The Oxygen of Publicity: Explaining U.S. Media Coverage of International Kidnapping
What explains U.S. media coverage of Americans kidnapped abroad? While some hostages receive national media attention, others hardly make the local news. Using an original, event count dataset of newspaper stories about Americans kidnapped abroad since 2001, this article tests the oft-cited, under-measured assumption that “terrorism” receives more media attention than other violence. Controlling for variation across kidnapping, I show that those framed as “terrorism” receive more coverage. Challenging existing literature, I also demonstrate that incidents with more victims receive less coverage than those incidents with fewer victims, and that there is no “missing white woman syndrome” in international kidnapping.
Published in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol 46, No. 5 (2023): 618-639. Paper available here | PDF available here | Online appendix available here | Dataset available here | Codebook available here.
No Man Left Behind? Hostage Deservingness and the Politics of Hostage Recovery (with Lauren Prather, under review)
Kidnappings of soldiers, journalists, aid workers, and other civilians by armed groups happen every day. Yet, the politics of hostage recovery remains relatively understudied. Whether and how governments choose to recover their citizens varies widely, as does public sentiment about bringing hostages home. To explain this variation, we develop a theory of hostage deservingness. We argue that deservingness is determined by the circumstance of capture—particularly whether hostages are perceived to be to blame for their capture—and that more deserving hostages receive more public support for risky rescue operations. Our multi-method approach to hypothesis testing includes the use of survey experiments embedded in two different nationally representative surveys of Americans and 22 elite interviews with current and former senior hostage recovery personnel. Across our experiments, we find that when hostages are described as not to blame for their capture, support for recovery is at its highest. However, when capture occurs under circumstances that suggest the hostage bears responsibility, support for recovery decreases. Despite official U.S. government policy that the circumstances of capture are irrelevant to recovery decisions, our interviews show that notions of deservingness (and the public’s approval of hostages) matter a great deal in the hostage recovery process. We demonstrate that policymakers are similarly susceptible to notions of deservingness, yielding substantial internal debate about recovery options. Moreover, policymakers adapt their messaging to avoid backlash from recovering less sympathetic hostages or failing to recover those seen as more deserving.
Working paper available here. | Appendix available here.