Terrorism and its mentions

Does The New York Times devote its attention proportionally to the issue? It depends on the reader. I took the fraction of articles mentioning “terrorism” and “terrorist” from from NYT Chronicle and compared it with the number of actual terrorist attacks and casualties from the Global Terrorism Database.

More attacks, less attention

(attacks for 1993 are missing in the GTD)

Total casualties don’t matter

Only casualties among US citizens matter

The last two charts show that The NYT ignores terrorist attacks in general. While terrorism casualties are at their peak, the newspaper devotes to them only 1/3 of the 9/11 volume.


The New York Times evolved over time in words and topics (onetwo). And so did the US Congress.

To track topics in the congressional agenda, I compared the word frequency in bill titles over the last 40 years (see Appendix for details):

Education surges in the recent years, while health care does not

Health care takes about 18% of US GDP, but the US Congress mentions it only 400 times a year in its bill titles.

Security happens to be more important than freedom

About ten times more important. But the two correlate, so one serves another in certain contexts.

China replaces the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union appears in US Congress documents after 1991, when it ceased to exist. But China became popular around that time. The EU is less so, mainly because it’s still treated as two dozens of independent states, not a single union.

Unemployment periodically becomes an issue

Unemployment gets moderate attention (about 1/20th of “security”). Congresspersons ignore inflation, while the NYT devotes lot of attention to both and clearly prefer talking more about inflation:

Appendix: Data and replication

The US Congress bill titles are available from two sources:

NYT-speak continued

The New York Times’ choice of words tells much about history and the media. As seen before, their Chronicle shows great snapshots of the newspaper’s wording evolution.

Here, a few more cases.

Information sourcing

As Robert Fisk once noted, the media now rely more on what officials said, rather than sourcing news by themselves. That’s a confirmation:

Money and knowledge in crises

Though in general money and knowledge move in the same directions, money moves in greater magnitudes. Also, notice that in the Great Depression, as well as in the Great Recession, the NYT mentioned money less frequently. And the opposite happened during stagflation in the 70s.

Inflation and unemployment

Mentions of unemployment and inflation went in different directions before the 70s: right until the economy happened to have both. But it was a short period and right now there’re no mutual relations (at least, in wording).

In- and equality

Inequality never was an issue for the NYT. Even in the late 20s, when inequality was extremely high. So, it’s a new topic. Meanwhile, previous mentions of equality are generally associated with civil rights movements, as in the 60s.

“Make war, not love”

At its peak, war themes took up to 30% of the newspaper materials. But local wars, like Iraq and Afghanistan, never draw so much attention.

Referring to minorities

A similar graph was in the previous post, but here changes in wording are clearer. Especially right after the Civil War, when politicians no longer needed support from the black population, and one hundred years later, when politicians and media had to update their vocabulary.

Sports becoming more popular

Changes in NYT-speak

The New York Times released a tool for tracking words in the newspaper’s historical issues. Google had done this for all books published after 1500, but NYT is a reputable source, and it’s interesting to compare the results.

Civil Rights Movement in the 60s

The African-American minority remains discriminated and after the 1960, but the media changed their policies in telling stories about it:

Democracy on War

Mentions of “democracy” hike during international conflicts to mobilize the population:

Ideological enemies

You have an instant peak as the enemy appears, but gradually the topic comes out of fashion. Also, Communism lasted a little longer, though it’s nothing compared to the mass media’s reaction to 9/11. That’s interesting because the Cuban Missile Crisis and other Cold War conflicts were far more dangerous than anything Bin Laden could do.
The Times started preferring different wording for Nazis before Hitler disclosed his plans in 1939:

National priorities

After being a marginal topic for almost a century, security took over 12.5% of the Times’ publications (while security in fact increased over the same period). Values like freedom remained at stable 2.5% for over 150 years: