The mass media play a large role in the public perception and acceptance of criminal behaviour by the United States of America. Public acceptance of illegal actions by the US government in the Iraq War, as well as steps taken to combat terrorism, have been influenced by entertainment media content and media logic about crime and fear. The focus of the article is on the cultural and mass communication contexts that have promoted fear of crime on the one hand, while also justifying illegal state actions to combat crime — and now terrorism — on the other. Propaganda and news management (e.g. the military-media complex and the failure of journalism) contribute to a discourse of fear and symbolic negation of the ‘other’ — as criminal or terrorist — and, in the process, valorize criminal conduct as necessary and heroic.

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