Is the US media helping the terrorists' cause?

As the USA steps up security measures after the recent mid-air terrorist attempt, Mark Mardell compares the differing reactions to terrorism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Living in America, it is easy to forget that the plot to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day actually failed.

No one was killed and - apart from the plotter himself and the man who tackled him - no one was hurt.

Yet the country seems to be reeling.

Pundit after pundit frets that the threat is not being taken seriously enough, that the world - changed after 9/11 for ever - has just changed again and that America is insufficiently aware of just how serious this is.

The administration and the security services remain in a state of heightened alert.

The cancellation and delay rate at airports is up 100% since the incident. Some of that may be down to the weather but each day sees a slew of new security alarms.

Military fighter jets escorted an airliner back to a Midwest airport when a passenger would not put away his hand luggage.

Newark airport was closed when a man nipped under a security barrier to kiss his girlfriend and several flights have been cancelled after sniffer dogs started barking.

The culprit in one case - a jar of honey! It is a sticky business getting it right.

Obama 'too calm'

So perhaps the plot did not fail after all.

There is a general assumption in America that al-Qaeda simply wants to kill as many Americans as possible, that murder is their objective.

It is of course one of their goals but not for nothing are they, by many, still called terrorists.

They are, after all, trying to effect political change by using violence to create a state of fear by terrorising people and, in a democracy, that can send politicians into a blind funk.

Terrorists want to create terror. It is in the job description!

President Obama's opponents have long accused him of being soft on terrorism. He does not even use the George Bush phrase "war on terror".

So the hostile columnists pounced after the Christmas Day plot.

It took the president four days to speak from his Hawaii holiday home and, when he did, he sounded low key and calm.

They wanted anger and dismay.

Of course it is one of Obama's trade marks that he is cool and analytical but the commentators want, not a problem solver, but an emoter-in-chief.

They have a political objective but their complaint boils down to the fact he did not appear frightened enough. He was not terrified.

Subsequently he has appeared angrier, sterner - if mainly with his own intelligence services.

This mood of high seriousness has robbed the West of a really effective propaganda weapon. It has made it difficult to exploit the sheer ridiculousness of an underpants bomber.

If the thought of the state of al-Qaeda's undergarments made people snigger instead of quake, that would be a moral victory.

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