If nothing could prepare the American populace for the events of
September 11, 2001, then the same could be said of the network news
media. Networks scrambled to maintain television signals as their
towers lost power. Reporters strained for words to describe the
confusion, chaos and horror unfolding around them. Anchors struggled
to decipher images and events streaming in real time. For a few
hours, television coverage of these events was remarkably raw. Single
cameras sat focused the World Trade Center towers. Television stations
cut between New York, Washington DC doing little more than reporting
events as they happened, carefully shying away from interpretation
of the events, or speculation as to their causes.
By the evening, this relatively unedited view gave way to more
interpreted, stylized news stories. Now, in addition to live coverage,
American viewers were given prepared video segments, stories, and
montages. The plane hi-jackings and disasters were given a title,
thus framing them in American terms. Television journalists sought
out human-interest stories and looked for themes and meaning in
the days events. Within 24-36 hours, it became apparent that these
were evil acts perpetrated by cowards who lurk in the shadows unto
an innocent America, and that war was not a choice, it had already
These interpretations and framing of events certainly play an
important role in how we perceive events. However, perhaps equally
important are the hundreds of editorial decisions that television
journalists make from moment to moment. What images do they select
to depict people from the Middle East? What sound accompanies shots
of Americans compared to shots of citizens of the Middle East? Because
we perceive images that are shown in succession as related - questions
surrounding how the network media are presenting images become important.
Perhaps most critically, the nature of the images presented, what
is included in the "story," and what is left out can have important
ramifications for how we interpret what the fundamental issues are
in an event.
Questions to Consider
- Although there is a range of ways that the network television
media is portraying events, already there are examples of news
footage that present a very troubling picture of how these events
are being presented to the American public. Examine these video
feeds from CNN.
Three sample CNN feeds:
- How are Americans, Palestinians, and Iraqis represented?
- What is missing from these representations?
- Where did these images of Palestinians come from?
- Do they appear to be connected to these events?
Transcripts from "Palestinians Celebrate"
These pictures of Palestinians celebrating the terrorist attacks
on the United States horrified all of those who were watching. Palestinian
leaders were quick to point out that these were only isolated incidents
by what they called an ignorant few. Chairman Yassir Arrafat immediately
condemned the attacks.
"We are completely shocked completely shocked. Unbelievable."
Later Arrafat was seen giving blood, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity
with America. Arab allies, the Iranian president and even Libya
have strongly condemned what has happened saying that it violates
Islamic principles. But on the streets of all these counties anti-Americanism
has been building. Moderates are being eclipsed by extremists after
almost a year of violence in the Middle East. The Palestinian in
(can't tell) in Israel
"We don't wish for the destruction of the American people." Said
this man. "We just want the destruction of Bush and Congress because
they support Israel."
Experts in radical Islamic terrorism say masterminds like Ossada
bin Laden have cleverly manipulated a real sense of grievance into
a willingness by some to become human instruments of mass murder.
Ossada bin Laden has been, in the Muslim world, capitalizing on
very sensitive issues that mobilize the whole Arab and Muslim community:
The liberation of Jerusalem, American troop presence in Saudi Arabia;
of course the fate of the Iraqi people suffering under sanctions.
This gathered momentum after the gulf war when bin Laden bitterly
complained about US troops in Saudi Arabian troops invited by Saudi
Arabian leaders to defend against the Iraqis and yet condemned by
bin Laden and extremist Islamic preachers for quote desecrating
In addition, Muslims all over the world have been enraged by a
decade of continued bombing against Iraqi military installations
and crippling sanctions that have ended up hurting the iraqi people
more than their intended target: Saddam Hussein and his regime.
Experts say terrorism cells manage to operate in America's Arab
allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Europe and North
Fearful of a backlash, mainstream Moslem leaders here in Europe
are trying to explain that this war on American civilians is a crime
that can never be justified as religious duty.
"The position of Muslim community in the UK, as I'm sure in different
parts of the world is I'm sure is very clear. We condemn absolutely
and unequivocally the atrocity that has been committed. We believe
that the people, the perpetrators of this heinous crime are outside
the pale of civilization."
So now British and other world leaders are calling for a global
alliance to combat a global network of terrorism. To arrest them
cell by cell, shut down their financial support and make it more
difficult to forge travel documents. There are no quick fixes they
say, just a long, sustained, and difficult campaign.
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