September 11 shook us all. Either through raw footage of planes crashing into the towers, to still images of workers leaping to their deaths, the coverage reached every corner of the world, causing different reactions in each person they touched through differing mediums. This paper will touch on the different ways that news agencies around the world covered the Attacks of September 11, as well as the changes to the news coverage after September 11.

When I first heard about the attacks on September 11 I remember exactly where I was. Driving to high school I heard it from a local morning talk radio show host. He usually did comedy, and at the moment no other radio shows where broadcasting on the subject, so it was not until I got to school and saw the television that I really knew what was going on. It was then that I knew that this was my generations Kennedy Assassination, a collective memory that would shape our futures.

After the initial shock, the news began. 24 hour, commercial free news coverage on every channel coming to you every minute of the day. Filling this giant news hole with one story was unprecedented. With this much time devoted to one event the coverage must have been absolute; showing every angle from every opinion, but this seems not to be the case.

According to a report covering the three day news coverage of ABC, NBC, and CNN from September 12-14, even with the longer news casts and the relaxed time restraints, the coverage varied little in format and content style to the reporting done on the days prior (LAWRENCE 2003). There was little in depth coverage of the historical background of the attacks or the political ramifications, resulting in the coverage seeming more like a report on a major crime than a history making event.

This may be in part due to the extreme nature of the events of 9/11. When a newscaster is put in charge of gate keeping for a subject as close to the hearts of their audience as the attacks in September, it is hard for them not to take into account the very emotional state of their viewers. “In ordinary times, the press adopts a distanced stance to those it covers. However, in times of crisis reporters abandon irony [and] cynicism to see the world through a patriotic…lens.” (JAMIESON 2003)

On September 12 the morning newspapers regaled us with more facts, figures and stories. Tales of heroics began to emerge from the wreckage; stories of sacrificial firefighters, 24 hour volunteers, and the need for sleeping bags and socks. The New York Times headlines read “U.S. ATTACKED”, something that had not been seen since Pearl Harbor, even if the source of the attack was not yet completely apparent.

This all seemed factual, undeniable and unbiased. How could the reporting be any different from another angle? Yet framing played a large part for both the English and Arabic news media. When portraying the attacks of September 11 and the subsequent attacks on Afghanistan the visual images chosen by Western versus Arabic news agencies portrayed two different stories. English news agencies humanized the victims of September 11, while focusing on the patriotism and logistics of the Afghan campaign. Arabic news agencies focused on the damage and physical destruction on September 11, while then showing the “emotion of guilt in the Afghan War” through photos of the victims harmed in the U.S. bombings.  (FAHMY 2004)

The difference in news coverage was not just restrained to these extremes, even amongst Western news agencies there was a noticeable gap. While the U.S. news coverage was stoking the fires of war, preparing the citizens by invoking fear and anger against these horrible terrorists, the BBC had a much more controlled approach to the attacks. Both media outlets emphasized the scale of the attacks, but British agencies focused more on the inevitability of the attacks as well as the focus on moving forward, calming the public with a message that “life will go on”.(BARNETT 2009)

The response in Norway was different still. The country broadcast coverage of September 11 through the BBC, CNN as well as local news agencies. The local coverage was so far removed from the events concerning 9/11 that many Norwegian families opted to watch the coverage through American broadcasts instead:

“My family however watched the CNN coverage to get an understanding of how the American society reacted to the attack and it was difficult to relate to the words used by the US media due to not being an American citizen, but still feeling sorry and scared for what had happened” (David Ellinggard)

The outcry of support towards America would not last, however. Once the events of September 11 began to fade, and the subsequent attack on Afghanistan came to the forefront, sympathy from the international news agencies wavered. Stories shifted from focusing on the devastation in New York to the rash use of the U.S. military. New blogs and reports began popping up, conspiracy theories claiming that September 11 had been a plot by the U.S. government to justify the attacks afterwards, the most popular of which would be the French bestseller The Frightening Fraud by Theirry Meyssan, describing the attack on the Pentagon as a cruise missile by American terrorists.

Over time American media coverage has shown a permanent change as well. Five years after the initial attacks on September 11 the nightly news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC still showed an increase of over 100% in the time they devoted to both the topics of terrorism and the topics of foreign affairs; “Following a period in which news organizations cut back on foreign bureaus…the events of 9-11 have reinforced the old Cold War truism that the first responsibility of the nightly newscast is to determine whether our world is safe that day” (PEJ Analysis).

While the attacks on September 11 were not reported by any agency without a somewhat distorted lens, the news was reported. This global event showed an important part of the media, that it tailors to suit its target audience and even in this age of mass communication and high resolution videos you can still have multiple historical perspectives created by one event, expressing the ultimate in human freedom, to see an event through any frame that you choose.

Sources

1)    Aftenposten [Oslo, Norway] Sept. & oct. 2001, morning ed., World sec. Print.

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

3)      Fahmy, Shahira. “Framing Visual News: The 9/11 Attacks & the War in Afghanistan in English & Arabic Newspapers” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, New Orleans Sheraton, New Orleans, LA, May 27, 2004 <Not Available>. 2009-05-26 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p112422_index.html>

4)      How 9/11 Changed the Evening News. Rep. PEJ Analysis, 11 Sept. 2006. Web. 1 Feb. 2010. <http://www.journalism.org/node/1839>.

5)      Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. Press effect politicians, journalists, and the stories that shape the political world. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.

6)      Lawrence, Regina. “Filling the 24×7 News Hole: Television News Coverage Following September 11” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia Marriott Hotel, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 27, 2003 <Not Available>. 2009-05-26 http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p62506_index.html

7)      New York Times 12 Sept. 2001, Late Edition ed., sec. A: 1-1. Print