This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
Media Framing in Terrorism Cases
While researching Ismail Hamad’s case, I noticed a very distinct difference in how media sources depicted the 18-year-old immediately after this crime in January, 2019, versus how even the same media source portrayed him earlier this month when he was released from jail to await his May 2020 trial at home instead. An article, MCSO: 18-year-old terror suspect shot by MCSO charged with 2 counts of terrorism from ABC 15, Arizona News on January 16th, 2019: “An 18-year-old man who was shot by a deputy from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Fountain Hills earlier this month has been charged with two counts of terrorism and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records.”
Here, Hamad is called “an 18-year-old man” who is associated with a terroristic act, a little over a week after the crime. Let’s now look at a quote from another ABC 15, Arizona News article, Fountain Hills teen charged with terrorism released from jail prior to trial, on October 4th, the day Hamad was released from jail: “Ismail Hamed, the Fountain Hills teen charged with two counts of terrorism and one count of aggravated assault after threatening an MCSO deputy with a knife, was released Friday as he awaits trial.”
In this opening sentence, we can see Hamad being portrayed as a teenager who was charged with acts of terrorism, instead of a man who was charged with terrorism. Additionally, the images associated with both articles are very telling as well. In the January article, the shown image of Hamad is one where he has a full beard, and he looks much older (see above), versus in the video clip we see of Hamad being released from jail, he has no beard and is being led to the car (see below).
This difference in how ABC 15, Arizona News depicted Hamad in their January article versus in their October article is an example of how the media is able to frame a story in a different way in order to push an underlying storyline. Aysel Morin explains in her article Framing Terror: The Strategies Newspapers Use to Frame an Act as Terror or Crime, how much of an effect the media can have on how the public views a defendant in a terrorism case with the example of two almost identical shootings where one man was claimed to be an Islamic terrorist and the other was mentally ill. The media coverage of the “Islamic terrorist” focused on the defendant’s identities of being a Muslim American and his ethnicity. Contrastingly, the coverage of the “mentally ill” defendant took the shooter mostly out of the picture, and instead focused on mental health and gun control. This difference in how the media portrayed both of the shooters strongly influenced how each defendant was viewed by the public.
This same idea of using a different media frame can also be applied to Ismail Hamad’s case as well as we see a difference in how a news source is portraying him. Even though with Hamad’s case, the varying news articles are from the same media source and their are describing the same defendant, the difference in their word choice and provided images make a large difference. By depicting Hamad as a teen who was charged with terrorism, the emphasis is on adolescence which is then associated with innocence, instead of the initial portrayals of him being a man, which insinuates that a man is more capable of making their own choices, and thus cannot have the same veil of innocence that a teenager can.
While further research would need to be done on this topic, it would be likely that this difference in media portrayal of Ismail Hamad may affect how a jury views him in his court case. This could then in turn affect his sentencing and overall how he treated within the court system, as we are already beginning to see by the fact that he was released from jail to await his court date at home instead.