One Message for Many Audiences: Framing the Death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

by Z. S Justus & Aaron Hess

Globalization and telecommunications technology have made every
message global. The consequence of this phenomenon is that when the
United States makes announcements concerning the Global War on
Terrorism a global, rather than a local audience, receives the message.
While similar messages may circulate in different areas throughout the
globe, the messages interact with national and/or cultural traditions that
result in different types of message interpretation.

Using Entman’s (2003a; 2003b) Cascading Activation Network model we
charted the news of Zarqawi’s death, specifically the photographs of his
death, as those messages reached different audiences. The news was
interpreted in a wide variety of ways by a great number of actors. For
example, Jihadi leadership and media moved quickly to proclaim him as a
martyr through the reframing of the photographs of his body in an attempt
to continue their campaign of terror. In this analysis, we trace the story of
Zarqawi’s death through three media outlets: the mainstream United States
press, Al-Jazeera, and Jihadi media. We offer a modification of the
Entman model and three policy recommendations to assist in adapting
messages for a global audience.

First, we urge policy makers to accept that messages are global. Policy
makers must consider if/how messages and images could be reappropriated
by individuals who hold an antagonistic stance toward the
United States. Our second major policy recommendation reflects the harsh
reality of a global media environment. Policy makers should immediately
adopt a formal pre-release analysis and decision making process which
takes into account the likely effect of those messages on strategic cultures
such as those in the Middle East, in addition to the effect of those
messages on domestic audiences. Finally, we offer a suggestion based on
the specific issue of publicizing death photos of Jihad leaders. Decision
makers should seriously consider (1) preventing images of the dead from
mass circulation, (2) releasing information about the dead from non-US
sources, and (3) avoiding messages that portray the United States as
voyeuristic and/or barbaric.

The adoption of these three message strategies provide a framework that
accurately reflects the reality of global communications. In addition, the
third recommendation will have a positive impact in the specific scenario
of releasing information concerning dead Jihadi leaders. Together, these
policy recommendations represent general principles and a specific
application of those principles that will help the United States win the
Global War on Terrorism.