This article is concerned with the development of an analytic strategy to construct U.S. cultural models of war and terrorism, which are ‘mediatized’ or significantly shaped by the media. Central to that strategy are repair cues to non-understanding as heuristics in intercultural encounters. These are applied to an inherently mediatized discursive ‘reality’ of war and terrorism. Theoretically, I synthesize sociolinguistic and anthropological perspectives into a ‘meta-oriented sociolinguistics’, which analytically focuses on the meta-dimension of discourse. The strategy is applied to a text on war and terrorism from the New York Times, to demonstrate its utility. Furthermore, I provide implications for enhancing validity in the ethnography of mediatized discourse. Specific to the findings of this article, I suggest that corpus studies of media discourse should be conducted on the metadiscursive keywords kamikaze, surprise attacks, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 in particular temporal frames.