In the wake of the events of September 11, news organizations worldwide immediately began covering one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in the past decade. Coverage of the attacks was far-reaching and diverse. Domestic news organizations framed the events in such a way that articulated the necessary unification of a nation amidst a crisis. “When citizens are threatened by actual terrorists or the fear of future attacks, calls to consolidate around a national identity are quite common” (Barnett and Reynolds 117). Although domestic media outlets were quick to extend support and offer solace to American viewers, talk of war and retaliation quickly surfaced. Sandra Silberstein writes, “Through emblems of patriotism, the media endorsed, and indeed helped produce, ‘America’s new war’” (Silberstein xiii). Public discourse turned from the abhorrence of the day’s events, quickly towards ubiquitous talk involving swift retaliation. The immediacy with which American news outlets began to speak of retribution is precisely what drew criticism from foreign news organizations. This paper will explore this idea further through a twofold approach. First, it will seek to establish a comparative analysis between domestic and foreign news coverage of the September 11 attacks; specifically through Ireland’s major news publication, the Irish Times. Additionally, it will analyze the publications’ use of different framing techniques and alternative rhetoric. Finally, through the use of a personal testimonial from Idyli Tsakiri, a journalism student at the American College of Greece, a better understanding of foreign perceptions regarding American journalism will be achieved.

As American news organizations appealed to the pathos of the general public in the weeks following the September 11 attacks, foreign media outlets assumed a much more objective, pragmatic position. Correspondents for the Irish Times released a flurry of articles only days after the events, warning Americans to proceed with caution while at the same time extending sympathy for those victimized by the attacks.  Breda O’Brien, a senior correspondent for the organization, wrote an article a few days after September 11 arguing, “Let us not confuse that instinctive human sympathy and admiration for many individual acts of heroism with the advocacy of policies which may ultimately lead only to further tragedy” (O’Brien 2). O’Brien’s views were not uncommon amongst her fellow coworkers and citizens. On September 12, 2001, Jonathan Eyal, the director of studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London and journalist for the Irish Times, sharply criticized the US decision to establish the program “Homeland Defence” when he wrote, “Suddenly, Americans feel vulnerable. And, as so often in the past, their first instinct will be to throw money at the problem” (Eyal 2). Whereas most domestic news organizations were still focused on the atrocity of the acts immediately following 9/11, foreign outlets remained more objective. Although European news organizations such as the Times remained relatively sympathetic to the American people and refrained from displaying anti-American sentiment, other news sources appeared more critical. The Guardian and the Irish Times pointed to the tragedy as the result of the great hubris of America (Marron et. al., 50).  This is clearly evidenced as only days after September 11, articles were published in the Irish Times with headlines such as, “Washington failed to react to renewed warning of terrorist threat” and “America’s irrational streak runs deep.” Aside from the initial criticism that the Irish Times lobbed at the United States immediately following 9/11, a more pressing issue became the focal point for discussion; war.

As quickly as the events of September 11 transpired, they were over. Americans were left vulnerable and outraged.  The Bush administration promised swift, decisive retaliation. Justice would be served. This mentality was immediately recognized and sharply criticized by foreign news agencies. Irish Times journalist Patrick Smyth wrote on September 15, 2001, “If the attacks have proved anything about the new strategic realities, it is that the attachment of the conservatives in the Bush Administration to military solutions to such problems is inadequate” (Smyth 4).  The administration’s decision in October 2001 to declare a global “War on Terrorism,” ultimately drew political and foreign backlash; exactly what reporters from the Irish Times and the Guardian warned against. Barnett and Reynolds argue, “A study of CNN’s verbal and visual framing of September 11 concluded that media coverage suggested governmental retaliatory action, framing the events as an act of war that justified and required a military retaliation response” (Barnett and Reynolds 118). Much to the chagrin of most American citizens, the domestic mentality that the United States was a victim in need of swift, necessary retribution was not shared worldwide. John Bruton, a Fine Gael Teachta Dála  and correspondent for the Irish Times, argued in his September 19, 2001 article that Ireland played a crucial role in voicing its opinion to the United States because it would not be consulted through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Bruton goes on to suggest that the application of hegemonic force should be exercised with great caution. “Americans rightly demand action in response to what happened. Their anger is intense…America should use [its] strength to the full. It should consider using its moral authority before it resorts to the application of its military power” (Bruton 2).  At the close of his article, Bruton also posits that the United States should consider the implications behind the word “terrorist” given the lack of an internationally agreed upon, definition of the word.

Although individuals rely upon major news organizations for the proper dissemination of information, the citizenry also plays a crucial role in contributing valid feedback and opinion. Letters to the editor, blogs, and personal websites all assist in providing a balanced actuality of current events. The Irish Times issued a publication on September 15, 2001, which contained a letter to the editor entitled, “Terrorist Attacks in the United States” (Fig. A). This letter represented the sentiments of Irish citizens concerning the idea that the United States should be afforded its own national day of mourning. The authors suggest that the United States should not be privileged; rather all victims of terrorist attacks should have been the focus. In understanding the viewpoints of Ireland’s citizenry, a better understanding of the world’s response to 9/11 is fostered.

Through comparatively analyzing the differences between foreign and domestic coverage of 9/11, it can clearly be shown that the Irish Times framed the attacks in such a way that criticized the American response to the events, issued a warning against immediate retaliation, and at the same time offered support to those individuals affected by the tragedy. While the domestic media catered to the emotional spirit of the individual, the Irish Times operated from a more pragmatic position, appearing sharply critical at times. Fintan O’Toole brilliantly prophesized the post-9/11 world when he wrote on September 12, 2001, “We will have to come to terms with the fact that we are now in a world where small groups, not sovereign states, can make war…This is a new world, and not at all a brave one” (O’Toole 2). Indeed, if there is one point that the Irish Times correspondents could have agreed upon, it would have been that the United States could no longer hide behind invisible security forces; the nation had become exposed.

Figure A

The Irish Times

September 15, 2001

Terrorist Attacks In The United States

SECTION: CITY EDITION; EDITORIAL PAGE; LETTER TO THE EDITOR; Pg. 9

LENGTH: 156 words

Sir, – We are writing to express our discomfort with the Government decision to have a national day of mourning for the disaster in New York. Would it not have been more appropriate to have a national day of mourning for all victims of terrorist attacks?
George W. Bush spoke of justice in terms of “retaliation” against the countries who might harbour these terrorists. Are we going to have another day of mourning for the innocent victims – “collateral damage” – of an act of war against another nation, or is America above reproach in the international scene?
Our sympathies are very much with the families of the victims, but what makes American lives more valuable than those lives lost in Omagh, Rwanda, Chechnya or Palestine?
Is it because so many of our diaspora are based in America, or is it perhaps that we believe that West is best? – Yours, etc.,
Elaine and Julie-Ann Lyons, Grantham Street, Dublin 8.

LOAD-DATE: September 15, 2001

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

Copyright 2001 The Irish Times

Works Cited

Bruton, John. “World agreement on terrorism should be sought by Americans.” Irish Times 19 09 2001, City Edition; Opinion and Analysis: Pg. 16. Print.
Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and the Press: An Uneasy Relationship. Vol. 1. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2009. Pgs. 117-118. Print.
Eyal, Jonathan. “Epic horror puts US intelligence and defence to shame.” Irish Times 12 09 2001, City Edition; World News; Attack on America: Pg. 14. Print.
Kettle, Martin. “Washington failed to react to renewed warning of terrorist threat.” Irish Times 12 09 2001, City Edition; World News; Attack on America: Pg. 14. Print.
Marron, Maria. How the World’s News Media Reacted to 9/11. Spokane, WA: Marquette Books LLC, 2007. Pgs. 49-52. Print.
O’Brien, Breda. “Suffering must not give way to vengeance.” Irish Times 15 09 2001, City Edition; Attack on America/Opinion & Analysis: Pg. 8. Print.
O’Toole, Fintan. “Terrorists slash their way into the heart of the American Dream.” Irish Times 12 09 2001, City Edition; Opinion: Pg. 18. Print.
Rosen, Jay. “Community Connectedness: Passwords for Public Journalism,” Poytner Report, 3. 1993. Pgs. 3-16. Print.
Smyth, Patrick. “A severe test of character for Bush.” Irish Times 15 09 2001, City Edition; Attack on America; The President: Pg. 84. Print.