Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?

Terrorist attacks often dominate news coverage as reporters seek to provide the public with information. Yet, not all incidents receive equal attention. Why do some terrorist attacks receive
more media coverage than others? We argue that perpetrator religion is the largest predictor of news coverage, while target type, being arrested, and fatalities will also impact coverage. We examined news coverage from LexisNexis Academic and CNN.com for all terrorist attacks in the United States between 2006 and 2015 (N = 136). Controlling for target type, fatalities, and being arrested, attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks. Our results are robust against a number of counterarguments. The disparities in news coverage of attacks based on the perpetrator’s religion may explain why members of the public tend to fear the “Muslim terrorist” while ignoring other threats. More representative coverage could help to bring public perception in line with reality.

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