Before the attacks on September 11th, the American media was undeniably known for its tendency to aggrandize current events. But once these devastating attacks occurred, sending the country into a tailspin, what remained intact (and was probably further exacerbated) was the media’s sensationalism of such a horrific event. Although reports on the situation occurred on news stations 24 hours a day immediately after the attacks, the constant American press was no match for foreign news organizations, which have been hailed as being more reliable sources for coverage on the attacks than the American media. On the contrary, most major American news organizations were more focused on instilling fear in the already devastated citizens rather than reporting the straight facts.

Looking at the front pages of American newspapers the day after September 11th, the words “TERROR,” “WAR,” and “DEATH” were uniformly used, plastered all over the headlines of American newspapers, accompanied by the iconic images of the Twin Towers being destroyed. Rather than using facts about the situation to accurately inform the public, American journalists preyed on the public’s greatest fears, jumping to conclusions about who was responsible for the attacks and how the United States was already planning on retaliating. “Journalists minimized alternative viewpoints, amplified the administrations’ perspective, and presented half-truths that misled the American public.” Even with the constant news coverage, it seems that most Americans were grossly misinformed about the attacks the more they used American news sources “  the more misperceptions a person held, the more likely he or she was to support the war-and to rely on television news for information” (Finnegan xvii-xviii).

Even though 9/11 was an undeniably grave situation, few media outlets used their power to comfort the public about the surrounding events. Instead, they chose to surround the people with hysteria, which led to such a lack of information actually being conveyed by news organizations. “The television networks themselves featured logos such as ‘War on America,’ ‘America’s New War,’ and other inflammatory slogans that assumed that the U.S. was at war and that only a military response was appropriate” (Kellner 147). By constantly emphasizing that the United States needed to win the fight against terrorism. “Media coverage illustrated the role of melodrama in generating a compelling national identity. Melodrama defined America as a heroic redeemer with a mandate to act because of an injury committed by a hostile villain” (Anker 35). But the American press was more focused on finding an audience rather than being a reliable news source.

Around the world, American media was the last source of news that was used to inform the events of 9/11. John R MacArthur, president and publisher of the U.S.’ Harper’s Bazaar, also admitted to the skewed reporting of the American media during this critical period “I was virtually reading only foreign press during the first few days. It was the only way to get any information about what was really happening. (…) Any American newspaper had sold out to such a degree that it made it impossible for them to report anything straight” (Wolff). As an attempt to boost the spirit of the American people, the media seemed to be catering to the wishes of the government during this time of uncertain crisis media, in line with the logic of Debord’s notion of the spectacle, simply provides authorised performances of subjectivity, and in the process reproduces dominant regimes.” (Schirato 42). Foreign news, especially English media has often been hailed as more focused on obtaining facts than being courteous to those in power. Comparing the front pages of British newspapers to American newspapers after 9/11, the images of the Twin Towers is also present on every front page. The major difference lies in the headlines used to describe the attacks. Very few newspapers used the word ‘terror,’ concentrating more on the ‘attack’ that was perpetrated rather than immediately labeling the attack as terrorism. “Its policy not to use the term terrorism in its coverage received criticism from U.S. media but support from international journalists for their decision” (Barnett 49). Articles written for The Guardian also show the stark contrast to the United States in their stance on the event. Not only was there full coverage on the events in the United States, but the newspaper also chose to include reactions from Middle Eastern newspapers and the reporter covered the story from a mainly non-objective viewpoint that actually showed most countries in the Middle East were actually condemning the attacks.

Indian citizen, Vidhya Kosalram, had similar opinions about the coverage of the September 11th attacks in her country. “Not to be offensive to my American family, but I felt I was much more informed about the September 11th attacks than most citizens in the United States. Although we received information from our newspapers, we knew that if we wanted extensive information about what was happening in the U.S., our best source was the BBC. I have always paid very little attention to American news, I just feel that there are plenty of news outlets that can provide me with the information that I need.” The attacks on 9/11 were devastating to her; because she has family all over the United States, but she does not feel that the media in her country has changed as a result of 9/11. “You have to understand that in this country, we are used to hearing about terrorist attacks. The issue of terrorism has been long-standing in India. The difference between countries like us and countries like the United States is that we have gotten used to the fact that we live among terrorists. I think the reason September 11th was so shocking to the U.S. is because they are not used to it being a constant presence in their own country. Every time something like this happens over there, it is so shocking. Over here, we have terrorist attacks that are particularly devastating, but it is never shocking. There is no need to exaggerate something that our country is aware of.”

The need to exaggerate current events is what has given most U.S. media an unreliable reputation around the world. During the great crisis of 9/11, the press had the opportunity to inform the American public about the true nature of the attacks, but reports were filled with sensationalized attacks against any group against the United States. The burden of reporting the truth was left to the foreign media, which is still celebrated for its coverage of the events of 9/11. Unfortunately, American media continues to sensationalize its war on terror and use fear as a tool against the American public.

Works Cited

Anker, Elizabeth. “Villains, Victims, and Heroes: Melodrama, Media, and September 11.”

Journal for Cultural Research 55.1 (2004): 22-37. Print.

Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and the Press. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.


Finnegan, Lisa. No Questions Asked. Westport: Praeger, 2007. Print

Kellner, Douglas. “September 11, the Media, and War Fever.” Television & New Media 2002:

143-51. Print.

Schirato, Tony, and Jennifer Webb. “The Media as Spectacle: September 11 as Soap Opera.”

Journal for Cultural Research 8.4 (2004): 411-23. Print.

“Today’s Front Pages.” Newseum. 3 Jan 2010.


Whitaker, Brian. “What the Middle East Papers Say.” Guardian 12 Sep 2001. Web.


Wolff, Michael. “The Media at War.” New York.