Introduction

What is the most important lesson to learn about terrorism as it threatens the safety and security of American families and way of life? What drives people to live life in fear of a threat they feel powerless against?

Do the media assist in battling risks of modern life, or do they place that responsibility in the hands of the government? Do people question the integrity of information labeled and distributed as “truth.” Consider the face of terror, as it exists in reality and in the news. Are they the same?

To dissect terrorism news coverage and demonstrate the basic fundamenals by which it has evolved in news media, we can direct our attention to other catastrophic occurances such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2003, and tsunami that swept Southeast Asia in 2004.

My personal memories of these events are by now, an amalgamation of aftermath imagery and personal experience: Streams of images, video and headlines pervaded the Internet, radio, broadcast and cable television stations. I remember more, how shortly thereafter, media redirected my focus away from the disaster, toward topics such as the adequacy and response of governments and individuals, where they failed to predict or mitigate damage, and the life stories of the victims and survivors.

Though a handful of organizations awarded attention to key players in the recovery of disaster, the general public is often comfortable allowing media to decide what was most important: Information or entertainment? Was the majority of coverage truly neutral and informative? But does media direct our attention to pertinent issues concerning catastrophy and aftermath, or do they depict the reality of disaster as we desire to see it?”

The Harbinger:

Short of the printing press, the 20th century produced the most significant advancements in media technology to date. Many of these advancements accelerated the process of globalization and by enhancing communication between cultures and societies.

Enhancements in media to inform, entertain and educate the public, allow informational access to audiences that span geographical, political and socio-economic boundaries. Terrorists, like any organization with a message, have recognized and exploited opportunity to communicate their agenda to the world by creating sensational events media cannot afford to ignore.

How has terrorism and its affects on us changed us and news media? What messages are media delivering if, as they say, “the medium is the message?” And who’s responsible for the consequences associated with these messages?

In most recent decades, terrorist organizations have utilized media to communicate directly to their targets and to the world. Their tactics seem simple and effective. The more destructive they become, the more notoriety they receive, the more society seems more apt to fear them, and recognize them as a formidable threat. Yet actual events do not always take presidence. Moderate- and low-scale terrorism is often covered to suppliment the lulls between large-scale events. The periods of hype rise and fall as terrorism approaches superstar status, then fades away as other news agenda constantly evolves. THe event itself becomes a story of tragedy, then turns into recovery, then a terrorist manhunt, then waging war against them, then capturing a terrorist leader, then executing a terrorist leader, then defeating a terrorist regime, then fighting insurgents, then losing to insurgents, then figuring out how terrorist policy is ineffective, then blaming key political figures…the cycle is endless, the amount of coverage that can result from one terrorist event. According to my figures, less than 4% of news coverage is of the original event.

Historically, the most technologically advanced countries that could afford to put journalists on the ground – to provide coverage anywhere, any time – dominated the information market. With the increasing availability of cellular, satellite and network technology, terrorists use an increasingly sophisticated mix of media for a more evolved form of international terrorism. They have reached a presidence of noteriety in many previously unreachable publics.

This research project seeks to answer how news and terrorist agendae is propagated. The scope will eventually be whittled down to a specific time frame, media type and news organization. The exact analysis will dissect the focus, frequency and depth of coverage before and after terrorists acts. Does media mention the identity of the perpetrators? Does it explain their cause? Does it afford them undue attention? Does it leave out more useful information for entertainment purposes? If the media does comply with the agenda of terrorism or covers incidents over prevention and policy -then it is doing the nation, the world a disservice. Of course, as the research progresses, the data will tell a story. I will, to the best of my ability, allow it to do so unhindered.

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