Reflections on September 11

The events of September 11, 2001 dramatically changed the way in which the news media operated. We were faced with what was possibly the worst attack on American soil ever. The tragedy of 9/11 held global implications that are still being seen today. On the day of the attacks, news media outlets all over the United States, and the world, interrupted their planned broadcasts to alert citizens of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In the hours immediately following the terrorist attacks, the American news media tried to report with objectivity. However, often times they were just receiving the breaking news themselves as the day unfolded. CNN anchor, and current ASU professor, Aaron Brown interrupted fellow anchor Jamie McIntyre to report the collapse of the South Tower, “Jamie…Jamie, I need you to stop for a second. There has just been a huge explosion. We can see a billowing smoke rising, and I’ll tell you that I can’t see that second tower” (Collapse of the South Tower, CNN). News anchors all over the country interjected with new information as it came in rapidly. According to a study conducted by Amy Reynolds and Brooke Barnett, during the first five hours of live coverage after the attacks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN reported rumors 84 times as news was constantly brought in. In addition, journalists acting as eye-witnesses that day made personal references 64% of the time (Barnett). Because of the crisis nature of this event, information was coming in so quickly that journalists reported in ways that differed from their traditional roles. Journalists were interviewed as eyewitnesses as they watched the action from the streets, basic information was lacking in the studios and many broadcasters were at a loss for words for periods of time as they watched the horrific events.

In the aftermath of September 11, the American media began to focus on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, President Bush’s “War on Terror”, and other powerful White House rhetoric like “vengeance” and “justice”. Susan D. Moeller notes that “most of what the American and British media cover of terrorism relates to the impact of terrorism on governments and the body politic, not its impact on people and their very human bodies,” (46). This is somewhat reflected in the American media’s coverage of September 11. After the initial reporting of September 11, where the focus seemed to be more on the human lives lost and personal reflections, the media turned its focus to the political implications. The terms “terrorist”, “terrorism”, and “War on Terror” were now familiar to nearly all US citizens. The use of these words, initially stemming from the Bush White House, took on a life of their own in the media, “After September 11, many media first sourced the terms of the ‘War on Terror’ and ‘terrorist’ to the President and other administration officials, then as the terms slipped into common usage they began applying them to Bush foreign policy goals without attribution,” (Moeller, 109). Every day one could turn on their TV and hear this rhetoric, now infused in our nation’s vocabulary. Our nation was urged to unite as one and fight for justice for what had happened to us.

While the American media focused primarily on the personal political impact the attacks had on our country, the media in other countries focused more on the global impact. The British Broadcasting Corporation is the network that the United Kingdom turns to most frequently in times of crisis, and 9/11 proved no different (Barnett 120). In the first hours of the attack the BBC’s coverage mirrored that of the American media. They offered a “live, continuous, single-focused reporting of the event,” (Bouvier). Both news medias used phrases such as “the images you are just seeing” and “we are about to show you a repeat” for viewers just joining, breaking news was coming in every few minutes, and images of the collapsing towers were being played on loop.  However, following the initial shock of the event, the BBC turned its focus to the global ramifications. The BBC began to direct more coverage to the Middle East and terrorism. In the months following, they tried to remain objective, “When reporters from non-American news outlets wrote about the Bush’s administration’s ‘War on Terror’, the words were typically placed in quotation marks and preceded by the phrase ‘US-led’… that made it clear that this… was part of the White House’s political rhetoric and that the conflict was the United State’s,” (Moeller, 109-110). Because the attacks did not happen in the United Kingdom, the BBC had the luxury of not personalizing their broadcasts and instead focused on worldwide consequences.

The BBC coverage of the attacks did not stop right away, they published special “one-year on” and “five-year on” sections that feature items such as eyewitness reports and 9/11 Commission findings. This demonstrates the great impact that September 11 had on the global media. Years after the attack, esteemed foreign outlets were still publishing information regarding September 11.

My pen pal, Linette Ramos, the news editor at a newspaper in the second largest city in the Philippines, has noticed the affect of September 11 all over the world, “I think it’s not just the American media that changed after 9/11, and I guess you can say that it’s all the media in all countries that changed after US was attacked, although it was more evident in American media,” she said. “For one, personally I noticed that news magazines and other print media were giving more space and prominence to intelligence reports and correct me if I am wrong, stereotyping seemed to show in some news stories, and some are quick to identify bearded, Arab-looking individuals with ties to Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran as terrorist.” In regards to the effect in her own country, she felt that,

“In the Philippines, journalists were also on the look out for materials on the JI, Abu Sayyaf and other breakaway groups of the Al Qaeda and were quick to report any threat to peace and order. Media organizations are also more conscious of their journalists’ safety, especially after a prominent and high-caliber broadcast journalist was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf.”

I agree in that the terrorist attacks made many citizens of the world quick to judge and stereotype. Unfortunately, September 11 made many people paranoid for personal safety. September 11, 2001, changed the way in which not only the American media, but the global media, operates. 9/11 was brought into our collective memory and a pattern was established for covering horrific events like this that has since been seen with coverage in places like Russia, Georgia and now Egypt and Libya.

Works Cited

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

Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. “This Just In.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly (2003). Print.

Bouvier, Gwen. “Breaking News: The First Hours of the BBC Coverage as a Media Event.”  Journal for Crime, Conflict and the Media 2005 (2005). Print.

“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. 7 Feb. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjwDv_IONgA&feature=related>.

“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. 7 Feb. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9Q5ff7hRYo>.

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

Ramos, Linette. “Reflections on 9/11.” Message to the author. 8 Feb. 2011. E-mail.