In 2012, U.S. drone strikes occurred most often in which nation?
If you don’t know, don’t feel too bad. You’re not alone. You could just admit it and join the 27 percent of Americans who report that they haven’t a clue. Or you could guess, give the wrong answer, and join the 60 percent of Americans who just plain get it wrong. Many people know this answer first-hand, but they tend not to be Americans, and for them the answer has a non-trivial significance.
A large majority (65 percent) of Americans claimed that they had heard a lot about the U.S. drone program in 2013. This is a significant increase from the year before. But what they’d heard hadn’t furnished the answer to this most basic question about the purpose and nature of targeted killings. This makes sense, since the media often focuses on what is most important to its readers: namely, themselves. This is why the death of Americans in targeted killings dominated early discussion of drone warfare, why the mere prospect of domestic surveillance has taken center stage in the drone debate, and why commercial uses of drones has gained more attention in 2014.
So what should the media cover when it comes to drones and military robotics? What is worth reporting? And what responsibility do journalists have to focus in on the most pressing moral and legal questions when it comes to drone technologies? At what point should reportage blend into legal commentary and moral argumentation? What are the dangers associated with this sort of public discourse?
John Kaag is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Director of the Doctoral Program in Global Studies. He recently co-authored Drone Warfare (Polity, 2014) with Sarah Kreps, and is author of A Wilderness of Books: A Study of American Philosophy (forthcoming with Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2015).