Media Coverage of Olympic Terror Threats Shines Spotlight on Wrong Players

By focusing on all the negativity and terror surrounding the XXII Olympic Winter Games, we’re letting the bad guys take home gold.

Pool photo by Antonin Thuillier

The 2014 Olympics haven’t even begun yet, but there is already one big winner: the terrorists. They’ve captured the gold medal for the most Olympic media coverage to date.

Let’s be honest: Can you name one US athlete who will be representing our country in the 2014 Olympics? I doubt it. But I’m sure you’ve heard story after story about the Olympic terror threat. And that’s exactly what the terrorists want.

Just look at some of the recent headlines about the Olympic games, which open this Friday: “Upcoming Olympics Most Dangerous Due to Terrorist Threat,” “Urgent Search for 'Black Widow' Suicide Bomber, May Be Already in Sochi”, and “U.S. Olympic Athletes Warned Against Wearing Uniforms,”

Even US Senator Angus King declared, “I would not go and I don’t think I would send my family.” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul also suggested that if the security threat gets any worse, the games may need to be cancelled.

The terrorists must be loving this. The more press they attract, the more powerful they appear. The more powerful they appear, the more terror they can instill.

Brigitte Nacos, a professor at Columbia University and the author of the book Terrorism and the Media, agreed via email that the excessive media coverage assists the terror group in its mission of “spreading fear and anxiety.”

Paul Pillar, former senior CIA counterterrorist official and senior fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, echoed those sentiments, noting that, “extensive media coverage…is part of what the terrorists are seeking.”

It was easy for Ali Soufan, former FBI Agent and CEO of The Soufan Group, to sum it up succinctly: “Terrorists are PR hogs,” he said.

Sure, in today’s tech-friendly world terror groups can easily self-promote via Internet videos and websites. But as Pillar noted, these groups “still want coverage by the mainstream media in order to realize their publicity goals.”

Let me be clear: I do not advocate disregarding or discounting the threat. In fact, all three experts I spoke to pointed out that there are credible security concerns in Sochi that must be addressed. “[The media] can’t just ignore the significance of this terrorism threat,” said Soufan.

But the media coverage is capable of doing more than just warn the public. In fact, they may actually enable terrorists to achieve their larger publicity goals. To this regard, Nacos warned that, “news organizations should refrain from over-coverage.”

To date, security issues have been the media’s primary focus for the 2014 Olympics. We’ve seen profiles of the terror group involved. We’ve heard about their past acts and their recent videos. At this point, there’s no doubt that the media has more than adequately warned the public about the terror risk.

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So I propose this to members of the media: Barring credible evidence of a new threat, stop giving the terrorists free publicity and instead start focusing on the Olympic athletes and the events who deserve it. I know scary headlines get viewers, but for the greater good, let’s move on.

Here’s an idea: Why not cover the twelve new events in this year’s Olympics, including, say, “Snowboard slopestyle”? (I, for one, have no idea what exactly it entails.)

Or let’s hear more about the over 200 US athletes who have trained, sacrificed and dreamed for years about this big moment. Those like ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson who underwent surgery last August to repair two torn ligaments (ACL and MCL) in her knee. Some may have given up on the 2014 games after this injury, but she fought on and made the US team.

The youngest member of the US luge team, 18-year-old Tucker West, deserves some attention, too. He spent a year building a mini luge track with his father in their backyard in Connecticut.

There’s also Steve Holcomb, who seven years ago was nearly blind due to a degenerative eye disorder, but overcome his condition and made the US bobsled team.

And I’d love the media to explain curling! How did it start, what’s going on and why am I'm hypnotized by this event every time I see it on TV?

Those vowing to destroy the Olympic Games and kill innocent people are not the ones who deserve media coverage. The athletes do; the participants from around the world who have triumphed over great odds to proudly represent their respective countries in the Olympics, despite the safety threats that come with them.

So let the games begin—and let the media coverage begin to focus on those who have rightfully earned it.