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[] USA Today 16.10.01: Censorship Makes Sense,
USA Today
October 16, 2001

Opposing View

Censorship Makes Sense

By Steve Yetiv

The Bush administration is pressing the media to restrict how they cover the new war on terrorism. That makes eminent sense.

Where lives are at stake, we need to use significantly more discretion than is normally compatible with our democracy. The Bush administration is striking the right balance.

The administration was also right in moving to restrict wide congressional access to classified information. We are in a race against terrorists who are determined to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction. This war requires temporary sacrifices, including tolerating infringements on our right to know.

A perfect example? The Bush administration's request that the news media limit their airing of Osama bin Laden's videos. Airing them serves bin Laden's goals, not ours. It allows him to inspire fringe elements in and outside the Mideast toward anti-American violence by painting U.S. actions as a "crusade against Islam."

That advantages him because the war on terrorism is about competing ideas as much as competing forces. It may also allow him to activate terrorist cells with hidden messages. While he may do so in other ways, why should we risk lives on conjecture?

Bin Laden's video aggrandizes him as a leader and opponent of a superpower. That rewards his terrorism and that of his deranged followers, who believe they can take the U.S. down, as they did the Soviets in Afghanistan. We should punish, not reward, terrorists.

Airing the videos also allows bin Laden to rationalize terrorism to a worldwide audience. That fuels hatred, widens the cultural divide and makes fence-sitting leaders less likely to support U.S. anti-terrorist efforts in the future. It also fuels confused rather than enlightened self-criticism, as if America were to blame for this mass murder.

Al-Qa'eda is a criminal organization. As such, it does not have legitimate grievances as sovereign states do. But video fame may appear to legitimize its grievances. Even criminals at home forfeit some rights. Would we give drug kingpins such a platform?

Video fame also helps al-Qa'eda recruit by making bin Laden appear threatening and important, the very attributes terrorists seek. Widespread coverage convinces terrorists that they are indeed scaring us.

Such videos provide little information that cannot be had otherwise. They do not advance informed debate. And they promote the misplaced hate and misconceptions that spawn and sustain terrorism. Showing them is a terrorist's dream come true.

Steve Yetiv is associate professor of political science at Old Dominion University and author of The Persian Gulf Crisis. 

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