Based on longitudinal research on the media coverage of terrorist attacks, this article suggests a model of how the coverage of these attacks may be conceptualized as a media event and explores the function this serves within society. The main assumption of the model is that journalists change their ritual of news coverage when dealing with exceptional terrorist attacks; they abandon their usual normative professional frame that encompasses such activities as critical scrutiny of governmental actions, and assume a national-patriotic coverage frame that seeks to reestablish normality and restore order. The model can be useful in clarifying the media's role following terror event. While media run the risk of reinforcing the terror event by giving it the public stage its perpetrators seek, by acting as patriots and not as professionals, journalists subvert the message of the terrorists, so that instead of passing on a message of terror, dread, and alarm, the media give the attacked country and society a message of solidarity, partnership, and stubborn endurance against the terrorist threat. The model may also be useful for understanding media coverage of other crisis situations apart from massive terror attacks.
© 2008 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin