Unsettling Victory: Storylines of Success and Anxiety in the Coverage of the Decline of ISIS in Three U.S. Newspapers

Stefanie Z. Demetriades, Christina Hagen, Daria Baxter Griffith, Patricia Riley


This study analyzed contested media narratives of the ISIS/ISIL terrorist group as it transitioned from a self-declared caliphate to a decentralized terrorist group. The study focused on U.S. newspaper coverage during 2017 as a key period of transition during which the Islamic State’s territorial assets diminished drastically. Utilizing a combination of topic modeling and close qualitative analysis, our investigation analyzed changes in news narratives during the shrinking of the organization’s material features and critically examined deep structures in the news coverage: How was the nature of the threat posed by ISIS (re)defined narratively in light of its territorial losses? And did this “victory” at Mosul fortify the U.S. meta-narrative around a newly vanquished ISIS? Analysis found intersecting storylines of American success and sustained anxiety about future attacks in the United States and continued struggles against ISIS. More fundamentally, these findings point to ISIS’s deeply embedded influence and place in U.S. narratives as it lost its physical space yet retained an assemblage of potential global terrorist relationships that construct its imagined caliphate and expands its network.


terrorism, narrative, discursive fields, news, topic modeling

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