Reprinted from www.counterpunch.org
Like many of the fascist and extremist groups that came before it in history, ISIS is skilled with propaganda. Its videos are highly doctored and rife with special effects. It has its own 24-hour TV channel, , and even merchandise. ISIS has a brand that it is marketing, as a corporation or even government does.
The central idea in ISIS' propaganda strategy is to make itself look like a huge, omnipresent global threat when it is in fact relatively small and isolated. The corporate media, whether wittingly or not, helps it to do this.
If one were to only watch and read Western media reports, one would likely think that ISIS is an enormous global presence. Listeners are constantly reminded that "ISIS territory remains larger than many countries," that the land ISIS controls is larger than Britain, and that ISIS is expanding. What is rarely mentioned is that much of the land ISIS controls is uninhabited or sparsely populated, and that the reason it easily overtook many of these areas is because there was often a weak local government and a feeble or even absent military.
One has to also differentiate the area ISIS controls from ISIS itself. The actual number of ISIS fighters is contested. Western intelligence estimates previously put the figure at around 30,000. At the upper limit, Kurdish intelligence sources hold that there are 200,000. Even if the upper estimate is accurate, this is still not very large vis--vis other states' militaries.
This is not to dispute the fact that ISIS is obscenely violent and indefensible. ISIS does clearly pose a threat--but a threat to those living under or near its control, not those living thousands of miles away. After all, the vast preponderance of those who have been killed by ISIS have been Muslims living in the Middle East. By overstating the threat ISIS poses, the media only serves to amplify ISIS' voice--which is precisely what the group wants.
Such an approach also draws attention away from the fact that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq that killed over one million people, in conjunction with the US' subsequent support for a sectarian Iraqi government and Shia death squads that oppressed, brutalized, and even killed the Sunni minority, are the reasons Al-Qaeda came to Iraq in the first place, and are the reasons ISIS, which emerged from Al-Qaeda in Iraq's ashes, has some support.
In its obsessive and insatiable appetite for histrionic headlines and sensationalist stories, nonetheless, the US media constantly claims that ISIS is behind this, that ISIS is behind that, that ISIS is in Mexico conspiring to topple the US government, that ISIS is on the path to take over the world.
The irrational media paranoia works. A September 2014 CNN poll found that 90% of Americans believe ISIS poses a threat to the US.
Of course, the media accomplishes all of this with little to no evidence (tweets constitute its favorite pieces of "evidence")--basing its allegations most often simply on what ISIS itself says. The media also fails to emphasize that many of the foiled supposed "ISIS-linked" terrorist plots in the West often involve undercover police informants and/or provocateurs. The FBI and other forces buy bombs and then lure mentally ill people into doing incriminating things. The US government's intentional entrapment of innocent Muslims is well-documented.
If another fringe fascist group made the threats and statements ISIS does, would the US media instantly eat them up and report them as news? This is not usually the case, fortunately. In these instances, journalists exercise more caution--as they should always do. Yet, every time a crime is committed or a terrorist plot is uncovered and ISIS claims credit, the US media takes the bait. Every time.
ISIS claimed credit for the May shootings at an anti-Islam event in Garland, Texas, organized by far-right demagogue and leading anti-Muslim crusader Pamela Geller and featuring fascist Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
The Huffington Post put a headline right at the top of its home page reading, in all-caps, "ISIS claims responsibility for Texas attack." Under the picture, in much smaller text, is the crucial fact that it has given "no evidence of direct link to shooters."
The article itself is titled "ISIS Claims Responsibility For Texas Cartoon Attack, Gives No Evidence Of Direct Link." This headline has much more nuance. But how many readers will click the sensationalist headline on the front page and read the more nuanced one (yet alone the article below it)? Research shows not many will.