Fox News took the controversial step yesterday of posting the 22-minute video from the Islamic State terror group that shows Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh being burned to death. To alert Internet users to what’s in the video, the presentation features these words: “WARNING, EXTREMELY GRAPHIC VIDEO”
Fox’s decision drew condemnation from terrorism experts consulted by The Guardian: “[Fox News] are literally – literally – working for al-Qaida and Isis’s media arm,” said Malcolm Nance of the Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideology. “They might as well start sending them royalty checks.” Twitter also fielded some negativity, for what that’s worth.
The network explained today why it posted the video. “After careful consideration, we decided that giving readers of FoxNews.com the option to see for themselves the barbarity of ISIS outweighed legitimate concerns about the graphic nature of the video,” said John Moody, who as Fox News’s executive vice president and executive editor has authority over the Web site. “Online users can choose to view or not view this disturbing content.”
That sentiment squares with what Fox News anchor Bret Baier said last night as his show, “Special Report,” aired a photo of Kaseasbeh succumbing to flames. Prior to showing the photo, Baier prepared viewers by saying, “The images are brutal, they are graphic, they are upsetting. You may want to turn away. You may want to have the children leave the room, right now. But the reason we are showing you this is to bring you the reality of Islamic terrorism and to label it as such. We feel you need to see it, so we will put up one of these images on your screen right now.”
Few if any news outlets have gone as far as Fox News, whether in terms of posting still photos or the video. CNN explained yesterday, for instance, that it wouldn’t surface any of the disturbing images because they were gruesome and they constituted propaganda that the network didn’t want to distribute.
Of all the networks, Fox News may stand to lose the most from any editorial decision believed to advance a terrorist agenda, given its hard-line audience that keeps coming back for denunciations of President Obama’s alleged softness in this area. So zealous is its anti-terror sensibility that last month it went overboard in pushing talk of Muslim-only “no-go zones” in Europe. The do-not-assist-terrorists-with-propaganda standard, furthermore, is complicated. ISIS terror-group leaders may indeed delight in the distribution of the video — which could be helpful in converting extremists to its cause — but they may be mis-calibrating its impact. If the terrorists expected to intimidate the world with their display of barbarity, that is, they may be disappointed with the reaction of Jordan, which is vowing “strong, earth-shaking and decisive” retaliation.
“There are some people out there attracted to these horrific videos,” CNN political commentator Peter Beinart said. “But a much, much larger group of people in the Muslim and Arab world are absolutely repulsed.”
Consult 500 experts on this matter and get 1,000 different views: Does posting this video advance the aims of this terror group or hinder its progress by laying bare its depravity? Debate away. What’s beyond polemics, however, is that this piece of propaganda is newsworthy propaganda, as the extensive coverage of the past 24 hours attests. Some outlets merely describe the video, some show various still photos, but just about all have thrown a platoon of reporters on the story and condemned the inhumanity of ISIS. As Fox News states, however, the best way of doing that is simply posting the video.