As we approach the end of our exploration of the concept of terrorism and its symbiotic relationship with the press, we realize that although our understanding of this topic has expanded immensely, a more thorough understanding would be achieved by examining public perceptions of terrorism, which have been influenced by the press. The press relays messages to the public

How does the press influence our views on terrorism?

about terrorism and very seldom do individuals receive information from sources outside the press; therefore, public perception can help us understand the relationship between terrorism and the press. Using Greg Mortenson’s holistic approach to terrorism in Three Cups of Tea as a model, our ‘Fourth Cup of Tea’ will explore how different forms of media interpret and present the concept of terrorism, often perpetuating inaccurate perceptions and instilling the fear for which terrorists strive. We will also examine how perceptions vary demographically.

To measure perceptions, we created and administered a survey that 87 students at ASU completed.

How often do you pay attention to the news?

Of the following, which television news source do you prefer

Of the following, which online or print news source do you prefer?

When did terrorism originate?

Terrorism, in your opinion, is most associated with:

Since the War on Terror, rate the media's performance on educating the public about topics of terrorism.

I personally feel more secure against a terrorist attack now than a year ago.

Does the media cover terrorism appropriately?

Do you personally feel more threatened by terrorists that live and work within your own country than by terrorists from other countries?

Do you think governments have the real political will to put in place adequate legal, political and economic mechanisms to fight terrorism?

Are the terrorists winning the propaganda war?

Wordle (with People)

Worlde (People removed)


We began this project with a set of expectancies regarding basic outcomes. The media profile presentations that were created at the beginning of the semester helped us understand the variability with which media outlets cover terrorism. We expect that these variations will be apparent in our survey responses, with perceptions differing according to media followed by the individual. We also expect that perceptions will vary along the demographic dimensions age, gender, ethnicity, and religion. Throughout our course, we have realized that different groups of people experience terrorism and its ramifications differently. We expect that responses will reflect these differences. We also expect definitions of terrorism to be overall incomplete and to vary along the aforementioned dimensions. We hope to obtain a detailed image of public perception and variability. Such information can help brew a ‘Fourth Cup of Tea’, in which inaccurate perceptions can be challenged and terrorism can be better understood publicly. Public understanding can lead to a large-scale effort to combat terrorism.


There were a number of different correlations that became apparent throughout the poll.  Correlations are a relationship between questions where one answer increases the likelihood of another, a correlation is a result, not an underlying indication of why a person believes one way or another.
There is a correlation between feeling more secure against a terrorist attack now than a year ago, question 7, and the will of the government to put in place anti-terrorism measures, question 10.  Those that strongly agreed or agree in question 7 by 2:1 margin were more likely to answer yes on question 10.  Participants who answered Neutal in question 7 were evenly divided on question 10.  Those who disagreed or strongly disagreed were more likely to answer no on question 10 by a 2.23:1 margin.
Correlations also existed between question 6, rating the media’s performance against the alreay mentioned above in question 10.  The overall shape of the curve is nigh identical though a number do not stay with the same answer.  Strangely, if a participant answered neutral or disagree on one question, there was 50% chance to answer the other way for the next question.  Those with strong feeling in either direction had a high likelihood to remain that way through both questions.
Question 2, about TV news, and question 3, print and online media correlated, but not in easily apparant way.  Due to the number of possible answers the correlations do not have enough respondants to make any good conclusions for most of the relationships.  One relationship of note is that half of CNN viewers listed The New York Times as a preferred print source.
The most interesting correlation fo the entire poll existed between question 2, TV news source, and question 10, the political will to implement good anti-terrorism policies.  Fox News viewers answered yes in question 10 at a ratio of 1.8:1.  Participants who answered CNN, MSNBC, and network broadcasts were nearly evenly split on opinion.  Those who answered with user added values and do and do not get news from TV broadcasts answered question 10 in the negative by a impressive 3:1 margin.
There was a correlation involving age that was thrown out due to age clustering as Arizona State University students are all of similar age.
I personally feel more secure against terrorism now than a year ago.

What is your preferred television news source?

Simplicity seems to characterize common definitions of terrorism. It is important to think about whether simplicity is better than accuracy. Simple definitions of terrorism may be easier to share with the public, and definitions vary according to agenda, but at what cost? Racial profiling is just one potential cost of the simplicity of conceptualizing terrorism. We expected that definitions of terrorism would be overall incomplete and many of them were, with a few exceptions, confirming our expectancies.
As illustrated by our wordles, ‘people’ came up a lot in definitions of terrorism, which we found interesting, since terrorism is a tactic, but is now  so associated with evil individuals and victims.
Definitions from students were different in some ways from legal defintions in 1988 summarized by Barnett and Reynolds in Terrorism and the Press. First of all though, it is important to note that the defintions provided to us were not thought out very much, as many students probably felt rushed to complete the survey. That being said, compared to legal defintions in 1988, violence is mentioned less, political objectives are mentioned less, fear is mentioned almost equally, and victims and civilians are mentioned more. Violence may be mentioned less because terrorism is more widely thought today to include non violent acts, such as threats, coercion and persuasion. Political objectives could be mentioned less because of the media’s emphasis on the absolute evil involved in terrorist tactics. The media rarely explain motivations for terrorist acts and instead focus on the senselessness of the acts. Fear could be approaching equal because of the fact that terror and fear are near synonymous and their meanings in the English language have not changed much. Civilians and victims could be mentioned more because of the media’s increasing focus on innocents that suffer as a result of terrorist acts. Media seem to suggest that terrorism cannot be identified without a noncombatant victim. Clearly, comparing our respondents’ defintions of terrorism with legal definitions in 1988 has revealed the powerful influence of the media over common conceptual models of terrorism.
Ethnicity and age yielded no correlations. Perhaps with a larger sample size, we would have found correlations related to these demographic categories. The correlations found were related to consistencies in perception and perception based on media utilized by the individual. People who felt secure against terrorism seemed to feel this way because they felt that the governmental had political will to implement strong security against terrorism. A causal relationship is difficult to conclude, however. As we hypothesized, student’s perceptions were different depending on the news sources they followed. Students who didn’t follow TV or who followed a TV source in the “other” category were likely to say that governments do NOT have political will to fight terrorism effectively. Some patterns emerged with responses as a function of preferred TV stations and we can use what we learned through our media profiles at the beginning of the semester to draw some conclusions.
Through this examination of public perception on terrorism as a function of media sources, we were able to get an idea of how terrorism is viewed by students who have not taken special courses in terrorism analysis. This section of Terrorism and the Press has clearly made an impression on our own perceptions as to what terrorism is and what motivates it. Unfortunately, not all college students get the chance to delve into this topic in depth, but perhaps with the information we have gathered, we can begin thinking about how to make changes that will challenge inaccurate or exaggerated perceptions that perpetuate fear and breed misunderstanding. If the public as a whole had an understanding of terrorism similar to ours, perhaps a large-scale