In a press conference at the White House on Wednesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer urged news outlets to exercise caution in airing tapes from Osama bin Laden or his al Qaeda terrorist group, warning that propaganda might influence viewers, and bin Laden could be using the media as a conveyer of coded messages. This is a ludicrous, paranoid idea serving only to slight American viewers of complete news coverage.
It is unethical, in a country with free speech and democracy, to limit the public from seeing and hearing the enemy speak his ideas. If we are expected to support and fight a war against this man and his followers, every American has the right to hear his point of view. With almost no coverage from inside Afghanistan, the tapes of bin Laden offer the sole view of an elusive enemy. Few Americans fully understand the teachings of bin Laden, and this media coverage offers an exclusive look into the mind of the adversary. No source can hope to better convey the extreme beliefs of al Qaeda than bin Laden himself.
It is also ridiculous to assume anti-American propaganda will sway U.S. viewers to sympathize with bin Laden; Americans will most likely band together after hearing and seeing him deem the terrorist attacks “good deeds.” Withholding these images would only to raise doubt among Americans and divide the country. Convincing Americans to form a unified front is difficult when all information about the enemy comes from the government. The belief these broadcasts can be kept from the public is absurd.
Also, ignoring bin Laden’s existence is impossible. Even if kept from American media outlets, access to his tapes could easily be gained through British or Canadian media. American stations should utilize the footage of bin Laden to their advantage – presenting bin Laden’s lofty claims of success and exposing his extremist philosophies to viewers would also help gain support for U.S. military campaigns. Seeing bin Laden firsthand will allow the public to realize the impossibility of reasoning or finding a common ground with the crazed and hateful man.
Perhaps most unfounded is the idea that bin Laden could be using the media as a conveyer of coded messages. It would be very difficult to encode messages on a taped broadcast that is scrutinized by countless experts, and television is an unlikely medium when information passes freely through the Internet, unseen by many authorities. If broadcast stations followed Fleischer’s request by censoring bin Laden’s taped statements, it would in no way hinder the ability of bin Laden and al Qaeda to communicate with the outside world and would harm Americans more than the operations of bin Laden’s followers.