Author Topic: Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?  (Read 1497 times)

Greg Davidson

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Another interesting research paper from SSRN

Terrorist attacks often dominate news coverage as reporters seek to provide the public with information. Yet, not all incidents receive equal attention. Why do some terrorist attacks receive more media coverage than others? We argue that perpetrator religion is the largest predictor of news coverage, while target type, being arrested, and fatalities will also impact coverage. We examined news coverage from LexisNexis Academic and for all terrorist attacks in the United States between 2006 and 2015 (N=136). Controlling for target type, fatalities, and being arrested, attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks. Our results are robust against a number of counterarguments. The disparities in news coverage of attacks based on the perpetrator’s religion may explain why members of the public tend to fear the “Muslim terrorist” while ignoring other threats. More representative coverage could help to bring public perception in line with reality.

A rigorous paper that tests multiple hypotheses against a broad database and checks against plausible counterarguments:
We identify five testable counterarguments. First, white homicide victims receive more media coverage than minority victims (Gruenewald, Chermak, & Pizarro, 2013). Drawing from the disparities in homicide coverage, the discussion on out-groups, and the societal position of the victim(s), it is also possible that attacks against an out-group receive less media coverage. Second, symbolism can be important in terrorism. Certain dates, such as Hitler’s birthday and the anniversary of 9/11, attract more violence.10 When attacks occur within close proximity to these symbolic dates, they may receive more media coverage. Third, we may expect to see less media coverage when responsibility for the attack is unknown (Weimann & Brosius 1991; Weimann & Winn 1994). Fourth, we may expect to see more coverage when the individual(s) responsible are connected with a larger group that uses terrorism. Lastly, when classifying whether or not a violent incident is terrorism there can be insufficient or contradicting information that makes it difficult to make a definitive determination. If experts question whether or not an incident should be considered terrorism, members of the media may have similar difficulties. It is possible that classification differences can explain variation in coverage, potentially resulting in ambiguous cases receiving less media attention. We tested our argument on why some attacks received more media coverage than others against these alternatives.


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That is an odd introduction for an academic paper:

On February 6, 2017, President Trump stated that media neglect to report some terrorist attacks.4
His administration released a list of purportedly underreported attacks.

I don't understand the end of the sample set:

On average, each of the 136 terrorism incidents was covered in 26 news articles. However,
the distribution is highly skewed. Over one quarter of the incidents received no coverage from the
sources that we searched while other attacks received disproportionate coverage. In the present
dataset, Muslims perpetrated 12.5% of the attacks yet received 50.4% of the news coverage. The
perpetrator was arrested in about half (47.1%) of the incidents. Attacks targeted law enforcement
or government 20.6% of the time. On average, less than one person was killed per attack, though
this again is highly skewed with the vast majority of attacks (81.6%) having no fatalities.

81.6% have no fatalities? The sample set seems pretty thin to work with, considering we're talking about 136 to start. Table A2 shows average fatalities to be 0.7 - that's a pretty weak average terror incident.

I'd look for that myself, but GTD (University of Maryland) which was used for the study does not make their dataset public.

I'm not saying the premise isn't true, I covered it in an earlier thread "Hoping for a Muslim". The paper just isn't terribly compelling and there's a lot of editorializing in it. It reads more like something a think tank would put out to support policy.