London Terror Attack: I Endorse Simon Jenkins’ Mature and Responsible Assessment of the Media’s Dangerous and Irresponsible Coverage


Screenshots of journalist Simon Jenkins criticising the BBC - and by extensions, the whole of the UK mainstream media - for its irresponsible and overblown response to the terrorist attack in central London on March 22.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.


Note: This article is largely derived from comments I made on Facebook yesterday — but I realise not everyone who reads my work is necessarily on Facebook, hence my reworked posting here.

In what I intend to be my only comment on Wednesday’s attack in London, which was terrible because people lost their lives or were horribly wounded, I recommend the clip below of Simon Jenkins talking sense on Newsnight about how the media irresponsibly creates frenzies of publicity around incidents of terrorism.

It feeds racism and Islamophobia, it feeds a climate of relentless fear, when there is no justification for such fears, and it gives the terrorists what they want — the oxygen of publicity, the very climate of fear the media stirs up, and, they hope, the disruption of normal, everyday life.

I recall, growing up, when there was a deadly terrorist attack, it was considered inappropriate to indulge in wall-to-wall coverage for days, but now it is the norm, and the more it continues the more I fear subsequently hearing about peaceful, law-abiding Muslims up and down the country being subjected to harassment and abuse as through there is any connection between themselves and the mentally troubled individuals who undertook these kinds of attacks, when no such analogy whatsoever can be legitimately drawn.

The clip of Simon Jenkins is below via YouTube (and it’s here on Facebook):

After I posted my thoughts on Facebook, I also added some additional comments regarding my thoughts on terrorism since 9/11 that I thought were worth mentioning, after a mention that what was particularly worth avoiding was “pretending that soldiers and civilians are terrorists and then torturing and holding them indefinitely without charge or trial, obviously,” as at Guantánamo and elsewhere in the “war on terror.”

The first is not to overreact, because that’s what the terrorists – or those who aspire to terrorism — want, as I make clear here, and as Simon Jenkins does, and the other point, which I didn’t mention but which is also hugely important, is to think about how we could have the moral high ground. Going on about our “freedoms” being under attack really doesn’t work when our hands are soaked in blood, so the only way to get the moral high ground back would be to stop occupying Muslim countries and killing Muslims, and then to shine a light on who’s manipulating and encouraging people to blow other people up or stab them or run them over: people with mental health issues, ex-cons, ex-alcoholics, ex-junkies, manipulated by other people who send them out to kill, but stay safe themselves.

I think these cowards and opportunists — as bad as the warmongering politicians of the west, who make sure poor kids serve in the military, but who also make sure their own children don’t — should be called out and ridiculed and condemned. However, we can’t do that because we sacrificed the moral high ground as soon as we set up rendition and “black sites” and Bagram and Kandahar and Guantánamo.

In addition, Simon Jenkins has an excellent update in the Guardian today, ‘The overhyped coverage of the Westminster attack will only encourage others.’

Here are some key excerpts:

Without a shred of evidence, and no “claimed responsibility”, the airwaves and press were flooded with assumptions that it was “Isis-inspired”. It was squeezed for every conceivable ounce of sensation and emotion.

Even if this was indeed a “terrorist” act and not that of a lone madman – I repeat, even if it was – the way to react is to treat it as a crime. Don’t speculate when you know such speculation will cause alarm. Don’t let Downing Street summon Cobra and drag the home secretary back from foreign parts. Don’t flood central London with hundreds of men with machine guns. Once the initial uncertainty is passed, don’t have the police issue interminable empty statements, as they stand in front of wall-to-wall BBC coverage of London “in total lockdown”.

Don’t fill pages of newspapers and hours of television and radio with words like fear, menace, horror, maniac, monster. Don’t let the mayor rush into print, screaming “don’t panic”. Don’t have the media trawl the world for pundits to speculate on “what Isis wants” and “how hard it is to protect ourselves from attack”. Don’t present London as a horror movie set. Don’t crave a home-grown Osama bin Laden. In other words, don’t pretend you are “carrying on as usual” when you are doing the precise opposite. When the prime minister stands up in parliament to announce, “We are not afraid,” the response is “why then is the entire government machine behaving as if it’s shit-scared?”

And this is Simon Jenkins’ conclusion:

When Tony Blair in 2003 sought an easy headline by sending tanks to Heathrow to “counter terrorism”, it was estimated to have cost millions of pounds in instant tourist cancellations. Goodness knows the money and jobs lost by this week’s reckless coverage. Who knows what liberties the cabinet will eagerly curtail, or what million-pound contracts the security-industrial complex will squeeze from terrorised civil servants and ministers?

The actions of the authorities and the media in response to Wednesday have ramped up the hysteria of terror. This was ostensibly a random act by a lone player without access even to a gun. To over-publicise and exaggerate such crimes is to be an accomplice after the act. London’s response to the Westminster attack is an open invitation to every crazed malcontent to try it again.

The last line is really worth considering at some length. Does the media’s coverage encourage or discourage another unhinged individual to seek glory through a random, ham-fisted terrorist attack? Like Simon Jenkins, I believe it is absolutely the latter. It’s time for our media to truly think about what a mature and proportionate response is to an attack like the one on Wednesday.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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22 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s an edited and expanded re-post of the comments I made yesterday about the media’s dangerous and disproportionate response to the terrorist attack in central London on Wednesday, in which four people were killed by an evidently mentally ill individual, and around 40 other people were injured, some seriously. Such a loss of life is always to be lamented, but I agree with Simon Jenkins, who, on Newsnight, and in a column in the Guardian today, lambasted the BBC (and, by extension, the rest of the UK mainstream media) for its sensationalism and scaremongering, for failing to treat a crime as a crime, and, as a result, promoting hysteria and racism, and, crucially, giving terrorists – or those aspiring to terrorism – exactly the publicity they want, as well as very possibly inspiring other unstable individuals to stage their own attacks.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara Hussain wrote:

    Thank you Andy. This means a lot and I am glad increasingly we hear more of these voices

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Melani Finn wrote:

    I was saying a very similar thing over lunch yesterday and drew some aghast looks from people at a nearby table. It is sad people don’t see how shameful it is that after all the unconscionable actions of the UK in the region that we have stoked anger and abetted the rise of extremism. There is no equivalence in the destruction of lives here and there.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara Hussain wrote:

    I appreciate what you say but I feel I must point out as a Muslim I am pained by what I see in all the regions you mention, that said I would never resort to some of the acts we see by certain males proclaiming to be Muslim as a response to this.
    I’m sorry but that is not, never will be excusable in any way to me. It’s hijacking my faith and identity to justify your criminal behaviour whisks hiding under the pretence of foreign policy. Rubbish. Let’s not conflate the two please. Those who commit these acts against civilians here are not the best role models citizens they are not the ones lobbying for change or delivering aid.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    I absolutely agree, Sara, that there is no justification for people resorting to terrorism because of their grievances against British foreign policy, but, as a non-Muslim British citizen, my country’s involvement in wars on Muslim countries and in killing Muslims in these wars is unforgivable.
    I should add that, as a pacifist, I see very little reason for the UK to be involved in military activity anywhere. I’d love to see a massive cut in our “defence” (I.e. war) spending, and I don’t like to see anyone killed because of our imperial and geo-political obsessions, regardless of what religion they are, but at present, of course, the focus of our activities tends to be in Muslim countries.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Muriel Strand wrote:

    so i guess i have a good excuse for not even knowing about this incident

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, it’s good to hear that life goes on, Muriel. A troubled individual killed 4 people and wounded 40 others by the UK Parliament on Wednesday afternoon. Coverage has been non-stop, and Simon Jenkins, myself and others have been reflecting on what sort of coverage is responsible and appropriate.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Muriel Strand wrote:

    that sounds like less than the toll from motor vehicles…

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, five people a day are killed on the roads in the UK – around 1700 people a year – Muriel, and yet you never hear about it. We are all encouraged to see it as follows: cars are good, car drivers are good, so the statistics are merely unfortunate.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Muriel Strand wrote:

    vehicle deaths are scattered accidents and fail to arouse the same emotion as a planned attack on a group

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s not just that, Muriel. Cars are amongst the most important things in many people’s lives, and they refuse to look dispassionately at the havoc they cause – not just the deaths, but the pollution, and the very real destruction of notions of shared, safe public space.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Muriel Strand wrote:

    fossil fuel addiction is tightly associated with almost every modern problem

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Muriel.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the story of the Muslim woman passing the scene of the attack, who was shown in a photo that inspired a wave of hateful racists to claim that she didn’t care about what had happened, when, in reality, she was obviously distressed. How have we become so openly hateful as a society? Was it always there? Is it only that social media has given millions of people a platform, when before they only thought these things to themselves?

  16. Anna says...

    Hi Andy and other Brits, so sorry about this tragedy, the additional political hypocrisy and as you so correctly point out wall-to-wall coverage for hours on end when there’s nothing to inform about. And why publish the perpetrator’s name – he has children – which in addition turned out to be not his true one?

    As for using a vehicle to murder random civilians, it is not by any means an ‘islamic terrorism’ invention as in Nice, Berlin and London. Frustrated mentally damaged Olga Hepnarova did exactly that in 1973 in Prague,as revenge against society at large, as she felt victimised by it:
    She correctly was called not a terrorist but a mass murderer and I do not recall all Czechs being tarred by a ‘terrorist nation’ brush …

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Good to hear from you.
    I hadn’t heard previously about Olga Hepnarova. It’s interesting though, isn’t it, how much the word “terrorism” has become used as a shorthand for a kind of colossal existential threat when that often isn’t appropriate. I actually think Hepnarova’s actions probably should count as terrorism if she was enacting “revenge against society at large,” but there are clearly differences in size and scale between, for example, 9/11 and what happened on Wednesday. However, it was as if there was a huge pent-up need amongst the media and parts of society for something onto which they could project their hysteria.
    When you avoid the hysteria, it’s remarkable how many other important things there are to consider.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a great analysis of the situation by my friend Chris Stone:

    There’s a great quote from Chomsky which everyone should learn by heart: “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism,” he says. “Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”

    So one lone, mad Muslim-convert decides to attack a bunch of pedestrians using a hire car, and everyone is going on about Islam being a malign force.

    Have we forgotten already: those weapons of mass destruction; the more than a million dead; the utter devastation of an entire country; the depleted uranium munitions that will mean generations of mutations in Iraqi children; the four million or more made homeless; the vengeance on Fallujah; the turkey-shoot on the Basra Road; the deceit, the lies, the hypocrisy?

    I won’t go into the ongoing violence in the region: the attacks on Libya and Syria, the Western-backed coup in Egypt. You must have heard it all, and then quietly decided it was irrelevant if you want to talk about the malignancy of Islam.

    No one should be killed because of a political ideology, whether that ideology is fundamentalist Islam, or fundamentalist Capitalism, but if you look at the scale of the carnage, one side comes out clearly on top.

    We’ve been interfering in the Middle East for more than a century now: ever since oil was discovered there.

    We’ve overthrown democratic governments in Iran and Egypt. We’ve committed mass murder. We’ve supported corrupt, nepotistic regimes like Saudi Arabia. We’ve supported the vile Wahhabi philosophy which they have promoted around the world. We’ve turned a blind eye to their continuing support for terrorism.

    You want to know who is behind ISIS?

    We are.

    You want to know who is behind the never ending cycle of violence throughout the region?

    We are.

    You want to know who targets women and children and civilians on the street?

    We do.

    There’s a famous New Testament text; Matthew 7, Verse 3 (King James version): “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

    Or another one, from the Old Testament; 2 Kings 20, Verse 1: “Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order.”

    In other words: before we start going on about the malignancy of Islam, we would do well to observe, and do something about, the malignancy in ourselves.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    This is all very true; however the mass of the ordinary working class will either not believe any of it; or simply not care. They place: racial, cultural, religious and financial differences above any such issues, altruistic only to these most like themselves and closest to them.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, sadly, Malcolm, there is a great truth in that. It’s why the demise of old-fashioned left-wing solidarity is so damaging.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Laura Lance wrote:

    Great article, Andy. As always, I appreciate your perspective and your voice. I do not hold any optimism whatsoever that either the British media or the American media are clueless as to the repercussions of the reckless sort of journalism they engage. Our media are in the business of marketing the lucrative business of imperialism and war, and without the specter of terrorism, it would be difficult to justify all these wars, coups, sanctions and occupations taking place on 4 continents.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Laura. Great to hear from you. The right-wing, corporate ownership of most of our media is a huge, huge problem – bigger almost than anything else – but I do also think that, on another level, the hysteria about terrorism has affected everyday thinking, so that journalists don’t necessarily question how inappropriate it is to cover a relatively minor incident of terrorism as though it was something much. much bigger and more significant. As Simon Jenkins, said, however, such coverage only encourages other would-be attackers.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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