News Coverage of September 11th, 2001

The attack that occurred on September 11th, 2001 on the World Trade Center in New York City is an event that lingers in the minds of many Americans and other people throughout the world. Most people can recall exactly where they were and whom they were with when they first heard about the airplanes crashing into the towers. It was a day that changed the way people looked at the world and brought to light the realities that even the wealthiest and most military advanced country was not safe from acts of terrorism.  The dangers posed by religious extremist  were being carried out on national and international news outlets live in front of millions if not billions of people worldwide.  The events that occurred on this day changed the way journalism was practiced both by U.S. and foreign media outlets.  This essay examines how domestic and foreign news stations covered the events of 9/11.

As the events unfolded right in front of the eyes of America the framing of the news that day was done without preparation.  Recollecting back to September 11th, 2001 the images being seen across the world were astonishing. In the beginning of the news coverage by the majority of the news stations both national and international, everyone seemed to be amazed and confused about what exactly was going on.  No one knew if the first plane was purposely crashed into the first tower or if it were a small passage plane that accidently flew into its side.

Once the second plane crashed into the other tower it was evident that it was done deliberately. Live broadcast from Sky news focused on the live events as they were taking place.  Sky news relied on images from colleague stations in the United States such as CBS and FOX news channels to bring live image feeds from New York City into the homes of people in Europe. Sky news did not associate terrorism with the plane crash into the World Trade Center until after the second plane crashed into it because it was evident it was done so purposely. BBC World as they reported the events in New York City, would only classify the event as two plane accidents and did not associate it to any act of terrorism.  According to “Television journalism during terrorist attacks” by Kirsten Mogensen, she states “terror events happen so quickly that there is hardly anytime to check the information. On September 11th, 2001, major television networks chose to transmit from the World Trade Center even though their anchors did not know what had happened. The viewers saw the pictures on the screen at the same time as the anchors did (Morgensen 38).” Garry Tuchman a National Correspondent from CNN states, “ The most important thing is to be accurate…be honest and explain that there’s a lot of commotion and chaos. And while you’re staying clam, explain we’re trying to gather the information the best we can.  We are going to give it to you as it comes but if we’re not sure about it, we’ll make it clear to you (Morgensen 38).” Newscasts from NBC, Sky, and BBC World reported the news almost identical and in a way that informed viewers that they too were unsure of the motive if any behind the plane crashes into the twin towers. It was clearly stated by both domestic and foreign news stations that many detail were unclear and they would be made available as they came in. It was not only a story that affected Americans but also people throughout the World. For the first time since Pearl Harbor Americans were being attacked on their own soil. Due to the surprise and scale of the attacks of 9/11 it focused the worlds’ attention to New York City because it showed if this could happen to the mightiest country in the world it could happen to any other nation.

It is important to note the way in which the news was broadcasted.  A new name would become embedded into the minds of Americans, Osama Bin Laden along with his terror network known as Al Qaeda.  As the media in the United States began to find a motivation behind the attacks it also began to associate images of terrorism to people from the Middle East, primarily people of the Islamic faith. The media began to negatively affect the way Muslims would be viewed not only in the United States but also in many countries of the World.

Gordon Friedrichs of Frankfurt, Germany can recall the moment when he first learned about the terrorist attacks in New York, “I just came back from school (High school) and turned on the TV. It was around 2pm here in Germany and the first picture I saw was the first tower burning. I thought it was a trailer to a movie or something until I realized I was actually watching the news.”  Gordon mentions that out of Germany’s six-news station, consisting of two public and four private networks all simultaneously reported live about the events in the United States. The broadcasts in Germany included interviews from people from the streets of New York, various experts, politicians and local reporters.  He further mentions that the newscast began to include facts and detailed information on Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda as an effort to try and make sense of these attacks.  When asked, what was your initial reaction to the events? Gordon gave a very interesting answer. “Actually, my first thought was: this will be war. I was still in High School so I did not have an analytical or sober view on American politics like I have today, but the picture that was portrayed in Germany about the Bush administration (hardline, hawkish conservative) led me to the thought that this is going to get us into a war scenario. I think pretty much everyone felt shocked and couldn’t believe it. I felt fear though. Fear because I was afraid the US will overreact. We were taught about WWII and the nuclear bombing on Japan and I saw similar pictures in my head. I was also afraid of additional terrorist attacks, not so much in Germany, but maybe other parts in the U.S. forcing the country into chaos.” This is a very interesting perspective for someone to have about the reaction of the U.S. government.  Looking back at history it is understandable why Gordon would have this view on the possible overreaction of the United States military because the last time American soil was attacked it lead to a long bloody war that utilized a nuclear warhead, killing hundred of thousands of Japanese people.   

Many people could not believe that an attack of this calibre could be plotted and carried out against the world’s leading super power and many were worried about the reaction the U.S. government would have. Many countries feared they would be attacked and many others felt this would lead to World War III.  When posed with the question, do you think 9/11 changed the American news media in any way? Gordon responded, “As a non-US citizen you might get the impression that the war on terror sharpened the tone on how to protect the country and the world from such a threat. At the same time you might also think that the media uses this topic for their own purpose, namely to promote their ideological principles, whether they are liberal or conservative. I do think that the media now talks about topics which had been taboo for a long time, therefore creating a different level of readiness among the people for cuts of their rights.” Did it change the news media in your own country? “It did not really change the news media in general, like the kind of presentation or structure,” Gordon Stated.  “It did change the selection of topics though. Topics that are correlated to terrorism or are an immediate consequence of the war on terror enjoy now a higher sensitivity as well as a higher attention by the media. We almost had a 24/7 news coverage on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and we are always sensitive to new terrorist attacks around the world. Moreover, as soon as there are events happening such as in Tunisia or Egypt right now, the news media considers potential uprising of fundamentalists or terrorist groups. So all in all, I believe the way international politics is covered in the media changed slightly, drawing the attention and the people’s awareness to the presence of terror in the world.”

It is clear to see that American and British news stations covered the attacks carried out on September 11th, 2001 almost identical.  The way in which the news was broadcast live as the events were unfolding that day allowed for viewers and news anchors to be informed simultaneously while also being accountable to the audience for the information being administered. On the other hand news coverage has changed slightly post 9/11 giving higher sensitivity to terror attacks and organizations across the globe.

Works Cited

Archetti, Cristina. “Comparing International Coverage of 9/11: Towards an Interdisciplinary Explanation of the Construction of News.” Journalism (London, England) 11.5 (2010): 567-88. Print.

BBC 9/11 Coverage. 2001. Retrieved February 5th, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15_DS_6kZ1k&NR=1

Hahn, Oliver. “Transatlantic Foreign Reporting and Foreign Correspondents After 9/11.” The international journal of press/politics 14.4 (2009): 497-515. Print.

Li, Xigen, and Ralph Izard. “9/11 Attack Coverage Reveals Similarities, Differences.” Newspaper Research Journal 24.1 (2003): 204. Print.

Mogensen, Kirsten. “Television Journalism during Terror Attacks.” Media, war & conflict 1.1 (2008): 31-49. Print.

NBC 9/11/01 2nd Plane Collides. 2001.  Retrieved February 5th, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Tl__04Xoi0&feature=related

PÅ‚udowski, Tomasz. How the World’s News Media Reacted to 911 :Essays from Around the Globe. Spokane, Wash.: Marquette Books, 2007. Print.

Sky News September 11th, 2001. 2001. Retrieved February 4th, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=449lQO93JU&feature=related

Stacks, John. “Hard Times for Hard News: A Clinical Look at U.S. Foreign Coverage.” World policy journal 20.4 (2003): 12-21. Print.