Journal of Experimental Criminology

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 117–139 | Cite as

Police legitimacy under the spotlight: media coverage of police performance in the face of a high terrorism threat

  • Revital Sela-Shayovitz



To examine the impact of terrorism threat on the media framing of police legitimacy.


A quasi-experimental, interrupted time-series design. The study analyzed press coverage of police legitimacy before and during the course of the Second Intifada in Israel between the years 1998 and 2007. Examination of the coverage of legitimacy was based on the framework of Tyler's process-based model, which evaluated data from 2,600 press reports culled from three major dailies in Israel.


The first period of the Second Intifada was found to have a significant and positive effect on the coverage of police legitimacy. Following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, there was a significant increase in media portrayals of public trust and confidence in the police.


The study provides new insight into the role of the media in shaping legitimacy under conditions of high terrorism threats. The results suggest that in the face of the highest level of terrorist attacks, the media stress coverage of public trust. Moreover, by underscoring the effectiveness of the police in counterterrorism policing, and in some cases even portraying the police force as heroic, the media reinforce police legitimacy. Future research is needed in this field. Expanding the analysis to additional variables such as the government view of the police and police spokespeople's strategies will enhance existing knowledge on the media coverage of police legitimacy.


Media coverage Terrorism threat Policing Police legitimacy Rally effect 



I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers, Professor David Weisburd, and Dr. Tal Jonathan-Zamir for their insightful and helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


  1. Altheide, D. L. (1985). Media power. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  2. Babbi, E. R. (2001). The practice of social research. Belmont. CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.Google Scholar
  3. Bayley, D. H. (1994). Police for the future. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bayley, D., & Weisburd, D. (2009). Cops and spooks: The role of the police in counterterrorism. In D. Weisburd, T. E. Feucht, I. Hakimi, M. L. Felson, & S. Perry (Eds.), To protect and to serve: Policing in the years of terrorism, and beyond. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  5. Box, G.E.P. and Jenkins, G.M. (1976), Time Series Analysis: Forecasting and Control. San Francisco: Holden-Day.Google Scholar
  6. Box, G.E.P., Jenkins, G.M., and Reinsel, G.C. (1994), Time Series Analysis: Forecasting and Control, Third Edition, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 197–199.Google Scholar
  7. Brodeur, J. P. (1983). High and low policing: Remarks about the policing of political activities. Social Problems, 30, 507–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chermak, S. & Weiss T. A. (2005). Maintaining legitimacy using external communication strategies: An analysis of police-media relations. Journal of Criminal Justice, 33, 501–512.Google Scholar
  9. Chermak, S., McGarrell, E., & Gruenewald, J. (2006). Media coverage of police misconduct and attitudes toward police. Policing: An International Journal of Policing & Strategies, 29, 261–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cook, T. D., & Campbell, D. T. (1979). Quasi-experimentation: Design and analysis for field settings. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
  11. Coser, L. A. (1956). The functions of social conflict. New York, NY: Free Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cromer , G. (2006 ). ‘Analogies to Terror: The Construction of Social Problems in Israel during the Intifada Al Aqsa’, Terrorism and Political Violence , 18, 389–98 .Google Scholar
  13. Deutsch, M. (1990). Psychological roots of moral exclusion. Journal of Social Issues, 46, 21–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dor, D. (2004). Intifada hits the headlines: How the Israeli press misreported the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising. Indiana: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Dor, D. (2005). The suppression of guilt: The Israeli media & the reoccupation of the West Bank. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  16. Entman, R. M. (2003). Cascading activation: Contesting the White House’s frame after 9/11. Political Communication, 20, 415–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ericsson, R. V. (1991). Mass media, crime, law, and justice: An institutional approach. The British Journal of Criminology, 31(3), 219–249.Google Scholar
  18. Fishman, G. (2005). Balanced police action between terror and maintaining public order: A summary of an era and challenges for coming years. (Israel: The Israel Democracy Institute, in Hebrew).Google Scholar
  19. Fox, R. L. & Robert W. Van Sickel. (2001). Tabloid Justice: Criminal Justice in an Age of Media Frenzy. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
  20. Gallagher, C., Maguire, E., Mastrofski, S. & Reisig, M. (2001). The public image of the police: Final report to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. (Manassas, VA: George Mason University, Administration of Justice Program) Available at:
  21. Hasisi, B., Alpert, G., & Flynn, D. (2009). The impacts of policing terrorism on society: Lessons from Israel and the US. In D. Weisburd, T. E. Feucht, I. Hakimi, M. L. Felson, & S. Perry (Eds.), To protect and to serve: Policing in the years of terrorism, and beyond. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  22. Herzog, S. (2003). Border closures as a reliable method for the measurement of Palestinian involvement in crime in Israel: A quasi-experimental analysis. International Journal of Comparative Criminology, 3, 18–41.Google Scholar
  23. Hetherington, M. J., & Nelson, M. (2003). Anatomy of a rally effect: George W. Bush and the war on terrorism. Political Science & Politics, 36, 37–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jonathan, T. (2010). Police involvement in counterterrorism and public attitudes toward the police in Israel: 1998–2007. British Journal of Criminology, 50, 748–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jonathan-Zamir, T. & Weisburd, D. (2011). The effects of security threats on antecedents of police legitimacy: Findings from a quasi-experiment in Israel. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency, 1–30.Google Scholar
  26. Krippendoff, K. (2004) Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology. California: Sage Publication.Google Scholar
  27. Korn, A. (2004). Reporting Palestinian casualties in the Israeli press: The case of Ha’aretz and the intifada. Journalism Studies, 5, 247–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lacy, S., Riffe, D., Stoddard, S., Martin, H., & Chang, K. (2000). Sample size for newspaper content analysis in multi-year studies. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 78, 836–845.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Landis, J. R., & Koch, G. G. (1977). The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics, 33, 159–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lawrence, R. (2000). The Politics of Force. Berkley, CA:University of California Press.Google Scholar
  31. Liebes, T., & Kampf, Z. (2007). Routinizing terror: Media coverage and public practices in Israel, 2000–2005. The Harvard International Journal of Politics, 12, 108–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Livingston, S. (1994). The terrorism spectacle. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  33. Loader, I. (1997). Policing and the social: Questions of symbolic power. British Journal of Sociology, 48, 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Loader, I., & Mulcahy, A. (2003). Policing and the condition of England: Memory, politics and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lovall, J. S. (2001). Police performances: Media power and impression management in contemporary policing. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. NJ: The State University of Rutgers.Google Scholar
  36. McCulloch, J., & Pickering, S. (2005). Suppressing the financing of terrorism: Proliferating state crime, eroding censure and extending neo-colonialism. British Journal of Criminology, 45, 470–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McCulloch, J. & Pickering, S. (2009). Pre-Crime and Counter –Terrorism Imagining Future Crime in the ‘ War on Terror’. British Journal of Criminology, 49(5), 628–645.Google Scholar
  38. Mesch, G. S., & Talmud, I. (1998). The influence of community characteristics on police performance in a deeply divided society: The case of Israel. Sociological Focus, 31, 233–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mueller, J. E. (1970). Presidential popularity from Truman to Johnson. American Political Science Review, 64, 18–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mueller, J. E. (1973). War, presidents and public opinion. New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  41. Nacos, B. L. (2002). Mass-mediated terrorism: The central role of the media in terrorism and counter-terrorism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  42. Nagata, D. (1993). Legacy of injustice. New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Norpoth, H. (1991). The popularity of the Thatcher government: A matter of war and economy. In H. Norpoth, M. S. Lewis-Beck, & J. D. Lafay (Eds.), Economics and politics: The calculus of support. MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  44. Norris, P., Marion, J., & Montague, K. (2003). Framing terrorism: Understanding terrorist threats and mass media. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  45. O’Reilly, C., & Graham, E. (2006). Eye spy private high: Re-conceptualizing high policing theory. British Journal of Criminology, 46, 641–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Parker, S.L. (1995). Towards an understanding of “Rally” Effects Public Opinion in the Persian Gulf War. Public Opinion, 59(4), 526–546.Google Scholar
  47. Reiner, R. (1998). Process or product? Problem of assessing individual police performance. In J. P. Brodeur (Ed.), How to recognize good policing: Problems and issues. CA: Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  48. Reiner R. ( 2000). The Politics of the Police. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Reisig, M. D., & Lloyd, C. (2009). Procedural justice, police legitimacy, and helping the police fight crime. Results from a survey of Jamaican adolescents. Police Quarterly, 12(1), 41–62.Google Scholar
  50. Reisig, M. D., & Chandek, M. (2001). The effects of expectancy disconfirmation on outcome satisfaction in police-citizen encounters. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 24, 88–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Reisig, M. D., & Mesko, G. M. (2009). Procedural justice, legitimacy, and prisoner misconduct. Psychology, Crime & Law, 15(1), 41–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Reisig, M., Bratton, J., & Gertz, M. (2007). The construct validity and refinement of process-based policing measures. Criminal Justice & Behavior, 34, 1005–1028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Riffe, D., Aust, C. F., & Lacy, S. R. (1993). The effectiveness of random, consecutive day and constructed week samples in newspaper content analysis. Journalism Quarterly, 70, 133–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Riffe, D., Lacy, S., & Fico, F. G. (2005). Analyzing media messages: Using quantitative content analysis in research. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Association Inc.Google Scholar
  55. Ruigrok, N., & Van Atteveldt, V. V. (2007). Global angling with a local angle: How US, British and Dutch newspapers frame global and local terrorist attacks. Charleston, SC: Booksurge Publishers.Google Scholar
  56. Ryan, M. (2004). Framing the war against terrorism: US newspaper editorials and military action in Iraq. Gazette, 66, 363–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sela-Shayovitz, R. (2007). Female suicide bombers: Israeli newspaper reporting and the public construction. Criminal Justice Studies, 20, 197–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sidel, M. (2004). More secure, less free? Antiterrorism Policy and Civil Liberties after September 11. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  59. Sigelman, L., & Conover, P. J. (1981). The dynamics of presidential support during international conflict situations. Political Behavior, 3, 303–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Simmel, G. (1955). Conflict and the web of group affiliations. New York, NY: Free Press.Google Scholar
  61. Sullivan, J., Piereson, J., & Marcus, G. E. (1982). Political tolerance and American democracy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  62. Sunshine, J., & Tyler, T. R. (2003). The role of procedural justice and legitimacy in shaping public support for policing. Law & Society Review, 37, 513–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Surette, R. (1998). Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice: Images and Realities, 2nd. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  64. Surette, R. (2001). Public information officers: The civilianization of a criminal justice profession. Journal of Criminal Justice, 29, 107–117.Google Scholar
  65. Tankebe, J. (2009). Public cooperation with the police in Ghana: Does procedural fairness matter? Criminology, 47, 1265–1293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Thacher, D. (2005). The local role in homeland security. Law & Society Review, 39, 635–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tyler, T. R. (1990). Why people obey the law. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Tyler, T. R. (2001). Public trust and confidence in legal authorities: What do majority and minority group members want from legal authorities? Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 19, 215–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Tyler, T. R. (2004). Enhancing police legitimacy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science, May, 593–608.Google Scholar
  70. Tyler, T., & Fagan, J. (2006). Legitimacy and cooperation: Why do people help the police fight crime in their communities? Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper Group. (Paper No. 06–99). New York: Columbia Law School.Google Scholar
  71. Tyler, T. R., & Huo, Y. J. (2002). Trust in the law. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  72. Tyler, T., Schulhofer, S., & Huq, A. Z. (2010). Legitimacy and deterrence effects in counterterrorism policing: A study of Muslim Americans. Law & Society Review, 44, 365–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tyler, T. R., & Smith, H. J. (1997). Social justice and social movements. In D. T. Gilbert, S. Fiske, & L. Gardner (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology. New York, NY: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  74. Weimann, G., & Winn, C. (1994). The theater of terror: Mass media and international terrorism. New York, NY, & London, UK: Longman.Google Scholar
  75. Weisburd, D., Hasisi, B., Jonathan, T., & Aviv, G. (2010). Terrorist threats and police performance: A study of Israeli communities. British Journal of Criminology, 50, 725–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Weisburd, D., Jonathan, T., & Perry, S. (2009). The Israeli model for policing terrorism: Goals, strategies and open questions. Criminal Justice & Behavior, 36, 1259–1278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Weitzer, R. (2002). Perceptions of racial profiling: Race, class, and personal experience. Criminology, 40, 435–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Weitzer, R., & Tuch, S. A. (2004). Race and perceptions of police misconduct. Social Problems, 51, 305–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wilkinson, P. (2001). Terrorism versus democracy: The liberal state response. UK: Frank Cass Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.David Yellin Academic College and Institute of Criminology, Faculty of LawThe Hebrew University of JerusalemMevasseret ZionIsrael

Personalised recommendations