Terrorism and the Media

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Terrorism and the News Media
What is the meaning of terrorism and the mass media? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, the meaning of terrorism is the systematic use of terror as means of coercion. Terrorism has spawned heated debate. Instead of agreeing on the definition of terrorism, social scientists, policy makers, lawyers, and security specialists often argue about the meaning of the term (White 4). We can agree what that terrorism is a problem, but we cannot agree on what terrorism is (White 4). According to Alex Schmid (1992), terrorism is not a physical entity that has dimensions to be measured, weighted and analyzed. It is a social construct; that is, terrorism is defined by different people within vacillating social and political realities (White 4). The definition of any social construct changes with the social reality can be nebulous, or it can be threatening when one group imposes its version of reality on another (White 4). One of the primary reasons terrorism is difficult to define is that the meaning changes within social and historical contexts (White 6). Changes in the meaning occur because terrorism is not a solid entity (White 6-7).

News media refers to television, radio, and print journalism. It also refers to newer sources on the internet, including news, reporting services, the blogosphere, website pages, and propaganda broadcasts (White 104). Terrorism requires interdisciplinary research techniques because it involves so many aspects of the human experience, and its relationship with media have not been fully explored (White 104). Jeff Ian Ross, according to our text book, first off, believes meanings are socially created and Ross demonstrates that reporting is a part of the social construction of terrorism. Second, terrorists are aware of the power of the media and seek to manipulate their message through it. Third, while the media enhances the power of terrorism, it does not cause it. Finally, terrorists will increasingly use the internet to communicate as the relationship between the media and terrorism grows stronger in the future. (White 104)

Everybody in the public eye wants to use the media to his or her advantage; and, interest groups, including governments and terrorists, compete for favorable labels and images (White 105). Daya Thussu (2006) states that the United States’ perspective of terrorism has dominated the international media since 9/11. This is due to the media’s ability to create and sustain the social image of terrorism. Thusu refers to this power as mythmaking, and the myths circulated by television news shape the worldview of those who watch. Such myths and misconceptions are presented far beyond the West, and they have defined social reality after 9/11 in many parts of the world. If social constructs created by collective definitions, the power of the media helps to define the boundaries of those constructs. (White 105)

According to Shana Gadarian, author of a journal article, “The Politics of Threat: How Terrorism News Shapes Foreign Policy Attitudes,” terrorism shattered America’s sense of invulnerability and unparalleled might on a sunny September morning. Almost overnight, the American landscape went from one of prosperity, safety, and power to one of the threat, fear, and uncertainty. Threat and fear are not simply psychological phenomena; they are politically consequential for how elites and the mass media communicate with the public and, ultimately, for opinion formation. In times of crisis, citizens turn to political leaders and the media to make sense of new and frightening events. The contours of the information environment in turn influence how people prefer the government to react to threat. (Gadarian 469)

There is tension between security forces and the media. According to White, although some scholars believe the media favors the governments, police, and security forces frequently find themselves at odds with this media...
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