Terrorism and the Politics of Fear

David L. Altheide

Terrorism and the Politics of Fear - David L. Altheide

pagine 264

29,95 euro


Altamira Press, Lanham. MD


In this powerful new book, sociologist David L. Altheide demonstrates how the mass media constructs a politics of fear in America. He argues that politicians and decision-makers bear much of the blame for the promotion of fear among citizens, resulting in the loss of civil liberties in return for greater protection. From a social interactionist perspective, Altheide presents his thesis that fear-as-entertainment informs the production of popular culture and news, generates profits, enables political decision-makers to cynically manipulate citizens, and can lead to major institutional changes, even war. The author dissects in turn: a modern propaganda campaign in the justification of the invasion of Iraq to the American people; the expansion of control and surveillance on the Internet; and the construction of a "hero fighting terrorism" to promote patriotism, in the story of a promising young Arizona sports hero, Pat Tillman, who joined the Army and was killed by his fellow Rangers in Afghanistan. This thoughtful treatment of a timely subject will be indispensable to teachers and students of sociology, media, politics, and criminology studies.



Preface and Acknowledgements


The Social Reality of Fear

The Mass Media as a Social Institution

Crime and Terrorism

Consuming Terrorism

Terrorism and the Politics of Fear

The Control Narrative of the Internet

The Propaganda Project and the Iraq War

Constructing Pat Tillman

Conclusion: Beyond the Politics of Fear



About the Author



Sharon Keeler

A new book by David Altheide, Regents’ Professor of Justice and Social Inquiry at ASU, asserts that the U.S. government used the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as a catalyst to unleash a sophisticated propaganda campaign.

That campaign was designed to scare the American people into giving up civil liberties, as well as supporting the war in Iraq, Altheide says in his new book, titled “Terrorism and the Politics of Fear.”

In the book, Altheide states his belief of how the U.S. government used the news media to promote fear and a sense of insecurity.

The use of “entertaining fear,” applied to the war on terrorism, began with several earlier “wars” on crime and drugs, he says. The goal is to encourage the U.S. people to relinquish certain privacy rights for protection and a safer world.

Book chapters on the Pat Tillman story, Internet control and fear of crime demonstrate how government sources worked with entertainment-oriented news media and popular culture to construct the “politics of fear.” The government sources also worked with other decision-makers to promote audience beliefs and assumptions about danger, risk and fear.

Altheide’s award-winning 2002 book, “Creating Fear,” documented how fear has become more pervasive in our lives.

The Iraq War propaganda was skillfully orchestrated Altheide says. The invasion of Iraq, he demonstrates, was laid out long before 9/11 in a conservative “think tank’s” vision for new foreign policy that called for engaging in pre-emptive strikes against those who threaten U.S. interests.

The group, the Project of the New American Century (PNAC), counted among its associates current and former members of the George W. Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, who now serves as president of the World Bank.

“By drawing on and compounding people’s fear following 9/11, the U.S. government convinced people that they were all potential victims,” Altheide says. “Because there was an absence of a clear target for reprisal after 9/11, our government – with the help of the media – constructed broad, symbolic enemies. It became a war on terrorism, a war against evil. The government had a plan to protect them, and the people went along with the plan.”

Altheide says the carefully crafted propaganda campaign could not have been executed without a compliant news media – a media that has become increasingly more focused on entertainment than broadcasting the news. He cites research on network trends that shows that, for the period of time between 1977-1997, hard news declined from 67.3 percent to 41.3 percent, while entertainment news tripled.

“The mass media gives us definitions of how to look at the world, and most people derive their news from the mass media,” Altheide says. “When the mass media is getting the majority of its information from government news sources, then there is a clear political shaping of events taking place.”

That shaping included nearly constant news reports about weapons of mass destruction, suicide bombers and airport security breaches. The reports made people feel “there was a terrorist lurking around every corner,” Altheide says.

In analysis of newspaper and television coverage following 9/11, Altheide found that mass media relied heavily on government administration sources that directed the focus and language of news coverage. Citing media analyst Andrew Tyndall, Altheide illustrates that of the 414 stories on Iraq broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS from September 2001-February 2002, all but 34 originated at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department.

Additionally, papers saw huge increases in their use of the word “fear” in the headline and “terrorism” in the report. The New York Times, for example, saw an increase of 1,754 percent.

The U.S. government, Altheide maintains, capitalized on people’s heightened state of fear to exert social control in the name of homeland security. Members of Congress passed the Patriot Act when many admitted they hadn’t even read it. Mechanisms such as monitoring phone conversations and personal financial transactions were accepted in exchange for a “safer world.”

When the Bush administration was ready to wage war on Iraq, it already had shaped the civic mood in the country. Critics of the war on terrorism, like critics of the massive war on drugs, were said to be uncaring, unpatriotic and supporting the enemy. Questionable evidence linked Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. The media presented to the American people what it had been told, not what it had uncovered. Indeed, the New York Times later apologized for its shoddy coverage of the war.

“The systematic use of propaganda is now part of all war coverage, whereby any critique of managed news is included as part of the scripted war program,” Altheide says. “As with previous wars, the propaganda show becomes stale as more truthful accounts emerge over time.”

In fact, recent polls show support for the war among the American people has waned as the governments’ evidence for going to war in the first place has unraveled – and as the body count has increased.

But Altheide says the government continues to press on in its propaganda campaign to convince the American people – and the world – that what is being fought in Iraq is a war on terror.

The language, however, has altered meaning so that all anti-government activities are being labeled terrorism. What, then, becomes of the revolutionaries who rise up against oppressive governments? Who are the insurgents in Iraq who say they fight against American occupation?

“By our modern definition, our own country’s founding fathers would be considered terrorists,” Altheide says. “And what of the American people after this war ends? They are more accustomed to surveillance and more willing to support formal social control. They are more afraid.”