Defining 'Terrorism' in the Context of Contemporary Media

Autumn Mueller, University of Cincinnati

The word "terrorism" has variable meanings. Terrorism is defined by the FBI as, "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social goals." However, the word within popular culture has symbolic meaning, especially in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. This study will examine contemporary use of the word "terrorism" and "terrorist" in the news media. Using data from a twelve-month content analysis of national news sources, this study will chronicle the use of the word within the media. Preliminary analysis suggests that the news media and political figures have shifted the use of "terrorism" from the "unlawful use of violence" to "any act of resistance by a non-governmental group or individual", thus using the symbolic power of the word for political mobilization.

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Updated 05/20/2006