imaginable scenario. I tend not to second guess them in situations such as the Boston Marathon Massacre.

  • kierkegaard71

    Some aspects of modern life seem very much beyond our control. Witness today the hacking of the Associated Press Twitter account with fictitious news of White House explosions and a President Obama injury. Stock values lost $200 billion of value over this news. Although there was a stock rebound, it goes to show the negative impact that bad uses of technology can bring. At the individual level, limit your exposure to the 24-hr news cycle. Beyond that, I absolutely have no idea what one can do.

  • Matt

    I am not sure that publicity is what motivated these guys. I think it was the perception that they were “nobodies.” Nobody wants to be a nobody, and violence makes you feel like a somebody, whether it’s publicized or not. (I am thinking of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.)

    I think that one step toward stopping violence like this is to stop treating people like they are nobodies. (Don’t misinterpret this as any kind of defense of the bombers.)