In exploration of news media coverage of the 9/11 attack, much is to be discussed in the way journalists relayed the event to the public. In the book “How Did the World’s News Media React to 9/11?” the author Tomasz Pludowski discussed how immediately after the September 11 attacks, most of the world’s news media criticized the terrorists. The world’s news media in turn offered sympathy and support to the United States but shortly thereafter, were putting some of the blame for the attacks on the United States. Two or three weeks after the attacks, the countries blamed the U.S. government through “citing its history of heavy-handed politics around the world” (Pludowski p.30). This demonstrates how an opinion relayed through the news media can have a significant impact on the viewers’ opinions.

Audiences’ opinions often times become affected by the language used by journalists. Roy Clark demonstrates this idea in his article “The Language of War: Beware of the Consequences”, by stating that the language of war in the media has consequences, anticipates formal declarations, imagines counterattacks, and begins to define and dehumanize an enemy. Clark went further by stating that the “enemy” in turn is likely to be stereotyped in our minds as looking a certain way, dressing a certain way and practicing a certain religion.

While examining how several different foreign news outlets covered the attacks, I came across an article in the Jerusalem Post that caught my attention. Titled “Barbarians at the gate”, on September 12th, 2001, Gerald Steinberg, proves this idea of framing stereotypes through the use of language in the media. The usage of the word “barbarians” embeds in our minds an image of an out of this world being with monstrous characteristics and entices a stronger emotional impact upon reading the headline.  In the course textbook, Terrorism and the Press, Barnett and Reynolds spend an entire chapter defining the word “terrorist”. The adage “One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” is used to describe this. Barnett and Reynolds goes further to say that the use of the word terrorism in media coverage often conforms to what the government calls terrorism. This was also shown clearly through observing the headlines of the Jerusalem Post on September 11, 2001 which stated: “Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden is responsible for today’s terrorist attacks in the United States (Shaviv).” Since Israel is a strong ally of the United States, the Jerusalem Post, in this case, is conforming to what the Israeli government defines as terrorism and therefore highlights the word terrorist by using it twice in the same sentence in the headline news.

The Guardian, a United Kingdom based newspaper, also included the word “terror” in the headlines on September 11th, 2001 except they used it in the context of “America’s day of terror.” In “Terrorism and the Press”, page 14, it states that the word terror originates in Latin from the word terrere, which means “to frighten”. In this case, by using the word terror to describe the day America endured, the Guardian is conforming to what the United States defined as terror. Other media outlets such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) choose to avoid the use of the term terrorist in general. Instead, the network uses words such as “attack” and “bombing” when describing the event. According to BBC guidelines, the United States was attacked on September 11, and the United States attacked Afghanistan in retaliation (Barnett). Since language invokes such strong emotions the word choices used my journalists are crucial to determining the writer’s stance on the issue. The Global Language Monitor spoke about how the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and the pending targets in Washington, D.C have changed the way Americans speak in terms of vernacular, word choice and tone (Brooke). An example of this mentioned was the use of the word hero. Brooke defines the word hero as one that changed over time. “In mythology, heroes were men and women often of divine ancestry endowed with the gifts of courage and strength with a divined past that were endowed with gifts of courage and strength. In reality, everyday heroes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries were sports figures, and comic book and cartoon characters such as Superman and Spiderman. Post-9/11, the term has now come to apply to anyone who places their lives in danger to foster the public good, especially ‘first-responders’ such as firefighters, EMTs, and police.” The news media contributed greatly in this shift in the meaning of the word “hero” after the 9/11 attacks.

After communicating with my pen pal, Mark Haber who currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon, over Facebook, he described to me his thoughts and experiences on the 9/11 attack. His memory of the day of the incident was as follows: “During the 9/11 event I was in school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I was thirteen at that age, in eighth grade. I first heard the news when I got back home and I saw my mother glued to the TV, she seemed panicked. She called me and my brother over to see what was going on. When I first saw what happened, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I thought it was an accident, a plane that flew off course and hit the towers. When I said that, my mother turns and tells me this isn’t normal, that this doesn’t happen frequently. So at that moment I understood that this is in fact a huge moment in history. The news where reporting about what’s happening right after the planes crashed. And later on in the day we found out that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were who planned this. This was covered for weeks after the incident, and was all over the news all the time.” I found it to be interesting that Mark stated that he thought that the crash was normal. I could relate to this being that I was living in Lebanon at the time the crash occurred and having grown up in an environment where terror, killings and bombings were part of our daily diet, at a mind of thirteen, I too, found it to be a normal occurrence and not that “big of a deal”. When I asked Mark if he thought that 9/11 changed the news in his own country or in the American news media in any way, he answered: “I watch Lebanese news networks and read Lebanese papers usually, and in the long run it didn’t affect the media that much. Most of what is talked about are Lebanese and Arab issues. But as to the American media, what I have noticed from CNN and other international news networks is that terrorism is spoken about daily. Where before terrorism was not covered as much.”

Such tragic, sudden events such as the 9/11 attack, affect people and the media in a variety a ways. People from around the world will react to different events in different ways based on the wide range of backgrounds, personal experiences, religious and political views that exist around the globe. Those distant from an event that occurred rely on the media as their channel of understanding and being informed of the details of an incident. This being said, it is the journalists’ duty in this time of panic and rush of emotion to pay critical attention to the wording used when relaying a story because the language will have consequences.

Works Cited

“America’s day of Terror.” Guardian Unlimited. 11 Sept. 2001. Web. 2 Feb. 2010.

Barnett, Brooke and Reynolds, Amy. Terrorism and the press an uneasy relationship. New York: P. Lang, 2009. Print.

Clark, Roy P. “The Language of War: Beware of the Consequences.” Poynter Report (2001). Print.

“How 9/11 Changed the Way Americans Speak.” The Global Language Monitor. Web. 04 Feb. 2010. <http://www.languagemonitor.com/news/how-911-changed-the-way018>.

Pludowski, Tomasz. How the World’s News Media Reacted to 9/11 Essays from Around the World. New York: Marquette, 2007. Print.

Shaviv, Miriam. “Bin Laden suspected of responsibility for attacks.” The Jerusalem Post 12 Sept. 2001. Print.

Steinberg, Gerald. “Barbarians at the Gate.” Jerusalem Post 12 Sept. 2001. Print.