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News Media and the Authority of Grief: The Journalistic Treatment of Terrorism Victims as Political Activists

Kadmon Sella, Zohar

The personal and national dimensions of terrorism victimhood lend the victims their unique moral authority and political legitimacy. The analysis of the news media coverage of victims' campaigns, on issues such as memorialization, criminal justice, hostage crises and peace activism, reveals that the more such campaigns are closer in time, space, and relevance to the attack that the victim-advocates underwent, the greater are their chances for positive coverage. Deferential coverage of victims' campaigns reflects journalism's cultural role as reinforcing common values and myths, including by way of portraying victims as heroes. Where victims' campaigns are less related to the physical memory of the attack and more concerned with the military or legal aspects of terrorism, journalists take on their informational role and employ traditional professional standards. Such standards include subjecting victims to potential criticism, and at the very least "balancing" their arguments with official views. In issues where the victims' arguments seem far removed from their personal experience, their influence over the news media is small. This range of journalistic notions is offered under the organizing mechanism of the Experience-Argument Scale. The two extreme ends of the Scale, the "deferential" end and the "disregarding" end, are where journalism's missions are in danger of compromise. Journalism at the "deferential" end is emotional, reluctant to bring forth opposing opinions, and in effect may contribute to policies that are driven more by trauma than by considered opinion. At the other end of the Scale, journalism is deaf to the victims, and fails to enrich policy debates with the lessons of their experience. The comparative examination of coverage in the U.S. and Israel illuminates the different relationships between press and government in these two cultures, and how local responses to victims reflect the particular local history of terrorism, and the particular notions of nationhood, solidarity and patriotism.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Communications
Thesis Advisors
Gitlin, Todd
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 3, 2014
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