With the attacks of September 11th, news media around the world was given a unique platform from which to inform the public about the dramatic events unfolding in the heart of New York City, the fields of Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. The normal daily news cycle was interrupted, giving television audiences 24-hour, wall-to-wall coverage in which normal programming and advertising restraints were lifted. (McDonald, 2004) With this increasingly large ‘news hole’, Americans and people around the world saw images of disaster, eyewitness testimonies, and government officials along with countless other stories intended to fill the information void. Given the unusually large amount of time alloted for media coverage immediately following 9/11, the American media response became increasingly focused on giving reports that limited the scope to just the disaster, leaving out a larger context in which the events could be viewed through. American media also tended to promote a government-supported framing of the events, which in turn was either challenged or reflected in countries around the world.

What 9/11 provided was the unique opportunity to see how the media responded to a situation with little to no preparation. Because the news was so unexpected, the media was forced to frame events as they unfolded. (Xigen&Izard, 2003) In a study of the prime-time (7pm-11pm) broadcasts of the American networks ABC, NBC, and CNN in the 3 days following the September 11th attacks, the average time of a news segment increased to 5.3 minutes compared with the usual 1 minute and 20 second news report.(McDonald, 2004) With this extra time, news reports could be taken much more in-depth than normal, adding valuable elements like historical perspective and context. However, the findings of the same study showed that 62% of the 36 hours worth of programming and 502 segments was dedicated to episodic coverage. By definition, episodic news segments “focused on discrete events, did not place those events in larger context, lacked any discussion of historical consequence or causes, and did not consider larger, more general consequences of events.”(2004) What this showed was that even with increased time, the news broadcasts kept to their usual format of relaying key facts and showing live footage with anchor commentary. Broadcasts rarely went in-depth to provide more thematic, contextual information to further the audiences understanding of the news events taking place.

When the American news media covered the attacks on September the 11th, it pushed several key framings of the events by focusing more coverage to certain areas. In a sample of 8 U.S. newspapers (including the NY Times and Washington Post), and 5 television networks (including CBS, CNN, and FOX), news segments tended to fall into the categories of ‘disaster’ and ‘political’. In television news, 44% of stories focused on disaster, while 22% were focused on political implications. In the newspaper samples, political and disaster focuses each accounted for 23% of the total stories written.(Xigen&Izard, 2003) With much of the television coverage being dedicated to disaster images, the public was left with iconic photos and video footage depicting the planes hitting the towers and the dramatic events that followed. “Undoubtedly and understandably, the networks were drawn to the dramatic visual images associated with the destruction of the World Trade Center and to the poignant images of human suffering, hope, and courage in the days that followed.” (McDonald, 2004)

With many stories taking the political angle after 9/11, government officials became a primary source for the media to use. In the study involving both the newspaper and television mediums, government officials were used in 40% of written stories and 18% of television segments.(2003) The use of government statements was relied upon heavily as the watchdog role of the U.S. media became abandoned in support of patriotism.  What this indicates is that the government was essentially provided a platform through which to frame the terrorist attacks:

“Relying heavily on official sources, CNN’s coverage showed a clear, dominant frame consisting of three thematic clusters that involved war and military response, American unity, and justification. Keywords within the war and military response and justification cluster included statements referring to the United States more frequently as ‘America’ instead of ‘the United States’ and using the words war and an act of war to describe the attack, labeling the event as ‘horrific’ and ‘unbelievable.’” (Ruigrok&Atteveldt, 2007)

In talking with my pen-pal Andrew from Greece, he seemed to echo this very same sentiment: “What I remember clearly and [what] impressed me at the time though, was President Bush who spoke on tv and he seemed to be using the language that brings a nation together, the kind of language you’d use in the face of a great threat.” In framing the post-9/11 reaction with patriotic terms, the American government was essentially depicting itself in a battle with “terrorism” in a general sense. “The Bush administration ‘sold’ its policies to the world by defining it’s position in opposition to that of the generic ‘terrorists’: You can’t agree with the terrorist’s belief system, so you must come on board with us.” (Moeller, 2009, pg.21) In framing the attacks in this manner, the government pushed other nations around the globe to adopt the same mindset.

In the country of Brazil, the media became split in how to deal with the U.S. political framing of the attacks while reconciling it’s own Muslim population. Immediately following the attacks, Brazilian media did little except to feed U.S. television images of the story as it unfolded. “Images of the disaster were repeated at such a frenetic pace that most stations in Brazil, caught unprepared, chose to simply rebroadcast repeating CNN images without Portuguese translation but with occasional voice-over commentary explaining the video loop.” (Baiocchi,2002) With so much of the coverage coming from the American angle, the Brazilian media was initially swept up in the framing of the attacks as a clash of culture. The Brazilian news magazine Veja ran an article calling September 11th an “attack on the fragile western values of freedom.”(2002)

As the weeks progressed however, the Brazilian media became less and less inclined to portray a sense of xenophobia against Muslims, who at the time numbered around 1.3 million in Brazil. TV Globo launched a series of shows dedicated to putting the events into a larger religious context, with titles such as “Who Was Mohammed” and “What is Islam? The difference between terrorism and religion.” Brazilian newspapers were essentially split between supporting U.S. retaliation, and the newspaper Folha de São Paulo reported that 79% of it’s readers were against retaliation, while 74% still believed those behind the attacks should face prosecution.(2002) What can be said of Brazilian media in the wake of September 11th was that it bought into the initial American packaging of the attacks, but as time progressed the media became increasingly skeptical of the framing of the U.S. government. The idea of a “media flow” (Archetti,2008) between nations seems to be reinforced after 9/11 as Brazil received largely American coverage, however as time went on the ideas became more and more domestic to the Brazilian culture and population.

The media coverage in the wake of 9/11 indicated several trends both nationally and abroad in world-wide media. For U.S. broadcasts, even with the extended segments in the news cycle, the majority pushed the disaster framing and rarely went into the strong historical context surrounding the attacks. For international media, with Brazil as the example, the unexpectedness of the event left many outlets swept up in the American coverage and frame. As time progresses however, foreign media pushed more and more away from the American frame and began to provide their own lens through which to view September 11th.

References

Archetti, C. (2008). News coverage of 9/11 and the demise of the media flows, globalization, and localization hypothesis. International Communication Gazette, 70(6), 463-485.

Baiocchi, G. (2002). Media Coverage of 9-11 in Brazil. Television & New Media, 3(2), 183. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

McDonald, I., & Lawrence, R. (2004). Filling the 24 × 7 News Hole: Television News Coverage Following September 11. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(3), 327-340.

Moeller, S. D. (2009). Packaging terrorism: Co-opting the news for politics and profit. Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell

Ruigrok, N., & van Atteveldt, W. (2007). Global Angling with a Local Angle: How U.S., British, and Dutch Newspapers Frame Global and Local Terrorist Attacks. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 12(1), 68-90.

Xigen, L., & Izard, R. (2003). 9/11 Attack Coverage Reveals Similarities, Differences. Newspaper Research Journal, 24(1), 204. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.