Conceptualizing the effects of mass‐mediated terrorism

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In summer 1985, a TWA plane was hijacked by Shiite terrorists to Beirut creating what turned to be one of the most impressive spectacles of the mass‐mediated “theater of terror.” After the event the American media were blamed for fanning the crisis atmosphere, giving the terrorists the publicity they craved, abetting the terrorists by reporting U.S. military movements, holding a brutal competition among themselves to get exclusive footage or interviews, harassing the hostages’ families, negotiating directly with the terrorists, milking the hostages still held by the terrorists for political and ideological declarations, and propagandizing the terrorists’ anti‐U.S. and anti‐Israel messages. The resulting debate that followed these accusations, illustrates the lingering argument regarding media and terrorism. While some claim that “the media are the terrorists’ best friends. The terrorist act by itself is nothing. Publicity is all”,1 others argue that the media are avoiding the “real terror” for ideological reasons, averting Western public opinion from U.S. terrorism by underreporting its share in Third World Terrorism.2 The ideological loadings of definitions and arguments are combined with confused interpretations of media effects and public opinion to yield an endless, futile debate. The purpose of the paper is to conceptualize basic effects of mass‐mediated terrorism by relating media effects studies to the case of terrorism and public opinion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-216
Number of pages4
JournalPolitical Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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