Essay on How Media Texts Create Different Versions of a Story

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George Washington University
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The way media frames stories creates history. For the most part, people get their news in fragments of detached headlines and images. The individual stories presented throughout, for instance, a newspaper are easily condensed by what appears on the front page. The newspapers cover makes up the foundation of a narrative, which is infiltrated in culture. The framing of a single event can take different approaches in different newspapers based on the target audience. According to Calhoun, Price and Timmer (2002) authors of newspaper articles structure texts and frame stories in a manner that appeals the most to their readers. The objective of the specific structure and framing authors adopt is to generate greater understanding by the reader. However, cultural concepts also play a central role in influencing the manner in which authors of newspaper articles structure and frame their stories. This paper will review a number of news texts from the US and across the globe that presented the 9/11 attack on the US and examine how the texts produced distinct versions of the event through the language they used.

One of the most important aspects of news texts concerns the use of imagery. Images of the Boeing planes hitting the World Trade Center were constantly repeated in the media (Calhoun, Price and Timmer, 2002). Although images are important in depicting the actual event, they are generally ineffective in providing an explanation for the event. Images of the impact of the planes on the World Trade Center had a powerful shock factor that engendered emotional responses in readers. For the most part, the images replaced language as the primary way through which people constructed and understood the reality of the 9/11 attack. Calhoun, Price and Timmer (2002) posit that through extensive use of imagery, authors dramatized the event, and downplayed the larger queries regarding why the event took place. There is a marked difference between the images used in American newspapers and those used in international newspapers. Generally, the images used in the front pages of American newspapers following the attack centered primarily on the single image of the World Trade Center buildings being hit. The vast majority of American newspapers used a single point of view of the attack with close up shots of the towers were still upstanding at the moment of impact, or moments later. The use of such imagery painted a vivid picture of the attack, allowing readers to feel as if they were in New York witnessing as the event unfolded.

On the other hand, international newspapers used imagery that provided a different point of view. Many international newspapers did not show close up images of the towers still standing. This is because the international newspapers used an entirely different frame than that of national newspapers. One possible explanation for this could be that while the American media was experiencing extensive shock, the international media was focused primarily on depicting the aftermath of the attack. Another notable distinction between the imagery used in American news texts and those of international newspapers concerns the depiction of humans in distress. While American newspapers did not show images of bodies plummeting from the towers following the attack, some international newspapers, for instance, O Dia of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil included the image of a victim plummeting to his death (Calhoun, Price and Timmer, 2002).

However, a notable similarity in the use of imagery by both American and international newspapers concerns the depiction of the Pentagon attack. For the most part, newspaper articles concerning the 9/11 attack focused on the attack on the twin towers with only a handful of articles talking about the attack on the Pentagon. The availability of images or pictures is one of the most notable factors that influence on what topics the media focuses. Perhaps some of the reasons why the attack on the Pentagon received significantly less media attention than the twin tower attack was not only that there were no dramatic images of the attack available to the media, but also the Pentagon attack involved less human loss. According to Calhoun, Price and Timmer (2002) the media is more likely to focus on stories that involve dramatic and emotive images than on stories that lack accompanying imagery. The rationale for this, especially with regard to front page news is that images speak volumes to readers before they can proceed to reading the text.

In addition to the use of imagery, appropriate use of headlines helps newspaper authors to produce distinct meanings of events. Headlines are a critical part of the news as they serve as the entry point to the news. Following the 9/11 attacks, sensational headlines such as terror and attack were commonplace in American newspapers while a commonplace headline in international newspapers was the term, apocalypse (Calhoun, Price and Timmer, 2002). The use of these headlines was intended to capture the attention of readers while simultaneously providing a little insight into why the event took place. Such headlines captured the readers attention such that they become motivated to read the news text to uncover more details of the terror, attack, or apocalypse. Through information fragmentation, the headlines of American media concerning the 9/11 attack isolated the attack from the history of foreign policy and terrorism. This impacted the framing of the attack in readers collective memory as a self-contained event. For instance, if newspapers replaced single-word headlines such as unthinkable with terms such as payback then the 9/11 attack would have been framed as the consequence of another event rather than an independent occurrence. In the end, through the use of highly emotive headlines, newspapers managed to elucidate the drama and shock of the attacks rather than offer an explanation for the attacks.

Examining newspaper articles of American newspapers following the 9/11 attack reveals a prominent theme. The American newspapers depicted the US as a nation experiencing shock and trauma, yet unable to comprehend the motives behind the attacks. Major news articles such as opt-ad editorials or front page articles of newspapers such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times were some of the most widely read reports of the attack owing to their timeliness. As such, the articles in these newspapers played a critical role in shaping the narrative surrounding the attacks, thereby significantly shaping history. On September 13, 2001, the Los Angeles Times printed an op-ed editorial authored by Rempel and Serrano (2001) that framed the US as a nation of tolerance and freedom. The article praises New York as a city where people from all walks of life move to gain a better life. The article depicts the US as the embodiment of the perfect nation, making it difficult for the reader to comprehend why someone would desire to harm such a nation. Although the authors fail to examine the larger issues concerning US foreign policy, or possible explanations for the attacks, they conclude the article by noting that there would be consequences for the attack.

On September 11, 2001, Apple (2001) published an article in the New York Times that posed questions of how the US would retaliate against the attackers. Like the Los Angeles Times article, the New York Times article also fails to provide an in-depth examination of measures the US can take to curtail further violence. Instead, both articles focus on depicting the US as a blameless victim and the attackers as malicious individuals out to destroy the sanctity of the US without provocation. The New York Times article makes suggestions for the US government to retaliate against terrorists using light and deadly weaponry such as cruise missiles (Apple, 2001). The New York Times article goes further to frame the terror attack on the US as a global event rather than one only affecting the US. It proposes that the US must demonstrate to its allies that terrorism poses a global threat (Apple, 2001).

Similarly, a Washington Post article published on September 12, 2001 by Grunwald (2001) calls on the US to exert revenge on its attackers. The Washington Post article goes as far as to mention the name of Osama Bin Laden as the principal suspect behind the attacks on the US. Notably, like the two other American newspaper articles, the Washington Post article frames the discourse surrounding the attacks by steering clear of the motives behind the attack, choosing to focus singly on the impact of the attacks on the US and the world as a whole, especially by framing the issue of terrorism as a growing global problem. Notably, the highlighted American newspaper stories do not discuss the issue of violence breeding more violence or the fact that retaliation can produce more violence and attacks. An outstanding theme in these articles is the lack of discussion of possible motives for the attacks. The articles do not mention of foreign affairs strategies such as state attacks on nations often triggers counterattacks by guerilla forces. Essentially, the narrative by American newspapers concerning the 9/11 attacks disregarded international angles that could explain the attackers motivations.

On the other hand, international newspapers adopted a different perceptive when reporting the 9/11 attacks on the US. For instance, The Guardian, one of Britains leading newspapers published an article titled, They cant see why they are hated where the author (Milne, 2001) points to US foreign polices as one of the primary motivations behind the attacks. The article criticizes the US governments foreign policy as instrumental in influencing retaliatory attacks against the US. Milne (2001) suggests that the US cannot disregard its actions abroad. The article paints a parallel picture of the US from the one painted by the American newspapers. Milnes article frames the attack on the US as a consequence of American foreign policy, noting that all Americans appear to be ignorant of who was fundamentally responsible for the attacks. The article argues that while rage, shock, and grief were widespread, there was still no appreciation of the motives of the attackers who sacrificed their own lives to bring harm to Americans. The author of the article frames the US as a hated nation that appears ignorant of why people from Muslim and Arab countries, as well as developing nations hate it. This construction of the 9/11 attacks differs sharply from the one provided by the aforementioned American newspaper articles. By depicting the attack as inspired by American actions, the article in The Guardian depicts the US not as a blameless victim, but as an instigator of retaliatory violence owing to its actions abroad.

In the Middle East, the construction of the 9/11 attacks on the US bore close similarity to Milnes article in The Guardian by framing the 9/11 attacks as the consequence of negative US foreign policy. In The Jordan Times article, For the Arrogance of Power America now Pays a Terrible Price, author Power (2001) bluntly blames the 9/11 attacks on US foreign policies through the years. The article frames the attack in stark opposition to the American newspapers, arguing that the US appeared extremely distressed and angered by the attacks on its soil, as well as surprised about why anyone would feel so much hatred against it as to perpetrate such heinous acts. Power (2001) suggests that the isolationist actions of American political representatives and media were the primary motives for the attacks.

From the analysis of articles of different newspapers from different countries, it is evident that the framing of a single event can take differ...

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