What's Black and White and Red All Over?

By Richard Morin
Thursday, June 15, 2006

More ink equals more blood, claim two economists who say that newspaper coverage of terrorist incidents leads directly to more attacks.

It's a macabre example of win-win in what economists call a "common-interest game," say Bruno S. Frey of the University of Zurich and Dominic Rohner of Cambridge University.

"Both the media and terrorists benefit from terrorist incidents," their study contends. Terrorists get free publicity for themselves and their cause. The media, meanwhile, make money "as reports of terror attacks increase newspaper sales and the number of television viewers."

The researchers counted direct references to terrorism between 1998 and 2005 in the New York Times and Neue Zuercher Zeitung, a respected Swiss newspaper. They also collected data on terrorist attacks around the world during that period. Using a statistical procedure called the Granger Causality Test, they attempted to determine whether more coverage directly led to more attacks.

The results, they said, were unequivocal: Coverage caused more attacks, and attacks caused more coverage -- a mutually beneficial spiral of death that they say has increased because of a heightened interest in terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.

One partial solution: Deny groups publicity by not publicly naming the attackers, Frey said. But won't they become known anyway through informal channels such as the Internet?

Not necessarily, Frey said. "Many experiences show us that in virtually all cases several groups claimed responsibility for a particular terrorist act. I would like the same rule that obtains within a country: Nobody can be called a criminal -- in our case a terrorist -- if this has not been established by a court of law."

An Unhelping Hand

Here's a reason some black people may have difficulty finding jobs: Disadvantaged African Americans are hesitant to help even their close friends find work, according to one study.

Sociologist Sandra Susan Smith of the University of California at Berkeley interviewed 105 low-income blacks about the kinds of help they would be willing to give to people they knew. She found that big majorities were reluctant to offer help even to those they felt closest to, either because they thought it would take too much of their time or because they felt the applicant lacked motivation or responsibility.

One big fear: concerns that the applicant might "bring the street" to the job, in the form of language, dress or behavior that would be inappropriate for the workplace, according to a summary of her research that appeared in the latest issue of Contexts, published by the American Sociological Association.

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