Threat from the White House: Using corpus linguistics to look at White House press briefings

nsa word cloud

Since the intelligence breach by Edward Snowden at the National Security Agency in the United States, I’ve been interested in the messages coming out of the White House to counter the claims made concerning the issues surrounding the widespread surveillance which has been taking place.

For this study, I have looked at a corpus of texts of transcription of press briefings given by the house from June 2013 until January 2014. This gave me a corpus of 1,142,774 tokens.

When I looked at the most frequent non-function words, I found the following:

president (8,315), people (3,122), house (2,335), congress (2,002), government (1,985), states (1,758), united (1,670), care (1,611), right (1,526), security (1,496), work (1,468), important (1,441), insurance (1,400), republicans (1,352), American (1,324), white (1,311), health (1,259), president’s (1,254), affordable (1,246), issue (1,171)

By looking at the most frequent non-function words, it appears that the White House briefings contained a large amount of information related to the health care insurance program which the Obama administration has been trying to implement. It was quite interesting that the issues related to the NSA revelations were not more prominent, although the word security may have been used in relation to this issue.



security interests

Although security was prominent, I want to focus on the usage of another word within the corpus: threat. Lemmas of this word occurred 629 times.



threat that

Not all threat were associated with terrorism, as economic issues and concerns were also discussed in terms of threat. However, when looking at the collocates of the lemma THREAT, terrorism does appear to be a major concern.

collocates of threat

threat is

By looking at the selected concordance lines above, threat is described as vague, current, changing, imminent, real, significant, ongoing, and global.

What the threat actually consists of is not apparent in these concordance lines, but the administration appears to consider them all good reasons to allow the NSA to keep going with its work.