Rarely can one event change the way nearly all types of media are presented, let alone the attitudes of an entire nation, but the attacks of September 11th happened to be one of those events. Even to this day, references are made to a “pre-9/11” and “post-9/11” world, exemplifying the enormous impact the tragedy had as it is a historical landmark. In this paper, the effects of September 11th on US news media will be discussed, specifically how terrorism coverage changed the tone of the media and to an extent helped George Bush’s administration. Also, international coverage of the attacks will be addressed and contrasted to that of American coverage.

There is no one correct way to present an event, something can occur with 50 eyewitnesses and if asked, each eyewitness will have a different way of recounting what just happened. The same principle applies to mass media as there are countless outlets from which events can be retold, each offering a different perspective. The tone, language used, and information actually presented by an outlet is sometimes referred to as “framing.” How a story is framed is the major differentiation between each individual media outlet and the events of 9/11 played a big role in changing framing in US media and the way they covered terrorist attacks. Before 9/11, there had never been a domestic US attack of its magnitude that was broadcast at such a large scale, with the entire nation able to watch the devastation in real time. Being such, most Americans were only exposed to second hand accounts of terrorist attacks from around the world and although they were tragic, there was rarely any fear or paranoia associated with stories related to terrorist attacks. September 11th changed all of this as citizens witnessed fellow citizens being killed in real time, while media sources could do nothing for the most part other than watch along. The attacks led to a new framing of terrorist as mentioned in Barnett and Reynolds Terrorism and The Press, “What changed, and changed decisively with 9/11, were American perceptions of the threat of world terrorism more than the actual reality.”[1] Some journalists were prepared immediately for this shift however and warned of the potential consequences of the new way stories were to be framed. One of these commentators was Poynter Institute Senior Scholar Roy Peter Clark, who warned of language choice in reporting the attacks and hinting at a retaliatory war as, “The collateral damage of building a culture of war is xenophobia and paranoia, much of it directed at our own citizens.”[2] In a separate article, Clark also notes the framing used by George W. Bush, specifically his choice of words, after the attacks which helped eventually lead to support of the US invasion of Afghanistan. With lines such as, “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” As Clark notes, this ambiguous language allowed Bush to frame the attackers and Osama bin Laden as both criminals and as an army that must be fought militarily, a precursor to his unprecedented and highly criticized “War on Terror.”[3] Bush made his statement on September 20, 2001[4] and his approval rating was over 80%[5], thus most major news outlets were very sympathetic toward the Administration and the public was exposed mainly to Bush’s point of view with little discussion from different perspectives.  As mentioned earlier, the sudden presence of fear and paranoia led to the nation placing trust in its leaders in order to feel a sense of security, giving Bush and the rest of the federal government a free pass, more or less, to do whatever it felt necessary to retaliate against the group behind the attacks which led to legislation such as the Patriot Act and the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq. After some time, stories regarding terrorism gradually have developed different framings, with news stations such as Fox News continuing with a similar frame that was used immediately after the attacks, regularly featuring an update on what color the official Department of Homeland Security Threat Level is at and a high level of War on Terror coverage. Other outlets have become more subdued in their coverage since but still feature regular updates on breaking stories related to the War on Terror as well as feature stories on the impact of terrorism and America’s involvement in the Middle East resulting from the attacks of 9/11.

As previously stated, the attacks of 9/11 were unique in that they were witnessed live by people around the world, so naturally foreign presses would have to cover the events as well. Since the attacks occurred in the United States however, most other countries’ media framing of the story, and terrorism in general, were not as greatly affected.  An example is given in Susan D. Moeller’s Packaging Terrorism which notes an internal memo from UK based Reuters to adhere to its policy of refusing to use the term “terrorist” even in the case of 9/11, to show their commitment to consistency in journalism instead of making emotional appeals.[6] However there were media outlets, such as London’s Daily Telegraph, who were very sympathetic towards the United States. The Daily Telegraph’s front page on September 12 featured a picture of the second tower being struck with the headline “War on America” signifying their view as being similar to many US media outlets which saw the attack as an aggressive act of war.[7] Not all international media has been sympathetic towards the US coverage however, especially after the shock of the attacks had settled, criticizing American media since 9/11 and their handling of the War on Terror coverage. Executive director of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Tony Burman, stated, “US coverage of the crisis had failed to take account of the international perspective: It’s depressing to see the jingoism, which is lamentably part of the culture and spirit of the coverage.”[8]In addition, Greek journalist Tsakiris Giorgos describes his and other European outlets perspective of American media coverage of the attacks, “…We were suspicious that it could have been a provocation for unknown to us reasons. A big percent of Europeans said that “US was getting paid for its external policies and more specifically for the creation of wars in other continents, e.g. Iraq, Yugoslavia etc”. I could say that we didn’t trust CNNs’ perspective and we believed that the government censors all the stories.”[9]

In closing, the United States media coverage resulting from the attacks of 9/11 had a longer term impact than most could imagine. As shown, it helped play a role in the eventual wide-scale involvement of the US in the Middle East that has continued to this day and does not appear to end anytime soon. It is also important to note the role distance plays in how terrorist attacks are covered, in addition to the language used in addressing them, as it can change opinions on how events are interpreted. Journalists should always keep in mind that by reporting on a story, they are becoming a part of the story by offering their perspective and influencing the public’s mind whether they wish to or not.

Works Cited

[1] Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and The Press. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009. 46. Print.

[2] Clark, Roy Peter. “The Language of War: Beware of the Consequences .” Poynter Report (2001): 46. Web. 3 Feb 2010. <http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=6320>.

[3] Clark, Roy Peter. “Framing The Struggle.” Poynter Report (2001): 47. Web. 3 Feb 2010. <http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=6281>.

[4] The Quotations Page. Web. 3 Feb 2010. <http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/34101.html>.

[5] “How The Presidents Stack Up.” Presidential Approval Ratings from 1945-2008. Web. 2 Feb 2010. <http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-presapp0605-31.html>.

[6] Moeller, Susan. Packaging terrorism. Blackwell Pub, 2008. 13. Print.

[7] “The Daily Telegraph.” Newseum. Web. 22 Feb 2010. <http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/hr_archive.asp?fpVname=UK_DT&ref_pge=gal&b_pge=1>.

[8] Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and The Press. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009. 49. Print.

[9] Giorgos, Tsakiris. Intervew by Duncan Carey. 04 Feb 2010. Web. 22 Feb 2010.