Remember the logic problem in which a man visits an island inhabited by two tribes, one made up of pathological liars, the other pathological truth tellers? The conundrum facing the man in that brain teaser came to mind when I reviewed the testimony of two high-ranking members of the Obama administration who testified this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is holding hearings on worldwide threats.
One of the men who testified is Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who appeared yesterday and said:
When the final counting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such a data has been compiled. About half of all attacks as well fatalities in 2014 occurred in just three countries: Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Clapper cited statistics. In 2013, he said, roughly 11,500 worldwide attacks killed about 22,000 people. Contrast that with data from just the first nine months of 2014, in which there have been some 13,000 attacks that killed 31,000 people.
The director went on to say that home-grown terrorism has also been on the rise, as has recruitment by the Islamic State, noting that some 180 Americans have tried to travel to Syria in recent years, with an eye toward joining that terrorist organization.
It all sounds pretty grim. But a day earlier, another administration member told the same committee:
Despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally; less deaths, less violent deaths today, than through the last century.
The speaker was Secretary of State John Kerry.
It’s not hard to know whose version the president comes down on the side of. In an interview with Vox.com in January, Obama was asked by interview Matthew Yglesias whether he thinks “the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism” to which the president replied:
Absolutely. And I don’t blame the media for that. What’s the famous saying about local newscasts, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right? You show crime stories and you show fires, because that’s what folks watch, and it’s all about ratings. And, you know, the problems of terrorism and dysfunction and chaos, along with plane crashes and a few other things, that’s the equivalent when it comes to covering international affairs.
In other words, the terrorism threat is all a media invention to boost ratings.
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