Terrorexpertise:Major World Newspapers - Orientation Analysis

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Having compiled a list of the top 100 experts appearing in major world print media, we were interested to analyse to what extent these expert did or did not challenge the dominant state narrative of the ‘war on terror’.

We consider the dominant state narrative as the idea that the United States and its allies are at war with a global organisation called ‘Al-Qaeda’, which along with affiliated groups is waging an essentially apolitical war against ‘Western values’ or the Western ‘way of life’. In this narrative the ‘terrorists’ are irrational – being motivated by hatred and religious dogmatism – implacable and unscrupulous. Given the nature and scale of the threat, the ‘terrorists’ should be met with aggressive military action abroad and repressive policies at home.

We divided the experts into three broad categories based on the extent to which they challenged this narrative.

Category A: These experts tend not to challenge any aspect of the above narrative. We included in this category experts who might criticise specific decisions in the ‘war on terror’ but nevertheless do not challenge any aspect of the narrative. For example, we consider some individuals who have criticised the Iraq War as a distraction or as counterproductive, as fitting into this category (e.g. Benjamin, Simon).

Category B: These experts tend to challenge at least part of the above narrative. They might question the existence of a coherent organisation called ‘Al-Qaeda’ (e.g. Burke), or suggest an alternative understanding of the causes of ‘terrorism’ such as injustice or poverty (e.g. Krueger, McKinley). They might seek to portray ‘terrorists’ as rational actors motivated by political grievances (e.g. Pape), or warn against aggressive military action (e.g. Peña, Reeve) or the curtailment of civil liberties (e.g. Wright-Neville, Lynch).

Category C: These experts tend to reject the above narrative altogether, instead presenting a critical analysis of Western state policy. They might suggest alternative motives of Western states based on economic and geopolitical ambitions rather than safety and security, or focus on acts of ‘terrorism’ committed by Western states.

Critical Orientation of Experts from the Major World Newspapers List

No. Name of Expert Category A Category B Category C
1 Rohan Gunaratna ×    
2 Noam Chomsky     ×
3 Sidney Jones ×    
4 Clive Williams ×    
5 Francis Fukuyama ×    
6 Daniel Pipes ×    
7 Paul Wilkinson ×    
8 Jason Burke   ×  
9 Avi Dichter ×    
10 Anthony Cordesman ×    
11 Alan Dershowitz ×    
12 Bruce Hoffman ×    
13 Peter Bergen ×    
14 Robert Baer   ×  
15 Arnaud de Borchgrave ×    
16 Michael Clarke ×    
17 Jonathan Evans ×    
18 Magnus Ranstorp ×    
19 Irwin Cotler ×    
20 Daniel Benjamin ×    
21 Michael Scheuer   ×  
22 Zachary Abuza ×    
23 David Capitanchik ×    
24 John Thompson ×    
25 Simon Reeve   ×  
26 Wesley Wark ×    
27 Frances Townsend ×    
28 David Charters ×    
29 Kevin Toolis   ×  
30 Tariq Ramadan   ×  
31 Steve Emerson ×    
32 Steve Simon ×    
33 Paul Beaver ×    
34 Larry Johnson   ×  
35 Brian Jenkins ×    
36 Rita Katz ×    
37 David Wright-Neville   × 
38 Olivier Roy ×    
39 Michael Ledeen ×    
40 Robert Pape   ×  
41 Lawrence Eagleburger ×    
42 Boaz Ganor ×    
43 Paul Rogers   ×  
44 Mike Yardley ×    
45 Fouad Ajami ×    
46 Paul Pillar ×    
47 Conor Cruise O'Brien ×    
48 Jessica Stern   ×  
49 Patrick Clawson ×    
50 Graham Allison ×    
51 Michael Osterholm ×    
52 Peter Power ×    
53 John O'Connor ×    
54 Matthew Levitt ×    
55 Michael McKinley   ×  
56 Mustafa Alani ×    
57 Stephen Schwartz ×    
58 Louise Richardson   ×  
59 Evan Kohlmann ×    
60 Anthony Glees ×    
61 Laurie Mylroie ×    
62 Bruce Riedel ×    
63 Nick Kaldas ×    
64 John Sifton   ×  
65 Jeane Kirkpatrick ×    
66 Neil Doyle ×    
67 Donald Henderson ×    
68 Jonathan Stevenson ×    
69 Irwin Redlener ×    
70 Charles Pena   ×  
71 Dan Plesch   ×  
72 Tara O'Toole ×    
73 Michael Walzer   ×  
74 Daniel Byman ×    
75 Walter Laqueur ×    
76 Adam Roberts   ×  
77 Marc Sageman   ×  
78 Jusuf Wanandi ×    
79 Athol Yates ×    
80 Crispin Black ×    
81 Rachel Ehrenfeld ×    
82 Andrew Lynch   ×  
83 Rolf Tophoven ×    
84 Alan Krueger   ×  
85 Roger Cressey ×    
86 Jack Goldsmith ×    
87 Alex Standish ×    
88 Cass Sunstein   ×  
89 Charles Shoebridge ×    
90 Scott Atran   ×  
91 Seth Jones ×    
92 Yonah Alexander ×    
93 David Claridge ×    
94 Fred Halliday   ×  
95 David Kilcullen   ×  
96 Kevin Rosser ×    
97 Ariel Merari ×    
98 Carl Ungerer ×    
99 Bruce Ackerman   ×  
100 Michael Chandler ×    


Pie chart showing the relative prominence of our three categories of experts. Non-critical experts are shown to dominate the major world print media

We considered 73 of the top 100 experts to be in ‘Category A’, 26 in ‘Category B’, and only one in ‘Category C’. The dominance of ‘Category A’ is even more pronounced than these figures would suggest. Only three of the ‘Category B’ experts appeared in the top twenty (although Noam Chomsky the one ‘Category C’ expert does appear in the top 10). The dominance of non-critical experts over partially critical experts is more pronounced if you consider how dramatic the differences in appearances are between the experts at the top and bottom of our top 100 list.

A way of representing this by comparing the total number of appearances by ‘Category A’, and ‘Category B’ experts in the study. In total ‘Category A’ experts appeared in 13,668 articles, whilst ‘Category B’ experts appeared in a total of 3,411. Noam Chomsky, the only ‘Category C’ expert, featured in 788 articles. In percentage terms, appearances by ‘Category A’ experts made up approximately 77 per cent of the total, with ‘Category B’ and ‘Category C’ making up approximately 19 and four per cent respectively. [1] These results are represented in the graph on the right.

Because Noam Chomsky appeared to be somewhat of an anomaly (being a ‘Category C’ expert and appearing at number two in the list) we examined his appearances more closely, focusing on the articles returned in the last year of our seven year time period.

A search of the Lexis Nexis Major World Newspaper group for articles mentioning terrorism and Noam Chomsky during 2007 returned 78 articles. [2] None of those articles included any consideration of Chomsky’s views on terrorism or political violence, and the great majority of them mentioned him only in passing. 54 articles mentioned Chomsky in only one sentence, and 30 of those mentioned his name alongside another individual or other individuals. He was directly quoted in only six articles. [3]

Of course it is to be expected that Chomsky is less widely quoted than other individuals in the study since his work is not limited to terrorism but covers broader issues. A useful point of comparison therefore is Alan Dershowitz. Like Chomsky, Dershowitz is a US academic who comments widely on foreign policy issues including terrorism and counterterrorism. Though in other ways comparable, we consider Dershowitz to be in our ‘Category A’.

A similar search of the Lexis Nexis Major World Newspaper group for articles mentioning terrorism and Alan Dershowitz during 2007 returned 41 articles. [4] 21 articles mentioned Dershowitz in only one sentence, and six of those mentioned his name alongside another individual or individuals. He was directly quoted in 14 articles.

A comparison of these two sets of results would seem to suggest that Dershowitz is given more favourable coverage than Chomsky. 69 per cent of the articles mentioning Chomsky did so only in one sentence, and 56 per cent of those mentioned his name alongside another individual or other individuals. 51 per cent of the articles mentioning Alan Dershowitz mentioned him in one sentence and only 29 per cent of those mentioned his name alongside another individual or individuals.

Chomsky was directly quoted in 8 percent of articles, whilst Dershowitz was directly quoted in 34 per cent of articles. Of those articles where Chomsky was quoted, the average total word count of quotations was 24 words, whilst the average total quotations from Dershowitz was 72 words – exactly three times greater.

Another aspect worth noting is that many of the articles mentioning Chomsky also included extremely critical comments. Articles accused him for example of “infantile solipsism and self-hating nihilism”, of “feed[ing] into the rising tide of worldwide anti-Semitism”, [5] of “convoluted yammering about foreign policy” [6] and “flights to a separate reality”. [7] Dershowitz despite having controversially advocated the use of torture barely received any criticism. The most critical comment from the sample appeared in the Washington Times where he was accused of failing to acknowledge the complexity of the debate over the Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. [8] Finally it is worth noting that Google searches suggest that Chomsky is by far the most influential figure in our analysis of experts on the internet. [9]


  1. Though the ‘Category A’ has been rounded up to 77 per cent to make up the percentage figures, it should be noted that in fact the calculation fell below the decimal point at 76.4
  2. Search conducted on 5 December 2008 with the following search terms: Noam Chomsky AND terrorism OR terrorist OR suicide bomb* (>=2007-01-01 and <=2007-12-01)
  3. We included quotations from texts as well as published op-eds or letters.
  4. Search conducted on 8 December 2008 with the following search terms: Alan Dershowtiz AND terrorism OR terrorist OR suicide bomb* (>=2007-01-01 and <=2007-12-01)
  5. Jerusalem Report, 19 March 2007
  6. Toronto Sun, 5 February 2007
  7. Washington Post, 2 September 2007
  8. Washington Times, 11 September 2007
  9. see Terrorexpertise:Internet List