Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Media Studies


Richard L. Breyer


Hegemony, Islam, News Media, Otherness, Political Economy, Terrorism

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Sociology


What makes an act of violence an act of terrorism? This qualitative study examines the ways in which three U.S.-based cable news networks--MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News--reported and contextualized four violent events within frameworks of terrorism: the mass shooting at Ft. Hood near Killeen, Texas (2009); the mass shooting near Tucson, Arizona (2011); a suicidal plane crash into an IRS building in Austin, Texas (2010); and the attempted bombing of the Federal Reserve in New York, New York (2012).

Although details between these four events seem analogous, the three networks appeared to contextualize only the Ft. Hood rampage and the Federal Reserve plot within frameworks of terrorism (specifically, Islamic terrorism)--as being "attacks" on the United States rather than isolated incidents. In contrast, the networks appeared to contextualize the Tucson rampage and Austin plane crash as being the consequences of extreme mental illness.

Existing literature suggests such disparities in coverage are the result of increasing consolidation and corporatization of news and entertainment media organizations, as well as pre-existing Orientalist portrayals of Arabs and misconceptions held by the American public about Islam and Muslims as both a minority and a religious group. Combined with standard journalism guidelines and suggestions for optimal practice during crisis coverage, this literature was used to establish a coherent code structure to analyze the four events. The code structure was used to review a total of 35 video clips from the aforementioned networks, making note of these references or topics of discussion: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; the mental state of the perpetrator; the alleged religious or political affiliation of the suspected perpetrator; and any mention of Al-Qaeda or terms such as "terrorist," "jihad," "infidel," or "radical Islam."

Although any discussion about news coverage of minorities is nuanced and merits further research, the results of this study indicate there is still much news organizations fail to understand about Islam, Muslims, the Muslim-American identity and the supposed relationship between those entities and "terrorism" or the root causes of its occurrence. Further, it indicates that news organizations experience a degree of cognitive dissonance when non-Muslims (or individuals affiliated with the dominant hegemonic culture) commit terrorism-like violence.


Open Access