JOURNALISTIC RESPONSIBILITY: MIA
by David Sisler
On November 24, 1971, Dan Cooper bought a one-way ticket on Northwest Airlines flight 305 from Portland to Seattle. He told a stewardess he had a bomb in his briefcase, demanded that the plane land, and that he be given four parachutes and $200,000 in unmarked $20 bills.
That act of air piracy was not the first. In fact, there were almost 150 between 1967 and 1972. They had been political in nature and the hijackers demanded to be flown to the Middle East or Cuba.
Dan, or D. B., as the press came to call him, did it for the money. And Cooper was not the first of his kind. He was a copy cat.
Two weeks earlier, Paul Cini identified himself as a member of the IRA, and hijacked an Air-Canada flight. Cini was thwarted by the crew when he tried to put on his parachute.
Three more hijackers followed Cooper before the FAA required that 727s (an aircraft with fold-down rear stairs) be retrofitted with a device, nicknamed the “Cooper Vane,” that locked the stairs from the outside while the plane was in flight.
In the years before 24 hour-a-day cable news outlets, we waited for “breaking news bulletins” or the 11 o’clock report. The escapades of Cini and Cooper were news indeed, but the fact that Cooper, and those who followed him, were copy-cat crimes begs the question: When does a story stop being news and start being advertisement?
Case in point: Nicholas Berg and Paul Johnson.
Nicholas Berg’s body was found on a Baghdad highway overpass on May 8, 2004. His capture and murder by al-Qaeda terrorists was well-documented. The criminals videotaped Mr. Berg’s beheading and circulated it throughout the civilized, and uncivilized, world.
Barely a month later, on June 12, Paul M. Johnson, Jr. was kidnaped by terrorists who, emboldened by the publicity gained by their brothers when Nicholas Berg was murdered, demanded the release of hostages in return for the release of Paul Johnson.
Like D. B. Cooper, the kidnaping of Mr. Johnson and his subsequent murder, is a copy-cat crime. The lunatics responsible for Mr. Johnson’s death saw the coverage of Nicholas Berg’s ordeal and saw their chance to gain notoriety and popularity (among their own, sick, kind). And so day after tragic day Paul Johnson’s family was tormented by the story. And now they, too, can view, along with the rest of us, his headless body.
Two beheaded victims, paraded before the world via television, newspapers and the Internet are enough (actually 26 people have died in five al Qaeda attacks on Western targets in Saudi Arabia in the last month)! Certainly there will be a third “photo-opportunity” kidnaping, and the media moguls will cry about the public’s right to know. Meanwhile they will never admit that maybe, just maybe, they share responsibility with the terrorists because of their constant reporting and constant broadcasting of the kidnappers, their demands, and then the bodies of their victims.
The leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, and three of members of his inner circle were killed by Saudi forces shortly after the murder of Mr. Johnson. Al-Mugrin said in an Internet posting that terrorism cells followed ... fellow militants’ examples (emphasis added).
I am not so naive as to suggest that political terrorism will stop if the news stops covering it. But I am suggesting that the thugs who do such things are emboldened by the attention their infamy generates – and Abdulaziz al-Muqrin said that they look to each other for examples! If there is no instant gratification, perhaps copy-cats of these heinous actions will diminish.
The only other redeeming thing to come out of Paul Johnson’s death (Saudi Arabia’s swift move against those responsibile and the deaths of four terrorists being the first) is a statement by Michael Berg, the father of Nicholas Berg, following the killing of Paul M. Johnson Jr.
“We, the family of Nicholas Berg, extend our sympathies ... We have been silent until now to avoid for the Johnson family any association our son’s death may have had.”
Now if the news media will follow the kindness and generosity of the Nicholas Berg’s family.
Additional: Less than one week after this column was released, the front pages were once again filled with stories about hostages whose lives are threatened with beheading, one of them is a United States Marine.
Copyright 2004 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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