Aaron Brown’s visit to our class on April 22nd helped us better understand the symbiotic relationship between terrorism and the press and helped us come closer to defining terrorism. A former anchor of CNN and a

Aaron Brown, former CNN anchor

current professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Aaron Brown is known for his coverage of September 11th, 2001, particularly of his coverage live from New York City the day of the attacks. The insights he provided were highly pertinent to our course, given his experience covering a very familiar account of terrorism.

As a class, we discussed the media’s messages about terrorism with Aaron Brown, especially the messages that tell the stories of the perpetrators and the victims. His journalistic emphasis in covering terrorism is on making certain that the victims’ stories are told. If needed, he would speak to the families of victims in order to complete the story of an individual. When he told us, “it’s not that 3000 people died, it’s that one person died 3000 times,” we came to realize the importance of journalism’s role in making sure that a victim is not forgotten and that each victim is recognized properly. When we get to know the victims of a terrorist attack through media, we become better acquainted with the impact of terrorism. If the perpetrators are in the spotlight, they could, as we learned in our course, be using the media as another terrorist tool to get their message heard and they could also be taking attention away from the most deserving individuals: the victims.

In addition to finding a balance between coverage of victims and coverage of perpetrators, media struggle with defining and using the word terrorism. When asked about the hesitation with which the word terrorism is used in certain journalistic settings, Aaron Brown said, “I didn’t have trouble using the word when it was terrorism, and I didn’t have trouble not using the word when it wasn’t terrorism.” When asked if the attack of the Pentagon on 9/11 was an act of terrorism even though government officials were targeted, he said it absolutely was an act of terrorism mainly because of the innocent, politically uninvolved individuals in the hijacked airplane. He seemed to define terrorism easily and used his definitions to correctly apply the word to his news stories.

As we pulled apart the concept of terrorism this semester and discussed its role in the media, we may have forgotten an important point that Aaron Brown brought up during our discussion. The people who are experiencing a news story first hand are in a unique position, in which very few of us will find ourselves in. Therefore, an important take-home message following this discussion is that we are somewhat limited in the degree to which we can draw conclusions about terrorism and the press. I was personally humbled by this idea that my perspective is narrow and that I must remember that someone will always have a more complete, first-hand perspective than me. It is this frame of mind with which I will take caution and be only as critical as my experience will allow me to be.