Terrorists or freedom fighters? Labeling terrorism in the Israeli press

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The achievement of terrorism in gaining generous, worldwide media coverage has led to a new mode of terrorismreferred to as the “theater of terror” —media‐oriented terrorism. Studies of public opinion and terrorism have revealed that the public is well aware of thistrend, blaming vast media coverage as a major cause of terrorism. But the “theater of terror” concept should not be confined to the volume of coverage. The presentpapersuggests that the content elements of the coverage should be considered as well. The analysis is focused on the labels used by the press in referring to terrorists. A content analysis of press reports of 381 terrorist events yielded a variety of labels ranging from “freedom fighters” to “murderers.” Measuring the evaluative meaning of these labels by their ratings on five semantic differential scales, reveals the use of labels that embody a positive evaluative “load.” In studyingthe factors that affect the choice of positive or negative labels, we used a log‐linear analysis, testing the various relations between the event attributes and the label’s evaluative load. This analysis reveals that the most effective factor is the political distance, exceeding even that of the degree ofviolence employed by the terrorists. The findings of this study on the differential labeling of terrorism add a new dimension to the relationship between the three actors—the terrorists, the media, and public opinion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-445
Number of pages13
JournalPolitical Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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