Although Frontline’s “How ISIS Came to Be: Four Docs to Watch” offered some important information about the U.S. conflict with Daesh, the special is rife with misleading news frames. The films touch on all of Robert Entman’s conceptualizations of news media framing, which include: define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgements and suggest remedies.
More than 16 years after September 11, 2001, the mainstream media still packages news via a “one-sided” vantage, perpetuating “a broad consensus about how terrorist events should be interpreted within any particular community” (Norris). But acts of terrorism are political in nature and “terrorism is ‘a method, a modus operandi, not an ideology or worldview’” (Morin).
Granted, the special points to the failures in U.S. intelligence under two former presidents and their lack of clear, justifiable foreign policy. Within this analysis, we can hope the current U.S. administration will capitalize on the mistakes of the past by refusing to err in the same fashion. Conversely, President Donald Trump’s “travel ban” as well as his rhetoric about Daesh operatives being “evil” suggest America is destine to make the same mistakes in the Middle East.
The most egregious display of framing news as a moral judgement occurred in “Confronting ISIS.” Martin Smith speaks with Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, and asks whether Wahhabi Islamic teachings are the cause for extremism. Smith casually links Daesh to Wahhabism, stating this is the religion “from which ISIS springs.” Then he talks with Farah Pandith, former U.S. rep. to Muslim peoples, who says Wahhabism can be blamed for Daesh’s brutality and thirst for global domination. Wahhabism is ultra-conservative, oppressive to women and the antithesis of secular. But bloodlust and oppression via extreme violence is nothing new. Wahhabism is based on the teachings of an 18th Century Saudi Arabian preacher. Breaking news: brutality, power mongering and religious extremism are ideas that were founded centuries before Wahhabism. Moreover, if Daesh were lacking a practical framework for terrorism, they could study the Crusades.