September 11th 2001—the day our generation will never forget. This tragic event has become one of the most poignant events in the history of the USA and marks the advent of the Age of Terror as it is regarded today. Though Barnett and Reynolds attribute the true birth of terrorism to events as early as “first-century Jewish Zealots”1 who publicly assassinated religious and political figures, something about this travesty has jolted millions into a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to the topic. Though the event in itself bears enormous gravity, in our Information Age, it is the portrayal of the information and not just the information itself that molds our interpretation and stances on terrorism. That is, it is both the information and how the press gives us this information that forms the connotations and emotions we attach to the word.

Barnett and Reynolds express the significant impact that framing, both visual and verbal, has on readers and viewers of various media. As they describe it, framing is a way to provide a “context and suggests what the issue is through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion, and elaboration”1 and provides media with a way to affect the opinions of their audience. In “Framing Stories,” Tom Huang describes the power of framing as “akin to composing a photograph. If you’re a reasonably good photographer, you deliberately point your viewfinder to capture certain things in your photos.” He later warns of the effects of neglecting to diversify frames: “By giving priority to one kind of story, these editors risk producing monotonous, formulaic front pages.” For those of us who saw the USA’s media’s take on the events of September 11th, it is enough to observe the framing strategies used and relate these to our emotions but for those in other countries exposed to different framing, it is an interesting academic pursuit to observe this different framing and some of the non-USA responses to the World Trade Center bombings.

According to Barnett and Reynolds, The New York Times is “widely considered the paper of record in the United States”2 so it is certainly appropriate to examine the September 12th 2001 front page for framing strategies. “U.S. Attacked: Hijacked Jets Destroy Twin Towers and Hit Pentagon in Day of Terror”2 spans the entire width of the front page with not a single story or picture not related to the attack to be seen on the front page. Susan Moeller in Packaging Terrorism refers to this particular strategy as “The ‘We Are the Ones Who Matter Frame’,”6 which refers to the media from a given nation having an almost irresistible propensity to the “chauvinist angle”6 of remarking on the significance of this given nation.

Another framing strategy is the subtitle Serge Schmemann gives to that main article on the cover of The New York Times: “President Vows to Exact Punishment for ‘Evil’,” an emphasis on a very emotionally loaded promise using clearly judgmental language. However, this is only the verbal framing used in the main article; the visual framing is far more potent. The front page includes five pictures, all evoking powerful emotion that readers adopt as associated images with terrorism. From the smallest photo showing the second plane seconds before colliding into the second tower to the main photo depicting the moment of impact as a massive fireball mars the iconic tower, whose debris can be seen raining down, and from photo of the firefighters on the apocalypse-esque scene of ground zero to the photo of two men helping a blood-coated survivor on the curb, to the photo of the smoldering pentagon, these photos serve as perfect examples of framing as each image seems more tragic than the previous. These graphic images provide readers with some of the most horrific and emotional images from this tragic event, evoking sorrow and fear while planting the seeds that would soon sprout into anger that would fuel support for the military response to 9-11.

While France would soon be among the nations that opposed the USA’s reaction to the September 11th bombings, the initial coverage of the story speaks to the resounding support that such an attack garners. The September 13th headline for the French newspaper Le Monde read “L’Amérique frappée, le monde saisi d’effroi”3 translating to “America stricken, the world seized with terror,” coupled with a dramatic photo of the skyline of Manhattan featuring a view of the Statue of Liberty and a plume of smoke emanating from where World Trade Center Towers 1 and 2 once stood. The caption for the photo reads “C’est la nuit à Manhattan, au pied des tours devenues cimetières” 3 or “It’s night in Manhattan, the base of the towers have become cemeteries”. This, accompanied with another front page’s article entitled “Nous sommes tous Américains”4 that calls readers to recall John Kennedy’s words of compassion and support for the citizens of West Berlin in his 1962 speech, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” work to extend this same compassion and support to the American people at that tragic moment. Of notable difference, however, is that Le Monde did include stories and references to stories not related to the attacks; in fact, one article describes a novel concerning Richard Millet’s sex obsession—quite a poignantly different framing by way of front page article selection from that of The New York Times. While the latter dedicated the entire front page to the dreadful event, the former used a much more subdued level of this framing by the inclusion of this rather unrelated and much less noteworthy story. Though the nation of France would later oppose the military action taken by the USA, the French media expressed sorrow and compassion in these “most serious moments in our history(translated)”4 and had even speculated that this “Hyperterrorisme”5 may have just started “Troisème guerre mondial”5 or World War III.

Another perspective from Ilias Kiritsis from Greece provides us with a non-US retrospective view of the event, the media coverage of the event, and the impact the event had on media. Ilias recalls “the day the Earth stood still”7 from his high school days and recalls that initially he did not recognize the importance of the first TV broadcast—that is until he changed the channel several times, seeing the same image and noting “it kinda hits you, ‘YES THIS IS IMPORTANT’.”7 One notable aspect of Ilias’ response is that only the day after the attack, he recalls thinking “it was all a plot by the Americans,”7 a stance he no longer holds. This might be indicative of the drastically different portrayal of the bombing by the media in Greece, a country in which Ilias notes that there is “sort of a trend, omg you hate America, you are cool.”7 On the topic of the impact of 9-11 on the media, Ilias believes “the media in the US went into full blown Nixon-era militarization after that,”7 while ridiculing such responses to opposition from other nations such as when we “turned french fries into ‘Liberty Fries’.”7 As in the USA, Ilias notes that while radio and newspaper certainly have their place in media, the “constant barrage of visual images every second of the day”7 sells better. It seems that similar strategies of framing are used in Ilias’ medium of choice but to rather different effect.

While the events that transpired on September 11th 2001 certainly produced a powerful paradigm shift in the minds of millions concerning terrorism, it is not difficult to see that framing serves a vital role in conveying the message a journalist wishes to bestow upon his readers or viewers. In particular, we observe the difference of responses between the media coverage of the World Trade Center bombings by The New York Times and Le Monde and we observe the potential effects that Ilias’ media had on his initial attitude toward the event: first apathy, then conspiracy, then later a true sense of gravity and condolence. Truly, this vivid event that will not soon be forgotten demonstrates the power that journalists possess and must carefully use through both verbal and visual framing.

Bibliography

(1) Barnett, Brooke; Reynolds, Amy. Terrorism and the Press. New York: Peter Lang Publishing 2009.

(2) Schmemann, Serge. “U.S. Attacked: Hijacked Jets Destroy Twin Towers and Hit Pentagon in Day of Terror.” New York Times 12 September 2001: A1.

  1. Leser, Eric. “L’Amérique frappée, le monde saisi d’effroi.” Le Monde 13 Sep. 2001: p1.
  2. J. -M. C. “Nous sommes tous Américains.” Le Monde 13 Sep. 2001: p1.
  3. (No author listed). “Troisème guerre mondial.” Le Monde 13 Sep. 2001: p1.
  4. Moeller, Susan. Packaging Terrorism.
  5. Kiritsis, Ilias. “Penpal Exchange No. 1” 30 Jan. 2010.
  6. Huang, Tom. “Framing Stories” Poynter Online. May 2, 2005. <http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=58&aid=81884>.