A colleague at a very large newspaper has recently posed the suggestion that if we the media stopped reporting the bombings in Iraq, the bombers would give up and go home.
The problem with that argument is, in many ways, we have stopped reporting them.
Unless there's a high body count, a car bomb in Baghdad is a blip somewhere in the day's headlines.
We certainly can't be accused of showing a steady diet of gory pictures – we hardly travel to the bomb scenes anymore, now that the terrorists are employing what we're calling "smart bombs" – a second suicide bomber who loiters near the site of the first bomb, waiting for rescuers, soldiers, and the media to show up, and then blows himself up. Not to mention the now-ubiquitous gunmen who pick off anyone rushing to the scene.
So generally what you see on your TV screens is –a distant smoking car on a dusty street, then a poorly-lit hospital ward full of bloodied victims with vacant stares and maybe some wailing, black-clad mourners at a funeral.
For most viewers, it produces a Pavlovian response: You stare at the screen, see the same old images, then look away, muttering, "those poor people."
Look At Me
The terrorists have pulled out all the stops lately, killing more than 500 people since the new government was announced.
One could surmise that they picked up on their waning popularity and are vying for media attention with new tactics, greater coordination, higher body counts and more horror.
And maybe that headline DID make the public at large stop and think for a moment: 430. That's equal to, say, the whole audience at my kid's school play or a quarter of those killed on Sept. 11.
But it could be, just possibly, that this has nothing to do with us at all.
The militants may have long since realized that the current American president and the public that elected him are in no mood to back down. They may have long ago decided that it doesn't really matter what we foreign correspondent-types report.
Their target audience, as it were, may well be each and every Iraqi family who loses someone to one of those massive bombs. The militants keep telling Iraqis, you wouldn't have lost your loved ones, if you'd rejected the Americans. And many Iraqis are starting to believe it. In their grief, some are lashing out at the one thing they CAN see and CAN attack – the Americans patrolling their streets.
So while I don't think the terrorists have given up on reaching the international media, I believe it's hubris to assume that we're their main target or that we have the power to stop them by shutting up.
The terrorists are trying to use the Iraqis themselves – their grief and their pain - as a lever to throw the Americans out. You can't make that kind of anger, pain and grief go away by ignoring it or by not reporting it.