The Role of the Media On September 11 and During the Months That Followed the Attack

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The media played a vital part in forming the opinions of the American population both on and after September 11. Appeals to the emotions of post-September 11th America were demonstrated. Through television and print, the media attempted to control the minds of Americans by focusing on George Bush, the FBI, and the CIA, during the day of the attack and shortly after; the USA PATRIOT Act entered the spotlight in the weeks following the attacks.
     The media repeatedly used the phrase “high alert” in the days following the attacks. In a short article in the “Washington Post” that was written the night of the attacks, writer, Charles Babington, focused on this phrase. Babington and the media also keyed on words, such as, “stunning”, “chaos”, and “terrorism”. These words seemed to have the greatest impact on Americans. Many Americans were terrified of what might happen next. “I just saw my two towers fall. I’m devastated beyond belief. In many respects this is significantly worse than Pearl Harbor, and we don’t know who the enemy is.” (Lewis Eisenberg, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey qtd. in Babington). These feelings caused many Americans to desire legislation to preserve their freedom.
     Bush stated, “ high-alert status… freedom itself was attacked… freedom
will be defended.” (Washington Post) Bush was also using the phrase “high-alert” which was probably to gain support from the American population. Bush realized that America need to take immediate action to prevent future attacks, and he stated, “Terrorism will not stand.” These ploys to gain public support seemed to be an appeal to pathos. Bush was planning for anti-terrorism legislation and by appealing to his audience’s emotions he gained support. Bush used word “will” in almost all of his speeches, this word is very definite and portrays Bush as a strong leader.
     As Bush was gaining support, America was dealt another blow, the fear of biological warfare began terrifying Americans. Letters containing anthrax, an acute infectious disease which is caused by spores of the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, were sent throughout New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Washington D.C. On September 24, 2001, MSNBC released a report about the World Health Organization’s belief on anthrax. WHO’s excutive director stated, “The threat of these things is real (MSNBC 1).” A report from MSNBC, the same day, gave a quote from Michael Osterholm, a bioterrorism expert. Osterholm claimed that America was unable to handle the bioterrorism the world is capable of.

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Osterholm’s claims of American incompetencies gave Bush more support, because Americans were looking to ultimately be as safe as possible.
     With anthrax threats occurring more and more each day the American people were forced to decide whether or not they wanted to sacrifice liberties for protection. According to a poll of registered voters done by Fox News, fifty-five percent of Americans believe the USA PATRIOT Act was a good thing. One month later on October 24, the government passed the USA PATRIOT Act which took away liberties in an effort to protect Americans.
     The media seemed to place the blame on governmental agencies for failure of intelligence. Babington wrote about Kenneth Katzman, a terrorism expert, who stated the attacks were of “catastrophic proportion.” Katzman also said, “How nothing could have been picked up is beyond me.” Katzman went on to say, “There’s a major, major intelligence failure.” (Washington Post)
     As early as 1994, the plans of the al-Qaeda organization to use aircraft as a weapon of mass destruction were revealed. In 1995, the plot to blow up a dozen U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean was discovered. One of the men involved, Abdul Hakim Murad, revealed to Philippines intelligence that al-Qaeda was planning to use aircraft as a weapon of mass destruction. The intelligence report of the Murad debriefing read, “he will hijack the aircraft, control the cockpit, and dive it at CIA headquarters…” (qtd. In Corbin 160) In 1999, the National Intelligence Council wrote a report warning that bin Laden associates “might hijack an aircraft and crash it into an American government building (Corbin 161).” The government refused to act on this intelligence, and the media after the September 11 attacks the media discovered the report in an investigation of the National Intelligence Council.
     James Barron, a writer for “The New York Times,” wrote an article that paralleled Babington’s article. In Barron’s article, he pointed out that both Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft “condemned the attacks and pledged their agencies would do everything possible to bring the organizers to justice.” (TNYT) Barron went on to write, “No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.” Barron appealed to the audience’s ethos in that obviously it is only rational to think that the United States intelligence system was failing, since the attacks could have been prevented if the CIA and FBI were working together.
     Babington and Barron both agreed that there was a failure in the intelligence of America. Ken Williams, an FBI agent, noticed a number of Islamic militants signing up for flying courses at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. On July 10, 2001, a memo was sent to FBI headquarters in Washington suggesting the need to monitor “civil aviation universities/colleges around the country.” (qtd. in Corbin 170) This memo was dismissed because it raised “too many awkward questions about intrusive government, civil liberties, and the role of the FBI in intelligence-gathering – the preserve of the CIA – rather than the Bureau’s traditional duties of law-enforcement (Corbin 171).”
     In the USA PATRIOT Act, President Bush made sure to strengthen the intelligence system of the United States. Government organizations, such as, the FBI and CIA were given the ability to share intelligence. Also, awkward questions were no longer going to be dismissed based on ethnicity.
     Many problems arose from allowing ethnicity to be a means of questioning. It seemed unfair that before September 11 people of Middle Eastern descent were not viewed any differently, but they were afterwards because people of the same descent were the cause of the attacks.     Americans opposed racial profiling more and more throughout the 20th century. “By early 2000, some 80 percent of Americans said they had heard of racial profiling and felt it should be stopped” (Coke 91). “September 11 changed all that” (91).
     The USA PATRIOT Act provided for increases in racial profiling, therefore it was no surprise that the average person of Middle Eastern descent took twice as long to get through security checkpoints in airports and government buildings as others races did. The same Americans that heavily opposed racial profiling in 2000 believed in it in post-September 11 America. “Within a month of the attack, surveys showed that a majority of Americans favored more intensive security checks for Arab and Middle Eastern people (91).”
     Racial profiling became commonplace, and America’s belief of justice for all was forgotten. On November 9, 2001, “The attorney general orders state and local law enforcement to assist the FBI in conducting interviews of 5,000 men, ages eighteen to thirty-three, who entered the United States since January 2000 and come from nations where Al-Qaeda is known to be active (Coke 95).” On November 19, “The Bush Administration imposes new security checks on visa applications from ‘men from certain countries, aged 16 to 45’ (96).” Due to these continuous infringements on civil rights, activist groups began retaliating against the USA PATRIOT Act.
     Organizations, including People for the American Way oppose the civil liberty infringements of the USA PATRIOT Act. Arguments over the constitutionality of the USA PATRIOT Act, including due process of law, illegal searching, probable cause issues, and racial profiling were posed. “The USA PATRIOT Act allows the government to place an immigrant on indefinite detention over minor visa violations which eliminates the probable cause guaranteed by the Constitution” (American Way 2). Searching a person for criminal reasons is now acceptable if the government has any reason to believe they may obtain “foreign intelligence information (USA PATRIOT Act).”
     To gain support for the anti-USA PATRIOT Act cause, groups like People for the American Way, newscasters, and authors began blaming George Bush for the September 11 attacks. President Bush was being faulted for focusing too much attention on domestic affairs and not enough attention on negotiations in the Middle East. “Throughout history we have looked at the messy affairs of the world and often decided we would rather not get involved… for example, President Bush refused… to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians… September 11th taught us we cannot escape the rest of the world.” (Frank 122) Over the next year, the USA PATRIOT Act lost support, because Americans were becoming annoyed with the added time it took to pass through airports and government buildings.
     In response, Bush invaded Iraq, a country in the Middle East, in the spring of 2003. Bush and his intelligence believed that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, was housing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs.) By attacking Iraq, Bush regained popularity with American people for doing what he had not becoming involved in foreign affairs. CNN conducted a poll on March 23, 2003 which asked if Americans favored or opposed the Iraq War; seventy-two percent of the people voted that they favored the Iraq War. On November 20, 2004, only forty-eight percent of the people, in that same poll, favored the Iraq War. Bush did what the Americans wanted by becoming involved in foreign affairs, and he even captured Saddam Hussein, something George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton failed to do. However, the fact remained that the American population had changed their minds about wanting Bush to get involved in foreign affairs, but it was too late.
     Throughout the Iraq War, Bush has been receiving heat for the troops that are being lost. In the 2004 presidential election, Bush’s top challenger democrat nominee Senator John Kerry criticized Bush for attacking Iraq rather than Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden, leader of the September 11th attacks, is from. Bush also received bad publicity from movies and songs.
     Michael Moore, a respected filmmaker, directed a movie called Fahrenheit 9/11 which portrayed Bush as a liar, and it claimed Bush was in Iraq because his father had failed there. Eminem, a famous rapper, came out with numerous songs that were anti-Bush. His song “Mosh” appeals to the audience’s pathos by using emotional beats and lyrics. With pop culture icons, such as, these two men it was hard for Bush to maintain a strong image.
     People seem to always point fingers, and they fail to realize George Bush is only a man and the agents in the FBI and CIA are only people too. Popular opinion called for Bush to take action in the Middle East and he did, but things did not go according to plan and the many Americans turned on him. Eminem proved this by singing, “No more blood for oil, we got our own battles to fight on our soil.”
     President Bush’s decisions reflected that of the polls. Protection was desired and he proposed the USA PATRIOT Act. Intelligence failed and the FBI and CIA were criticized, so he improved the intelligence capabilities America and the communication between the two agencies, through the USA PATRIOT Act. The media proved very influential in many ways. Not only did they influence George Bush through polls, but they also were capable of turning some Americans against the president, despite their own beliefs.


     


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