Do You Know Your Enemy: The Role of Known Actors as Framing Devices in News Media

Benjamin King Smith, Andrea Figueroa-Caballero, Musa al-Gharbi, Michael Stohl


We examine how and why al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have come to dominate discourse of the international terrorist threat in the post-9/11 era, through their emergence as the primary referents for understanding terrorism, the organizations that employ it, and the actions taken to combat it. We propose a simple mechanism—based on relevance theory—wherein a given actor might attain and sustain a socially shared understanding, allowing them to function as symbolic referents in media discourse. In Study 1, we address the plausibility of this mechanism, using computer-assisted linguistic analysis to assess coverage of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal from 1996 to 2017. In Study 2, we conduct an inductive framing analysis aimed at identifying unique and commonly reoccurring applications of framing packages relying on known actors as framing devices. We conclude by discussing implications of these practices.


terrorism, news frames, framing analysis, al-Qaeda, ISIS, media discourse, social constructionism

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