jump to navigation

The mass media and terrorism September 18, 2007


The mass media and terrorism
David L. Altheide
Disclorse and Communication 2007

The mass media promotes terrorism by stressing fear and an uncertain future. Major changes in US foreign and domestic policy essentially went unreported and unchallenged by the dominant news organisations. Not with standing the long relationship in the United States between fear and crime, the role of the mass media in promoting fear has become more pronounced since the United States ‘discovered’ international terrorism on11 September 2001. Extensive qualitative media analysis shows that political decision-makers quickly adjusted propaganda passages, prepared as part of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), to emphasize domestic support for the new US role in leading the world. These messages were folded into the previous crime-related discourse of fear, which may be defined as the pervasive communication, symbolic awareness, and expectation that danger and risk are a central feature of everyday life. Politicians marshaled critical symbols and icons joining terrorism with Iraq, the Muslim faith, and a vast number of non-western nations to strategically promote fear and use of audience beliefs and assumptions about danger, risk and fear in order to achieve certain goals, including expanding domestic social control.


– Mass media information provides a context of meanings and images that prepare audiences for political decisions about specific actions, including war. Citizens are, after all, audience members of various mass media, which, in the case
of most media in the United States, are entertainment oriented in order
to maximize profits.
– Many journalists accepted military spokespersons’ definitions of Iraqi fighters
as ‘criminals’ and ‘thugs’ in the early part of the war by those who were promoting propaganda.
– Controlling information about death in war is a basic propaganda task.
– The US media quickly began to refer to dead soldiers as ‘heroes’ and ‘fallen soldiers,’ a lessthan- dead phrase that was quickly also applied to police officers, fire department personnel, and other uniformed workers. Such discourse joins a plethora of uniformed people with soldiers; all are ‘fighting/serving’ on our behalf. Another way to restrict information, quite simply, is to make it ‘off limits.’ Thus, news media were forbidden from photographing the fallen when they arrived in flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force base, in order to ‘respect the family privacy.
– In many ways this is somewhat easier since citizens of ‘one side’ typically do not care a lot about the fate of those on the ‘other side.’ Still, authorities seek to minimize journalistic access to civilian killings. A more common approach to limiting news reports about civilian deaths is to shape how reports are framed. Discursive framing can be illustrated with terms used to describe how brutal soldiers are portrayed.
– A key factor in propaganda is geared to not hearing the ‘other’s’ voice, but rather, using language and discourse to negate the legitimacy – if not the relevance – of the other. This is easier to accomplish if the other is feared.
– The mass media promoted the war on terrorism – especially after the 9/11 attacks by stressing fear and an uncertain future, although there was a several decade context of anti-Arab propaganda (Adams, 1981). One impact of this media barrage was to promote stereotypes and extreme ethnocentrism that is very close to the images that many westerners had of Vietnamese adversaries in an earlier war – ‘Asians’ who ‘did not value life.’
– The role of the mass media in promoting fear has become more pronounced since the United States ‘discovered’ international terrorism on 11 September 2001. This discourse was grounded in several decades of the ‘fear of crime,’ but it was also promoted by political action that sought a reorientation and redefinition of the role of the United States in world affairs.
– The Iraq War narrative was framed by these efforts and the resulting propaganda campaign to convince the American people that attacking Iraq was tantamount to attacking ‘terrorists’ and others who threatened the United States.
– The emphasis of the coverage of 9/11 was on the commonality of the victims rather than the cause or the rationale for the attacks. The popular refrain was that all Americans were victimized by the attacks, and like the ‘potential victims’ of crime featured in a decade of news reports about the crime problem, all citizens should support efforts to attack the source of fear.


The plan is for the United States to rule the world. The overt theme is unliateralism, but it is ultimately a story of domination. It calls for the United States to maintain its overwhelming military superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge it on the world stage. It calls for dominion over friends and enemies alike. It says not that the United States must be more powerful, or most powerful, but that it must be absolutely powerful. (Armstrong, 2002: 76)



1. francine - October 24, 2007

send me different information about terrorism in mass communication and laws made.i am a student of mass communication

2. AL MASSA - September 12, 2008


3. Nathan Masambu - February 25, 2009

Im aslso interested in this subject as Im doing a reszearch paper on Centrality of the media in terrorism. Please lets exchange views.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: