Terrorism and the Media
Amplifying the Terrorists' Impact:
The Media as Unwilling Allies to
the Terrorists’ Agenda
Michael A. Bozarth, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University at Buffalo
www.PsychologyofTerrorism.com
Terrorist Acts are Often
Well Calculated
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Terrorists seek change through
the use of fear and intimidation
Terrorists always ‘play’ to an
audience
Specific terrorist tactics are
often employed to maximize the
impact of their activities
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Terrorism is a Type of
Psychological Warfare
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Conventional warfare makes
extensive use of psychological
‘warfare’ to amplify its impact
Terrorism relies almost
exclusively on psychological
‘warfare’ for its intended impact
It’s all in the perception of danger
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Terrorism is Directed to
a Larger Audience
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Terrorism is intended to instill
terror in a larger target audience
Terrorism can also be intended to
recruit more supporters
The media are critically
important to achieving both of
these goals
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Role of the Media in the
Genesis of Terror
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Victims of the terrorists’ physical
attack provide the ‘signal’
Media amplify and disseminate
the ‘signal’ or message
Target audience responds with
terror, providing the impetus for
capitulating to the terrorists’
demands for change
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
The Media Magnifier
World-Wide Publicity
Limited
Physical Attack
Media
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
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Perception of Threat
• 9/11 attack killed less than 3,500
people
• Flu kills around 36,000 annually
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Are you afraid of the flu?
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
The Media as Terrorist
‘Recruiters’
Terrorist groups sometimes attempt to
gain popular support for their agenda
(e.g., publicize their cause), not just
impart terror in the ‘suppressive’
population or regime
The tactics necessary for this
objective are somewhat different
than the other tactics commonly
used by terrorist organizations
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Terrorists Playing the Media
for Gaining Popular Support
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Identify the social, political,
economic, or religious injustice
Identify the responsible target
Demonstrate the ability to strike
and do harm to the target
Demonstrate a commitment and
the resolve to continue the fight
until the goal is achieved
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
A Terrorist Recruiter
Emerge with the perception of being
unrelenting freedom fighters for a
just and noble cause supported by
the oppressed masses rising-up
against a cruel and brutal regime
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Terrorism Support Base
Actual
terrorists
Active supporters
Passive supporters
Sympathizers
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Media Coverage and the
Terrorist Agenda
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The media are (mostly unwilling)
allies of the terrorists
• media want the ‘story’
• terrorists want their ‘message’ spread
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Media have a lot of control over
the impact of terrorist activity
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
The Terrorists’ Impact
Facilitated by the Media
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Terrorist strive to amplify the
impact of their actions
Media play an important role
• perspective of media coverage
including descriptive language
• prevalence of media coverage
• number of media sources
• duration of coverage
• detail ofCopyright
coverage
2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Importance of Language
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Selection of specific words has
an important impact on the
perception of events
• cognitive
• emotional
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Language can either favorably
or unfavorably portray the same
event
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
What’s in a Word?
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Consider the following words
• freedom fighter
• insurgent
• terrorist
(positive connotation)
(neutral connotation)
(negative connotation)
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Words to Soften
the Impact
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near miss
casualties
collateral
damage
detainee
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near crash
killed or
seriously injured
civilians killed
or injured
(civilian
casualties)
prisoner
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Similar Denotations—
Different Conations
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Positive
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• freedom fighter
• liberator
• peacekeeper
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• terrorist
• invader
• occupier
More Neutral
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• insurgent
• kill
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Negative
Less Neutral
• rebel
• murder
Descriptive Label
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Propaganda Label
• antiabortion
• ProLife
• reproductive Copyright
choice
• ProChoice
2005 Michael
A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Subtle but Important
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Liberator—good
Invader—bad
Foreign Invader—worse
“foreign” invader has a special
connotation in the Middle East; it
unites otherwise belligerent Arabic
factions to fight the “common
enemy” and may form the basis for a
Jihad andCopyright
martyrdom
2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Other Important Choices
in Word Selection
• Crusader
• Infidel
• Jihad
Anti-Western Rhetoric
These terms are commonly used in the Arabic
media and the last term is sometimes used
worldwide.The terms have different
implications for Arabic and Western cultures.
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Different Portrayals of
the Same Event
Terrorists detonated an improvised explosive device near the
hospital of the peacekeeping forces. There were numerous U.S.
military and Iraqi casualties from the explosion. The insurgents
continue their indiscriminant attack of U.S. facilities without
regard for strategic value. (American media version)
Freedom fighters detonated a bomb near the base of the
crusaders. The tremendous blast killed several of the foreign
occupiers and severely injured many more of their
collaborators. The resistance fighters continue to carry the
Jihad to the camps of the foreign invaders leaving the infidels
no safe haven. (Arabic media version)
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Stupid Blunder or
Deliberate Setup?
US-picked Iraqi leaders declare a new flag
that breaks with Hussein -- and the rest of
Arab world. By Lee Keath, Associated Press |
April 26, 2004 [excerpts]
In Arabic nations, the colors of flags have widely recognized meanings.
Green, white and black denote Islam -- harkening back to the battle banners of the
medieval Islamic dynasties of the Fatimids, Ummayads and Abbasids. Green is
said to have been the prophet Muhammad's favorite color; the Saudi, Libyan,
Algerian and Mauritanean flags are completely or largely green.
The only Arab League members to have any blue in their flag are the African
nations of Djibouti and Somalia.
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
How to Lose the
Propaganda War
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Cultural insensitivity often aids the terrorists
• Re-design of the Iraqi flag using the color of the
Israeli flag (blue) feeds the perception of Zionist
conquest
• President Bush’s use of the term “crusade”
inflamed the Moslem world
• Western world--noble, righteous cause
• Islamic world--invasion by infidels
• Osama bin Laden had already referred to the
“Zionists/Crusaders in his 1998 fatwa and
elsewhere
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
U.S. PsyOps and Intell
No-Brainers
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“Surrender or die” in Afghanistan
Air strike called in by Afghan
warlord on wedding party
“Crusade” to liberate Iraq
“He’s a terrorist!” accusation by
other Iraqi prisoners
“We are here to kill you. Come
out and fight”
(Falluja offensive)?
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
More Choice Terms
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Detention center vs. prison
Enemy combatant vs. POW
(also has legal distinction)
Intensive interrogation vs.
torture
Execution vs. murder
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
“Bad” Language from
Lazy Mouths
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Terrorism vs. terror
Suicide bomber vs. homicide
bomber
Poor word choices, but probably
don’t change the meaning. (Both
from Fox News?)
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Language Economy can
Change the Emphasis
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Beheading—method of execution
formerly used in France and
some Middle Eastern countries
• quick & painless
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Cutting off the head [of a live
victim]—gruesome method of
killing someone
• much slower & much more painful
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
The Language
“Battleground”
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Terrorism is ‘fought’ in the
psychological realm
—perception is everything
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Word choice and narrative have
an important influence on the
psychological impact
Don’t concede the language ‘war’
—fight on all fronts
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Media Wars & Pandering
to an Audience
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Left-wing, right-wing slant
• Some “news” presentations are
obviously biased, pandering to an
existing audience
• Other “news” presentations may
appear neural but attempt to
persuade by subtle propaganda
• “Fair and balanced” or fairly
balancing? (the Fox spins too)
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Tacit Support of the
Terrorist Organization
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Graphic portrayal of the injustice
Personification of the terrorists’
target as evil and inhumane
Presentation of the terrorists as
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representing the suppressed
a rational, goal-directed organization
minimizing harm to innocent people
(and on the side of God, if possible)
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Information Sources
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News Media
Government Sources
Internet
First-hand accounts
Personal experience
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
News Sources
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Broadcast Media
• television
• radio
• Internet
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Printed Media
• newspapers
• magazines
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
American-Based
Television Networks
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Broadcast
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ABC
CBS
Fox
NBC
PBS
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Cable
• CNN/CNN
Headline News
• CSPAN
• Fox News
• MSNBC/CNBC
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Non-American
Satellite Networks
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English Language
• British
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Arabic Language
• Qatar
• BBC/BBC World
• Granada
• Sky News
• Canadian (regional
broadcast/cable)
• Al Jazeera
• United Arab Emirates
• Al Arabiya
• CBC
• CTV
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Newspapers
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American (National
Distribution)
• Christian Science
Monitor
• LA Times
• New York Times
• U.S.A. Today
• Wall Street Journal
• Washington Post
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Non-American
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Arabic (with English
(English Language)
• International
Herald Tribune
• The Times
(London)
versions online)
• Cairo
• Lebanon
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
News Wire Services
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Associated Press (AP)
Reuters
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Government Information
Sources
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White House, Pentagon &
related press offices
Senate & House committees
Government web sites
Government reports
Individual government officials
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Internet Information
Sources
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Media linked
Government
(e.g., ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN)
• United States (e.g., FBI, State Department)
• Foreign (e.g., British Home Office, MI-5)
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Non-government
• organizations (FAS, Rand Corporation)
• companies (e.g., Black Hawk Security)
• individuals (www.PsychologyofTerrorism.com)
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Information Bias
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All information sources direct their
presentations to an intended audience
• Some risk losing their intended audiences if
they present inaccurate information
• Others pander to the bias of their intended
audience and risk losing their audience if
they present unbiased reports
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Some media ‘sell’ sensationalism
All media want the ‘big story’
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Evaluating Sources of
Information
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Use a variety of information
sources
Note how the same information
is presented differently by
different sources
Recognize that even biased
information sources have some
‘grain of truth’ in their reporting
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Evaluating Sources of
Information, continued
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Recognize the motivation of the
reporting agency and examine
its possible bias
• nobody does it for “free”
• mass media may be ‘selling
newspapers’ or pushing their own
social-political agenda
• government and other sources may be
amplifying, blunting, or filtering the
information
for propaganda purposes
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Analyzing Information
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Use common sense and logic
Remember that bias is present
both in the information source AND
in the recipient of the information
• avoid prejudice and stereotypes
• try to negate psychological processes
that distort information processing
• seek feedback for reality testing
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Media Censorship of
‘Sensitive’ Stories
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Media self-censorship
• verifying story & factual information
• considering impact of story
• softening impact
• omitting story
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Government censorship
• limiting media access
• ‘clearing’ news stories
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Open Source
Information
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During World War II, German
spies often used public sources
for acquiring intelligence
During the Cold War, Soviet
spies often used public sources
for acquiring intelligence; the
same information was classified
in the Soviet Union
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Compromising Information
from the Media?
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5,000 U.S. troops are taking
part in the Mosel offensive
U.S. estimates there are 7,000
insurgents in Mosel
U.S. troops had to be moved
from protecting Basara
Offensive uses many Humvees
vulnerable to low angle IEDs
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
Terrorist Setup?
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One surrendering resistance
fighter innocently killed is
worth scores of enemy dead
One ‘innocent’ woman and child
killed at a roadside checkpoint
‘buys’ hundreds of new terrorist
supporters
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
The Media as the
Terrorists’ Ally
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Terrorism is all about perception
• perception of the ‘just cause’ the
terrorists are fighting for
• perception that the “ends justify the
means” (and there is no alternative)
• perception of popular support for
the terrorists’ ‘cause’
• perception of the severity of the
terrorist threat
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
The Media
“Battleground”
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Media have a profound influence
on the perception of events
• much of the ‘war’ is fought in the
media
• propaganda is a primary weapon
• everybody spins the story
• a successful “war on terrorism”
requires controlling the spin and
winning the propaganda ‘war’
Copyright 2005 Michael A.
Bozarth, Ph.D.
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Terrorism: Media