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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Board of Contributors: Was television the true target of terrorists? Board of Contributors: Was television the true target of terrorists? (September 26, 2001)

by Anne Saldich

Was television the real target of the terrorists? From their perspective, was the ultimate goal of the World Trade Center holocaust a means of personalizing their perceived oppression via TV?

Were the terrorists counting on repeated broadcasts throughout the world, not only of the dramatic event but of the devastation and global psychological effects that that would follow the destruction of the towers?

Do we need to think more deeply? Is this about the destruction of property and people or is it something else?

We are not on new ground. Ever since the "living-room war" of the Vietnam era minorities have used television to command attention from governments that they felt had marginalized them.

When blacks ransacked the nation's big cities their motive was to broadcast their cold fury about social injustice. Their interest transcended the destruction of property. They might not have been "politically sophisticated," but experience taught them what the U.S. Constitution explicitly protects: property.

When demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention chanted defiantly, "The whole world's watching! The whole world's watching!" they knew what they were doing -- they were using television to reach the public and eventually to widen the window of democracy to include their cause -- because they know that TV instantly spans great distances, allowing isolated people to feel a sense of community among themselves and with others whose problems are similar.

Before we launch a horrendous response, we need history, context.

We need to think about the dark pages of our own past, and whether we are the world's best authorities on social justice. If television had covered our cruelty to blameless slaves and our attempt at genocide of the American Indians, would we be so quick to think of ourselves as the keepers of justice?

It would be awesome if televised terrorism at the World Trade Center became an instrument of social justice. Whatever our response, we need to think of its televised consequences because it will be broadcast throughout the globe.

Be careful America. The whole world is watching.
Anne Rawley Saldich is the author of Electronic Democracy: Television's Impact on the American Political Process (1979, Praeger). She taught media and politics at the University of California, Berkeley. She can be e-mailed at:


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