When Florida Pastor Terry Jones threatened to publicly burn the Koran last September, President Obama personally implored him to change his mind. Jones agreed not to do it. But on March 20, Jones and another pastor at his church followed through on his earlier threats:
Few U.S. media outlets paid any attention to his stunt. As of this afternoon, the video documenting it had fewer than 25,000 views on YouTube. Yet that didn’t stop news of his actions from reaching Muslim leaders in Afghanistan—with horrific consequences.
I’ll be honest: Until today, I’ve been of the belief that denying extreme hate-mongers media attention is like depriving them of oxygen. If we just ignore most of these people, they’ll fade away. But Jones’ story provides a compelling reason to re-think my position. His threats to burn the Koran last year were met with a flood of coverage, and the resulting pressure convinced him to call the whole thing off. His Koran-burning publicity stunt on March 20 went largely unnoticed in the United States, and now at least 12 people are dead.
If there’s any lesson for U.S. media to learn from Jones’ actions and the terrible series of events that ensued, perhaps it’s that we do have a compelling reason to pay attention to extremists. Because rational people can’t intervene if they don’t even know what’s happening.