On September 11, 2001, numerous attacks against the United States were performed by radical Muslims. In the aftermath of the attacks, how did the news media cover these monumental events? There are two main attitudes that reports could be focused towards, objectively reporting the events of that day, or allowing the reporter’s feelings to influence their story. From the time when both World Trade Center towers collapsed through the following week many news outlets’ reports were focused on being objective accounts of the events and facts that were known. Both domestic and foreign services brought the news to the masses in this style. While the media was being objective with the reporting, there was a distinctive issue being created: how is the story being framed?

When a major news organization is producing a story to inform their followers, an objective tone is often the best measure. With that being said, and factual information as the basis, a news organization can cover a terrorist attack either focusing on a human interest aspect, involving the people affected and what is happening, or illustrating the “big-picture” to the audience, helping relate what happened to a much broader scale. As Moeller found regarding the coverage of terrorism after September 11, 2001, “most of what the American and British media cover of terrorism relates to the impact of terrorism of governments and the body politic, not its impact on people and their very human bodies.” (46) Agreeing with this is Hotak Yama (personal communication, February 1, 2010), an Afghan journalist, who wants to make sure that the current war in Afghanistan gets coverage around the world, while still maintaining an aspect that there are Afghans who are not Islamic radicals. The framing of most news stories, after the first World Trade Center Tower fell through the following days, focus on how this affects the government as a whole and policy decisions and briefly mentioning the impact of the event on the people affected.

One television news reporter covering the attacks on the World Trade Center, shortly after the first tower collapsed, narrates what he sees from the rooftop he is on. This is briefly addressed, before he moves onto mentioning what is happening regarding the President. Reporter Aaron Brown describes the events, “You can see large pieces of the building falling. You can see smoke rising…This is just a horrific scene and a horrific moment.” (Barnett, 105) He then moves onto stating that the President was in Florida that morning, but was currently in route to the White House, but that it had been evacuated at the urging of the Secret Service. (Collapse of the North Tower: CNN Coverage) He switches from describing the disturbing images that are still being shown to removing himself and informing the audience about the President’s whereabouts. An interesting aspect that furthers the concept of the media using framing to focus on the actions of the government is the “Breaking News” banner, thirty minutes earlier, just before the first tower collapsed, informs that the “Capitol, Treasury, White House Evacuated”. (CNN 9/11 – South Tower collapses) The producers move the topic of the reporting, in both cases, towards assuring the American people that their elected official is safe and the stability of the country is ensured, especially after witnessing the two tragedies of the World Trade Center towers collapsing.

The following day, the majority of the stories for the New York Times were about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C. With many similarities to the prior day’s reporting by Aaron Brown, some stories are about aspects of event that humanize and create a relationship with the audience; many others detail the political aspect and governmental viewpoint of the event. One that captures the humanization of the event describes the transportation situation the prior day. The most heart-warming part was describing the walk home of two men, “[they] were strangers to each other before yesterday morning, but they hugged each other before they went their separate ways in Manhattan.” (Kennedy) Despite those types of stories being prevalent, there were many more that dealt with overall government policy and the larger scope of the attacks. The New York Times establishes the villain behind the attacks as Osama bin Laden and his religious rhetoric for causing such great damage. (Burns) Also, from the New York Times, an article hypothesizing that by the United States being attacked, a closer relationship with Israel would be forced due to similar fears of being attacked. (Bennet) On the day following the attacks, more articles were focused on “big-picture” aspects of the events as compared to human interest stories.

Five days after the attacks on the United States, The Observer, Great Britain’s The Guardian’s Sunday publication, ran a three-part series covering many different angles of the attacks. The first part drew readers in by describing the Islamic radicals’ lives, how they spent their time in the United States being trained, and how all of the four flights began and sadly ended that September morning. Also in that first section, Americans who happened to be on those flights and were able to contact loved ones were mentioned with regards to how they informed people on the ground that their flights had been hijacked. In the second and third sections, Moeller’s concept of the media illustrating the impact of terrorism on a government as a whole, comes back. Everything from President Bush’s activities to Great Britain’s Tony Blair’s speech about “standing shoulder to shoulder” on September 11th  to negotiating with Pakistan about being able to use their airspace to aid in capturing Osama bin Laden. (“When our world changed forever”) Even with this one, three-part article, it can be seen that more of the focus is on the global impact and ramifications that these attacks had caused.

Remembering the events from that day, Eliza Smales, an Australian student offers insight about any changes in American reporting styles, “From my point of view, I’d think the American news media would have become more paranoid and conscious of terrorism as a news subject.” She unfortunately was young at the times of the attacks and was unable to provide much depth onto the matter. Regarding terrorism coverage in Australia, she notes,

“The Australian news media may have changed slightly. Now that I am older I notice there are more reports on possible terrorism acts/ suspects, as terrorists were brought to our attention with 9/11. Before then, it wasn’t really an issue. I know with the Melbourne commonwealth games (2006) there was a lot of tight security due to terrorism threats and we heard about it but it was not over publicized. It’s not a constant issue in our news media.”

Also, her sister believes that, “our news has become more racist. They concentrate a lot on different religions and race groups that are stereotypically linked to terrorism attacks.” (personal communication, February 18, 2010)

Most media outlets following the attacks on the United States were objective in their reporting styles. Although, is there a difference in objectivity? Various sources, such as a cable news desk anchor, the New York Times, and The Observer, all advance the knowledge of their audience regarding the large-scale impact towards foreign policy and governmental activities. This is done at an expense to human interest stories that can be focused on domestically. “The world is watching, and waiting, for news,” (“When our world changed forever”) that is objective in nature and focused on the “big-picture” impacts of the decisions that were made.

Works Cited

Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and the Press. Vol. 1. Washington D.C/Baltimore: Peter Lang, 2009.

Bennet, James. “Spilled Blood Is Seen as Bond That Draws 2 Nations Closer.” New York Times 12 Sept. 2010, U.S. sec. Nytimes.com. 12 Sept. 2001. Web. 3 Feb. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/international/12ISRA.html?scp=2&sq=september%2012,%202001&st=cse>.

Burns, John F. “American the Vulnerable Meets a Ruthless Enemy.” New York Times 12 Sept. 2001, International sec. Nytimes.com. 12 Sept. 2001. Web. 2 Feb. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/international/12OSAM.html?scp=4&sq=september 12, 2001&st=cse&pagewanted=1>.

“CNN 9/11 – South Tower collapses.” CNN Live. CNN. WUSA, New York City, 11 Sept. 2001. Youtube.com. Cable News Network, 29 Oct. 2006. Web. 2 Feb. 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9Q5ff7hRYo>.

“Collapse of the North Tower: CNN Coverage.” CNN Live. CNN. WNYW, New York City, 11 Sept. 2001. Youtube.com. Cable News Network, 19 Oct. 2006. Web. 2 Feb. 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjwDv_IONgA&feature=related>.

Kennedy, Randy. “With City Transit Shut Down, New Yorkers Take to Eerily Empty Streets.” New York Times 12 Sept. 2001, NY/Region sec. Nytimes.com. 12 Sept. 2001. Web. 2 Feb. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/nyregion/12SUBW.html?scp=9&sq=september 12, 2001&st=cse&pagewanted=1>.

Moeller, Susan D. Packaging Terrorism. Singapore: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

“When our world changed forever.” The Observer. The Guardian, 16 Sept. 2001. Web. 1 Feb. 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/sep/16/news.september11>.