I was twelve years old, standing outside in the brisk Tucson morning air waiting with a classmate for my art teacher to open the door. My classmate’s name was Ed, and he had a mental disorder. Ed babbled and mumbled at me with varying facial expressions something about towers falling, but I didn’t really understand him. I smiled and nodded, wondering if he even knew what he was talking about. Classmates accumulated around us, and Ed continued his babbling to the new ears. Finally my teacher arrived, more rushed than usual. She opened the door, and immediately turned on the T.V. to a news station. I looked at the screen with confusion and naivety. I guess Ed was right; The Twin Towers were falling because a plane crashed into them. I didn’t know what the Twin Towers were, but as I watched the Breaking News reports and assessed the emotional turmoil of my classmates, I was pretty sure something was going on. Something big.

Watching the news that day was my first dose of global reality. It was like my right of passage to this grown-up world of patriotism, politics, and foreign relations. No longer could I exist as a child, carefree and naïve to the world around me. I was immersed and I couldn’t ignore it. But it wasn’t just me who was thrust into this new world scene. No, it was really the whole nation, too. The United States seems to go through waves of “paying attention” to what’s going on internationally. Our nation was established by separating itself from Britain, and continued its isolation through the Monroe Doctrine. As America grew, its international influence increased, but the isolationist mentality continued. As time went on, interspersed periods of international conflict prodded at our attention, but we were reluctant to give it until it was forcibly taken. Even as World War II unfolded, the United States passed the Neutrality Acts of 1935, until the Attack on Pearl Harbor spurred our entrance into the War (World War II). When conflict dies down, we again turned inward to our American bubble of mass consumerism, putting our fingers in our ears and humming. For some reason, we had this false concept that we can simultaneously be a superpower, yet remain distant from the realities of world affairs. Nine-eleven jolted us from our daydreaming.

The news media took on a new reporting focus. Analysis of nightly newscast content documents America’s shift from the internal to the external focus. Statistics show an increase in foreign news coverage and a decrease in domestic. Below are a table and a diagram demonstrating the changes in time devoted to each topic on ABC, NBC, and CBS (2002-2005 vs. 1997-2000).

Coverage Change
Terrorism 135%
US Foreign Policy 102%
Wars & Armed Conflict 69%
Foreign Dateline Stories 54%
Hard News 2%
DC Bureau Stories* 1%
Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco – 66%
Space, Science & Technology – 50%
Crime, Penal Policy & Law Enforcement – 47%
Federal Domestic Politics (non-electoral) – 17%
Soft News (features, interviews, commentary) – 5%

both images: Source: Andrew Tyndall, www.tyndallreport.com * DC Bureau includes stories with correspondents reporting from the White House, Capitol Hill, Pentagon, DoJ, State Dept., Supreme Court etc. * Figures reflect changes in minutes of coverage on all 3 networks combined on their weekday nightly newscasts

One must ask why Nine-eleven prompted such drastic change in news’ agendas. The Journalism.org article entitled “How 9-11 Changed the Evening News,” claims that “following a period in which news organizations cut back on foreign bureaus and de-emphasized geopolitical coverage, the events of 9-11 have reinforced the old Cold War truism that the first responsibility of the nightly newscast is to determine whether our world is safe that day.” Surely determining whether our world is safe on any given day does not account for such drastic change in reporting content. There must be other players. Brigitte Nacos, author of “Mass-Mediated Terrorism” suggests that one factor for why the media continue to place such emphasis on terrorism is simply because it sells. As she states in her book,

As long as terrorists offer visuals and sound bites, drama, threats, and human interest tales, the news media will report – and actually over-report – on their actions and causes at the expense of other and more important news. Terrorism fits into the infotainment mold that the news media increasingly prefers and offers villains and heroes the promise to attract new audiences and keep existing ones. Here the news is not different from the entertainment industry, which thrives on villains and heroes in its search for box-office hits. (8)

Villains, heroes, drama, passion, religion, and a global audience: what more could you want in an action-thriller of the decade? But still, it’s deeper than just infotainment. What lies at the heart of reporting on terrorism is fear. By reporting, journalists both ease the fear of the unknown, and yet incite fear of terrorism. Terrorists revel in our fear because our fear is what gives them their power (Smith). The journalism.org article continues to explain the shift from domestic to foreign coverage as a result of the shift of the source of fear. Tyndall Report publisher Andrew Tyndall states that “although subjects such as drugs and crime were the traditional ways of making people frightened, they are easily trumped by terrorism.” And so journalists, too, wield their power from inciting fear of terrorism, because that’s what keeps the public nursing from the media. The terrorists, the media, and the public, dance in an intertwining web of information driven by fear.

Fear stemming from terrorism had one initial impact: patriotism. Immediate coverage after the attacks on September 11th often highlighted themes of heroism, unity, and charity. Stories of the firefighters’ bravery, New Yorkers relying on each other for support, and even small acts, like a child emptying a piggy bank into a relief fund, spread virally throughout the media. This wave of patriotism presented a dilemma for journalism. Journalists have often claimed to be unbiased parties, presenting the facts, and therefore keeping politics in check, yet, “notions of patriotism are often at odds with one of the key roles of the press, that of the political watchdog” (Barnett, 143). Many journalists temporarily abandoned their posts as political watchdogs in favor of patriotic fever to help heal the nation.

Shockwaves of patriotism, astonishment, and outrage resonated all over the world, along with altered perceptions of the United States. The Times of India reflected the same astonishment and outrage by running articles headed “Dastardly Attack,” “Foreigners in the city stunned at US attack,” “RSS chief condemns attack on USA,” and “All religion prayer meeting US attack victims.” Yet, the Times of India was also prompt to express concerns about the global effects of America’s fresh wound.  September 13, 2001 headlines include “Attack on America may hit aid,” “Global economy recoils from attack,” and “’Indian insurers may be hit after US attack.” The United States’ weakness and vulnerability echoed in Kenya, where my pen pal, Paul Muchiri Muturi, whose brother was in the States at the time, recounts after seeing the news on CNN International, “It was sad to see it attacked and the loss of lives. On the other hand it just shows how all of us are vulnerable to such attacks.” Both The Times of India and Paul expressed positive sentiment towards the attacks. Paul expressed faith in the United States’ strength by saying, “what I was certain about is that America will retaliate in some way because it’s the world’s super power.” By September 13th, headlines for The Times of India read “`Attack will open world’s eyes to PM’s view’.” This article begins by stating “Tuesday’s terrorist attack on America is highly condemnable, and has opened the eyes of the world.” The article continues with “they will now support Prime Minister Vajpayee’s view…” regarding his effort to “curb terrorism” in all parts of the world. The Times of India targeted the attacks as a positive turning point in global awareness of terrorism, and therefore our ability to combat it.

Due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the United State’s retaliation, and international news coverage on terrorism, the U.S.’s position in the world has changed. It is at the forefront, and the public can’t hide or deny anymore.

Works Cited

“Attack Will Open World’s Eyes to PM’s View.” The Times of India. 13 Sept. 2001. Web. 3 Feb. 2010.

Barnett, Brooke, Amy Reynolds. “Terrorism and the Press: an Uneasy Relationship.” New York: P. Lang, 2009.

“How 9-11 Change the Evening News.” Journalism.org. Project for Excellence in Journalism. 11 Sept. 2006. Web. 3 Feb. 2010.

Nacos, Brigitte L. “Mass-Mediated Terrorism The Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counterterrorism.” New York: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 2007.

Smith, Paul J. “The Terrorism Ahead Confronting Transnational Violence in the Twenty-first Century.” Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2007.

“World War II: The Road to War.” Films Media Group, 2004. Films On Demand. Web. 04 February 2010. <http://digital.films.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/play/T4EZTS>.