Home Terrorism The Media Negatively Impacts Our Understanding of Worldwide Terror

The Media Negatively Impacts Our Understanding of Worldwide Terror


The events of September 11, 2001 still echo in the hearts of many Americans. Those attacks brought the United States to their knees, and fundamentally changed the way Americans view terrorism, national security and public safety. The United States spends billions of dollars in anti-terrorism, hoping to prevent a similar attack from ever occurring. People go about their life in constant fear that they will die from a terrorist attack. In fact, many people believe that the most important issue the nation has to face is terrorism. But what is cultivating this fear in the American people? In short, the media.

Between the years 1975 and 2015, a total of 768,000 murders were committed, with only 3,432 Americans having been murdered in terrorist attacks. Of these 3,432 terrorist-related murders, native-born Americans killed 408. This leaves us with 3,024 deaths at the hands of foreign-born terrorists. This would seem like a large sum, except for the fact that 2,983 of those 3,024 foreign-born terrorist-related deaths occurred during the attacks on 9/11. This means that the remaining 41 foreign-born terrorist-related deaths occurred spread out throughout 1975 and 2015. That averages to 1 death per year. This doesn’t exactly match with the idea that terrorists are running rampant in America.

In a typical year, just less than 18 thousand Americans will be murdered. Of those, not even one percent will be attributed to terrorism. American deaths by terrorism don’t even make up one percent of all terrorism-related deaths in the entire world. 98% of all terrorism deaths occur in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia and yet 75% of American media will cover terrorism in the United States and Western Europe. This means that even though the vast majority of terrorist attacks and subsequent deaths take place in the East, American media will not display those attacks.

This skewed media representation of terrorism has drastic effects on public opinion, behavior and government policy. Individuals hear about terrorist attacks in the media and then change their lives based on how they process that information. Some will avoid crowded public areas and others will remove themselves from society altogether.

America was once a nation that lived upon the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” Throughout history, America has been the destination for all manner of immigrants and refugees seeking safety and shelter from undesirable conditions. Now America is a nation that refuses to refuge those fleeing war-torn countries. Americans live in daily fear of those seeking safety in the United States, claiming that terrorists lay hidden in their ranks, waiting to gain entry to the United States and then attack. However, the threat of a terrorist using refugee status to gain entry to America is unfounded. From 1975 through 2015, refugee terrorists killed absolutely zero Americans. In reality, the majority of terrorists have gained entry to the United States via tourist visas, which currently are not affected by proposed travel bans.

The effect of the media’s skewed portrayal of terrorism is obvious. By focusing on only those attacks that occur within western communities and neglecting to display those attacks in the East, the media has managed to cultivate an “us vs. them” mentality, with western society being the victim, and Eastern nations being the aggressors. The fact of the matter is terrorists are killing the people in their own nations in droves. 98% of all terrorism related deaths occur in the Middle East.

While the effects of 9/11 still haunt Americans, it was the exception, not the rule, to terrorism in America. It is the responsibility of the people of the United States to leave their echo chambers and educate themselves on the reality of terrorism, both at home and worldwide. Once the American people are able to understand the true horror of terrorism, perhaps public opinion will change, and then government policy will follow.


Dalal, N. (January 12, 2017). How Media Fuels Our Fear of Terrorism. Priceonomics. Retrieved from https://priceonomics.com/our-fixation-on-terrorism/

Lakshmanan, I. A. R. (May 23, 2017). The endless loop of terror victims: Lazy journalism that lets ISIS run the newsroom. Poynter. Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/2017/the-endless-loop-of-terror-victims-lazy-journalism-that-lets-isis-run-the-newsroom/461020/

Maximus, F. (May 25, 2017). Terrorism fears, terrorism hysteria, terrorism facts. Investment Watch Blog. Retrieved from http://investmentwatchblog.com/terrorism-fears-terrorism-hysteria-terrorism-facts/

Nowrasteh, A. (September 13, 2016). Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis. CATO Institute. Retrieved from https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa798_1_1.pdf

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Alison Morgan is an intern for The American Public Safety Training Institute. She will graduate from BYU-Idaho in mid-July with a Bachelors of Science in Health Science with an emphasis in Public Health. Next, Alison will work on getting accepted to a masters program in either scientific journalism, public health, or psychology. She hopes to serve as a bridge between people and science through the written word or through client/provider relationships.