In a new interview with NPR that aired on Monday, President Obama said Americans' fear of terrorism has been stoked by a combination of media obsessed with ratings, the Islamic State group's public relations efforts and his administration's poor communication.
Following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, "you had a saturation of news" about terrorism, and the Islamic State group "combines viciousness with very savvy media operations," Obama told NPR's Steve Inskeep. "As a consequence, if you've been watching television for the last month, all you have been seeing, all you have been hearing about is these guys with masks or black flags who are potentially coming to get you, so I understand why people are concerned about it."
"Look, the media is pursuing ratings, this is a legitimate news story. I think it's up to the media to make a determination about how they want to cover things. There is no doubt the actions of ISIL are designed to amplify their power and the threat that they pose," he added, using another acronym for the terrorist group (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
Several recent polls show that Americans are growing more concerned about the threat of terrorism attacks. One from Gallup that found that 16 percent of Americans now identify terrorism as the most important issue facing the nation, up from 3 percent in November. Another conducted by The New York Times/CBS News found that nine in 10 Americans were concerned about terrorism to some degree, while three in five were very worried about terrorists coming from abroad or domestic attacks inspired by foreign extremists.
At the same time, Obama's approval rating has dropped to 43 percent overall, and 60 percent of the public disapproves of how he is handling terrorism, an increase of 9 points since May, according to CNN.
Obama has been heavily criticized for claiming last month that the Islamic State group was "contained," only for the group to launch an attack in Paris that same week, killing 130 people. Then on Dec. 2, a husband and wife who were inspired by the terrorist group killed 14 people in San Bernardino, notes the Washington Free Beacon.
The president told NPR that the "legitimate criticism" is due to his administration not keeping the public fully informed about the actions it is taking to fight the Islamic State group.
"On our side, I think that there is a legitimate criticism of what I've been doing and our administration's been doing in the sense that we haven't, on a regular basis, described all the work that we've been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL," Obama said. "So if people haven't seen the fact that 9,000 strikes have been carried out against ISIL, if they don't know that towns like Sinjar that were controlled by ISIL have been taken back, or that a town like Tikrit that was controlled by ISIL now has been repopulated by previous residents, then they might feel as if there's not enough of a response. So part of our goal here is to make sure that people are informed about all the actions that we're taking."