The Terror-Alert Media

It is now common practice for the American government, whether justified or not, to heighten the ambiguous Terror Alert Level on holiday or long weekends. Any such action, however, is not without consequence; raising the Terror Alert Level at any time can potentially have an adverse and more disastrous effect on the mindset of Americans.

Terror, first and foremost, is a perceived threat. Playing upon human fear and paranoia, terror is a dehabilitating psychological tactic; it achieves its maximum effect when it results in mass hysteria, or even when one makes slight alterations to one’s life because of a perceived threat. Developing agoraphobia or withdrawing your savings (not that you have any!) from your bank because you think American financial institutions will collapse in the immediate future is an extreme example; general distrust of others and an apprehension of public spaces is a more moderate possibility. More importantly, an initial act of terror has the potential to be a catalyst to a larger, self-perpetuating, level of fear unrelated to terrorism.

As a bridge between the state and the people, it is the media’s responsibility to report when the U.S. government raises the Terror Alert Level. And with the zest that American media outlets run with news, the populace is bombarded by sheer repetitiveness from the nonstop ticker zipping across the bottom of the screen on the continual news networks (sorry, no direct plugs for Ted or Rupert here), numerous reminders by news anchors, and the human interest pieces quickly thrown together as filler. In doing so, the media implicitly reinforces that there is reason to be fearful, and at a certain point, the media creates news rather than just reporting it.

The more the public is informed of an increase to TAL, the more the media tacitly pressures government policy makers to urge people to continue their everyday lives as normal. The government, quite rightly, anticipates such a reaction and includes the appropriate statement in the press release or speech when an increase in alert level occurs. It is taken straight from the first page of the current administration’s hand-me-down play book, docility 101. Above all, such a statement is contradictory political rhetoric that lulls people into a false sense of security–skepticism of TAL functioning as a form of political manipulation aside–the government raises the level of alert to ensure the safety of its people.

A result of the repetitiveness of the government’s insistence of normalcy is that the media reports high level government officials insisting normalcy. That is when the terrorists, oft repeated as it is, win. Terrorists are one step closer to spreading terror without taking any action; the media’s increased coverage of the government urging the norm restarts the whole cycle of fabricating fear only to be repeated again, ad infinitum.

The government is aware that the general population cannot live in a constant state of dread, so they created a fail-safe to prevent exponential growth of fear; there is likely a threshold at which a nation’s anxiety cannot be reversed. The government can simply lower TAL to alleviate growing tension.
The level of fear among Americans has obviously not escalated to the point of actualizing its most dire potential effects: stock markets have not faltered, America is not in a state of anarchy, and there is not the distrust and paranoia that came hand-in-hand with McCarthyism. Perhaps the saving grace in all this is that the one must be glued to either the Peacock’s, Ted’s, or Rupert’s 24-hour national news networks to be overcome with fear. Either that, or people are cynical enough not to believe everything the government says. Nevertheless, the Terror Alert system is capable of generating more harm than it does good.