BROOKE GLADSTONE: The War against Terror, as it's been described, may soon be fought on the ground in Afghanistan where we can see it and all over the world where we can't. It was fought from the air this week, and it was also fought on the air waves.
PRESIDENT BUSH: On our TV screens the other day we saw "the Evil One" threatening, calling for, for more death and destruction in America!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The president mentioned Osama bin Laden's name when asked directly but avoided the name when he could, because Osama bin Laden, having been earlier made the focal point of the nation's rage and pain has clearly benefitted from the exposure, and it's no accident according to Brigitte Nakos, Columbia University professor and the author of Terrorism and the Media.
BRIGITTE NAKOS: They're the most media-savvy terrorists we have ever seen, and actually you can tell that they have a media department. One of them, the spokesperson, he basically is a specialist in media. That tells you how important it is for them. September 11 has given them a tremendous opportunity to exploit the media for their purposes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's talk about September 11th. It was, whatever else it was, a media coup of sorts.
BRIGITTE NAKOS:It was from the point of view of the people who perpetrated that act, a perfect production. They chose very carefully the time of the day. They had I think quite some idea that at least part of it would be filmed live. They are students of the Western media, and they know of course that it's going to be replayed and replayed, and that's what we have seen. We know from opinion polls there's literally no American and no person in countries where we have polls of who hasn't seen these horrific pictures!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Almost a hundred percent.
BRIGITTE NAKOS:It is -- never before have pollsters found that there was such an -- universal knowledge of what had happened and of course an ongoing interest.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You said for instance that it was well-timed. The first tower was hit; everybody had time to aim their cameras and then the second tower was hit.
BRIGITTE NAKOS: Well, I think this is a real center of the media, and there was no doubt that immediately the cameras would be there and that it would be transmitted via CNN around the world. You know they're very critical of American popular culture, particularly Hollywood movies, popular music. But basically all the images we saw we had seen before! There is nothing I saw that morning and in replay that I hadn't seen before in disaster movies, and I am convinced they watched [them].
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So you think that the American media they are likely to have consumed is not just CNN but also, say, the books of Tom Clancy or the Die Hard films. You think that they've actually seen those-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BRIGITTE NAKOS: Most certainly. Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- things?
BRIGITTE NAKOS: Yes. They see that. We know that in many of these countries the masses are not allowed to see it, and if they do so they do it secretly. But we also know that the elites watch these things. A lot of these people are western-educated. I sometimes joke they perhaps sat in my media class, and they're, they're very savvy! They know that television is the most important medium and this is not unique to this particular group. We have seen the same media knowledge from groups in the 1980s, the Iran Hostage Crisis is a perfect example. They played the western media as well as anyone who is a professional media person could do that. The Hezbollah people who took the TWA hijacking in 1985, they talked with reporters and they would basically say we know what to do -- we only want television - we do not want print. It's not worth our time. So they basically know exactly how this plays out.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Terrorism in all of its various definitions usually includes the idea that the real targets are not necessarily the victims but those who have to live with it - those who see it - those who are likely to be terrorized by it. Is there any way that the psychological damage could be limited without restricting freedom of the press and generally the public's right to be informed?
BRIGITTE NAKOS: Do I think the public should know? Yes, I think should know. But there is no need to play that again and again and again. I think it's too much. I sat down and did some quick content analysis, and that was before the attacks on Afghanistan started, and I saw that in the television networks bin Laden was mentioned more often than the president. Now I haven't measured how long these various stories were, but it tells you something already.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's talk about bin Laden's image-making.
BRIGITTE NAKOS: Yeah?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is he in the Arab world and gradually in the West looming almost as large as the American president?
BRIGITTE NAKOS:He does loom at least as large. Sunday we, we all saw it -- while the president made his statement and immediately thereafter the taped message of bin Laden was released. You saw many people appearing on television -Americans, other Westerners - but then there was a different frame and you saw bin Laden behind and very often actually that frame was larger than an anchor or some guest who spoke! So if nothing else, he has basically elevated himself into a world figure. He is on covers of the most prominent news magazines; there is actually excellent analysis of many of the problems in that part of the world, and there is nothing wrong with doing it. The problem is it only came after this horrendous incident took place. They want to have a certain degree of legitimacy, respectability. He certainly has got much more in the Islamic world, in the Arab world.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And will all that make him more difficult to defeat?
BRIGITTE NAKOS:I think it will be difficult to defeat him because even if you neutralize him, then he actually becomes even a larger figure. Then he's a real martyr. He has managed something that was unthinkable before September 11th! I'm not for censorship, but I'm still critical to give this man a stage without any limitations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Brigitte Nakos, thank you very much.
BRIGITTE NAKOS: You're very welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Brigitte Nakos is author of Terrorism from the Iran Hostage Crisis to the World Trade Center Bombing.