The hyperbole above is intended in jest, of course, an eye-catching headline to mimic today’s lead story on NYT’s home page. It’s the Times’ second such sensational headline on the subject this week.
Click to the story, however, and a different picture emerges. Suddenly the headline becomes:
U.S. Steps Up Fight to Block ISIS Volunteers
As earlier in the week, the Times’ own numbers contradict the idea of a “flow” of radicalized Americans to fight in Syria–about a hundred (nobody can say for sure) travelers in 3 1/2 years. That’s 2-3 a month. Granted, the number of charges against alleged American ISIS supporters has picked up, from five between 2011-2013 to 10 this past year. But one per month? Again, more a trickle than a flow.
WHY THIS MATTERS
1. “Radicalized youth” and others who may be waffling over their decision to join ISIS will find comfort and direction in a headline suggesting that others are “flowing” into Syria. These headlines build an inflated sense of purpose and movement in the minds of those who are obvious followers, easily-manipulated people in search of a cause.
2. At a certain point the issue will become a debate about U.S. taxpayer funding for programs to stop the “flow”. Irresponsible journalism now mischaracterizes the situation for Americans who will pay the price later of addressing a problem that may or may not exist.
3. When the Times relies on hyperbole to sell its product, it diminishes itself to the level of outlets like Fox News and CNN. Sad to see.