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Lessons from London

It occurred to us last week as we saw grainy video of the London subway and bus carnage captured on passengers' cellphones and hand-held cameras that the whole world is watching and the whole world is now shooting video, too.

That night, the NBC and CNN Web sites solicited digital-phone videos, and Great Britain's BBC, Sky News and ITV ran crawls on their TV broadcasts asking viewers who had personal video to get in touch. BBC Radio was reading text messages that victims keyed in from the scenes of the crimes.

Tragically, Al Qaeda and other terror groups benefit from all of this because they want the world to see the fear their vile acts can cause. And that is what happens. We now get to watch terrorists' cowardly acts of carnage live, or within moments after they occur. The all-news channels get delivered footage of beheadings just as if it's another video press release. In a real way, that's exactly what it is.

As we pointed out, sadly, when the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists in 2001, the first jet airliner to strike the tower attracted New York's media with just enough time so that all television networks were live and on the scene to document the full horror of the second jet's flight path and impact. It was a made-for-TV terror act.

On Wednesday of last week, London was giddy and cheerful. It had just been awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics. A day later, that same London was a city gripped in fear, not only for what had just occurred but also because it had barely 24 hours to come face to face with the reality that the Olympic city also gets to be the world's most popular terror target.

Millions around the world, of all faiths, mourned when they saw those live images of the walking wounded in London. A smaller (but more fanatical) group of viewers watched that same video with glee.

CNN last Thursday night titled a segment “What If…,” a graphic representation of what every viewer was thinking. It could happen “here,” wherever “here” is. That's the power of the moving images terrorists depend on, and, of course, it's a totally rational fear. That's what makes images of mayhem so powerful, both as television news and as terrorist agitprop.

Television, as media guru Marshall McLuhan famously posited, made the world a global village, but as we sometimes forget—and as all-news networks vividly illustrated last week—that smaller world isn't necessarily a friendlier one. In fact, as television has brought us closer, it has sometimes exposed our vast differences more than our similarities.

We were presented stark evidence last week that the video revolution coincides with worldwide jihad and that they feed off each other.

No one would ever say the news networks shouldn't extensively cover tragedies like the one in London, but we acknowledge that every moment of coverage may only embolden the lunatics who commit such atrocities.

But images of terror cut both ways. The proliferation of video cellphones and other easy-to-carry video devices points to a brave new world of citizen communicators. We applaud their work, which strengthens our resolve in fighting those who would destroy our liberties and our way of life.