For all their faults, corporate media, by and large, do not usually report the unverified claims of random trolls—unless those trolls happen to be ISIS, or ISIS-linked media.
(New York Post, 10/2/17)
In the emotionally and politically charged hours after terror attacks or other mass violence, when demagogues both in US right-wing media and within ISIS itself seek to blame Muslims to promote their shared “clash of civilizations” narrative, the media seem more than willing to play along and spread the specter of ISIS responsibility without any objective basis. The headlines blared on social and online media minutes after ISIS-linked media claimed a spurious connection to the act:
- Islamic State Claims Las Vegas Mass Shooting (AP, 10/2/17)
- ISIS Has Claimed Responsibility for the Las Vegas Shooting (Independent, 10/2/17)
- ISIS Claims Responsibility for Las Vegas Massacre (New York Post, 10/2/17)
- ISIS Claims Las Vegas Shooting, Says Stephen Paddock Converted to Islam (Newsweek, 10/2/17)
- ISIS Has Claimed Responsibility for the Shooting, Saying Paddock Converted to Islam ‘Months Ago’ (Business Insider, 10/2/17)
- ISIS Claims Responsibility for Las Vegas Shooting (Time, 10/2/17)
As FAIR has often noted, only 40 percent of people read past the headlines, which means 60 percent of US media consumers get their news from how a story is framed rather than what the actual text says. While some, such as CBS (10/2/17), noted in their initial frame that ISIS made the claim with “no proof” or “offering no evidence,” while others (like AP and Time) later added additional skepticism, one is still compelled to ask: Of what news value is repeating unsubstantiated claims at all?
Doubly so after a string of fake ISIS claims in recent months. As CNN analyst Paul Cruickshank noted on social media, ISIS claimed responsibility in June for an attack on a casino that authorities insist was a robbery gone bad, and the evacuation of Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport in September, which turned out to be caused by verbal threats “from a female passenger in her 50s” after she was denied a seat on a plane.
“It seems like they’re desperate for attention and will claim just about everything,” Colin Clarke, a political scientist and terrorism expert for the Rand think tank, told CNBC (10/2/17) after ISIS claimed the Las Vegas attack. “They’ve lost so much territory, and they fear they’re becoming irrelevant.”
And right on cue, several major outlets were there to make them relevant again. As FAIR (5/26/15) has noted, corporate US media are by far ISIS’s largest recruiting platform—playing their grisly videos on loop for years, mindlessly echoing their every threat, and hyping their status as an existential threat far beyond any objective purchase.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist spreads Islamophobic disinformation during mass shooting. (screenshot: @nycsouthpaw)
The grossest example of this “clash of civilizations” narrative, eagerly promoted by both ISIS and the far right, was Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Wayne Allyn Root, a former Libertarian Party VP nominee and radio show host, who insisted all Monday night and into the morning, without providing a speck of evidence, that the killer was part of a team acting on behalf of ISIS. “This is real thing. Clearly coordinated Muslim terror attack. PRAY for our Vegas police. PRAY for victims. VERY bad. Awful,” he told his 110,000 followers.
High-profile alt-right personality Laura Loomer followed suit, insisting, even after the killer’s identity was revealed, that there was “still a connection to Islam”—whatever that means.
The combination of billionaire-funded far-right media and a credulous corporate press, willing to repeat anonymous, evidence-free claims by ISIS outlets, creates a perfect storm of media manipulation. Given a constellation of elements invested in promoting any mass violence as an ISIS operation, perhaps next time the media could hold out for actual proof before echoing claims that prop up this destructive narrative.