Media Representations of the Events of September 11th 2001

The September 11, 2001 terror attacks produced a profound impact on American society and, to a significant extent, these events provoked the following war on terror initiated by the US against terrorist organizations and states supporting terrorism. At the same time, this tragedy of American people has become the subject of a particular concern of media not only in the US but throughout the whole world. Naturally, such a profound attention from the part of media to September 11 terror attacks could not fail but affect the consciousness of mass audience dramatically.

In this respect, it is worthy of mention that the effect of terror attacks of September 11, was so significant that, as Jessica Hamblen says, “the nation was forever changed”(2001: 42) as well as the whole world and the global society.

However, the role of media in the formation of such a change should not be underestimated. In order to better understand the effect of media representation of terror attacks of September 11, it is primarily necessary to briefly dwell upon the general effects of terror attacks and basic targets of terrorists.

Speaking about the effect of terror acts, it is necessary to underline from the very beginning that they impacts not only individuals but also many countries and the global community at large. Numerous studies have shown that “deliberate violence creates longer lasting mental-health effects than natural disasters or accidents” (Hamblen 2001:82). Consequences of terror attacks may last for quite a long time and as it has been already mentioned they affect both individuals and community. People, particularly survived victims, their relatives or just witnesses of a tragedy may be overwhelmed by different feelings but such feelings as anger, a desire for revenge, frustration, helplessness, fear are usually the strongest. They may also be deteriorated by the feeling of injustice that people may think have been done to them. Actually, this feeling of injustice may result in all others mentioned above. It is worthy to note that the study have revealed the fact that “acting on this anger and desire for revenge can increase rather than decrease feelings of anger, guilt and distress”[1] (Hamblen 2003:89).

After September 11 the rate of psychological and mental health problems dramatically increased. Thus, a psychological result of any terror attack is shock, growing tension, loss of confidence in the security of life, fear and a strong feeling of injustice. Moreover, it was not the only consequence of this terror attack. As Hamblen and some others researchers estimate “over a year after the bombing, increased rates of alcohol use, smoking, stress, and PTSD symptoms as compared to citizens of another metropolitan city were reported”[2] . So, it is possible to say that the terror attack had not only psychological but social and economic effect because psychological problems cause problems of interpersonal relations, it influences the working abilities of people. As for alcohol use and smoking it deteriorates mental and physical health that is naturally results in problems within families and on the working place, furthermore the threat of antisocial behavior of people who smoke or use alcohol becomes quite real.

However, the effects of terror attacks of September 11, could be, in all probability, less severe if media representation of these events was not so wide. It is not a secret that the tragedy has been depicted in details and analyzed for days, weeks and months after terror attacks. What is more, millions of people could watch the tragic events live and after that people watched the same tragic picture of death of thousands of people over and over again. In fact, the role of media in the representation of the events of September 11 was, to a significant extent crucial, since the permanent focus on the tragedy in all media throughout the US as well as in the entire world contributed to the development of certain social hysteria and paranoia making people panic and being afraid of possible further terror attacks. As a result, the negative consequences of terror attacks were multiplied by the wide media representation of the tragedy.

It is also important to underline that the consequences of terror attacks were really global because of the development of media and integration of many countries there is practically no room where such terror attacks as September 11 remained unnoticed and without its negative effects. Moreover, people in many countries of the world turned to be equally exposed to the negative impact of terror attacks because they were equally affected by media.

At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the public grew more and more nervous and even panic because media revealed them not only the terrible result of terror attacks but also increased the tension emphasizing that basically Americans are not fully protected from similar attacks in the future and, what is more, the fact that the US government or security service could know about the possible attacks and did not prevent them were widely discussed in media that also contributed to the growth of social instability and overwhelming fear.

Moreover, the tragedy was depicted and analyzed practically in all media and, what is more, some media attempted to blame the current president of the US in this tragedy. In this respect, it is worthy of mention scandalous documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11”. However, the latter were quite rare exceptions in the context of growing media support of anti-terrorist campaign that basically lead not only to panic of civilian population of the US but also to the growing tension between ethnic and religious groups contributing to the spread of racial and religious intolerance that also undermined social stability not only in the US but in other countries of the world.

Obviously, practically all media represented September 11 events as the greatest tragedy in the US history but, at the same time, media paid little attention to the consequences of their work. To put it more precisely, attempting to widely represent the events media did not take into consideration its possible negative effects on older people, children, or people with some psychological problems. Even after the tragedy, both media supporting the official policy of Washington and criticizing it did not manage to provide an objective view on the events but rather were focused on the finding those who were guilty or responsible for the terror attacks, while there was paid a little attention to reestablishment of normal life. What is meant here is the fact that media did not attempt to adequately assess the potential threats American could be exposed to but instead they rather insisted that their future is vague and no one can really guarantee that Americans are secured.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that the representation of terror attacks and its consequences by media were basically inadequate and affected by political interests the media represented. On the one hand, there were media attempting to find some external enemy while others focus on the search of the hidden internal enemy that contributed to the tragedy, while practically no media in national scale did not attempt to really reconcile and reassure the nation that Americans can be protected and practically no media did not prevent risky category of population from watching the terrible events that is quite difficult to bear even for a psychologically strong people.

[1] Hamblen, J. What Are the Traumatic Stress Effects of Terrorism? New York: New Publishers, 2003, p.89.


[2] Hamblen, J. What Are the Traumatic Stress Effects of Terrorism? New York: New Publishers, 2003, p.194.


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