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The Shock of the News

The Shock of the News: Media Coverage and the Making of 9/11

Brian A. Monahan
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Shock of the News
    Book Description:

    How did the events of September 11, 2001 come to be thought of as 9/11? The Shock of the News is an authoritative account of post-9/11 political and social processes, offering an in-depth analysis of the media coverage of this momentous event. Brian Monahan demonstrates how 9/11 has been transformed into a morality tale centered on patriotism, victimization, and heroes.Introducing the idea of public drama as a way of making sense of how media processed and packaged the 9/11 attacks for their audiences, Monahan not only illuminates how and why the coverage took shape as it did, but also provides us with new insights into the social, cultural, and political consequences of the attacks and their aftermath. Monahan explains how and why 9/11 became such a potent symbol, exploring how meanings and symbols get created, reinforced, and disseminated in modern society. Ultimately, Monahan offers an important new understanding of this singular event of our time, and his compelling narrative brings the momentous events back into focus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5957-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. PART I

    • 1 Introduction: Understanding Public Drama
      (pp. 3-17)

      We are in the age of the endless news cycle. At any time of any day across an ever-expanding array of print, television, and online media, news is being crafted, communicated, and accessed by millions. Much debate in recent years has centered on the merits of this environment. Some people offer a “glass-half-full” assessment of the contemporary news industry, suggesting that the benefits of the ever-present stream of news and information outweigh any negative by-products it may generate. Those in this camp may point to a number of factors to support their view: the theoretical potential of better news (i.e.,...

    • 2 News as Public Drama: The Era of the Endless News Cycle
      (pp. 18-38)

      Members of the mainstream media audience have been witness to and, as news consumers, partially complicit in, an important shift in the media landscape over the last two decades: the increasing trend toward news that is fashioned into dramatic and emotional stories. This form of news, what I refer to aspublic drama, is now regularly found in the foreground of the media landscape, taking up residence in some of the most valued news real estate, such as lead stories on the morning news programs, discussion points for prime-time news programs, front-page or section leads in newspapers, and the covers...

    • 3 Making Public Drama: Telling a Good Story
      (pp. 39-52)

      Public drama has become an effective framework for packaging and presenting news amid the clutter of the modern media, particularly television. Audiences find news in this format to be appealing because of its entertainment-like quality; that is, it is simplistic and story driven and offers a collection of compelling images and characters. Media officials and news workers enjoy packaging news as public drama because it is relatively easy to put together and inexpensive to produce. Once the story is established, it can often be communicated with a mixture of anchor/reporter commentary, interviews, stock footage, and wire reports. Moreover, the fact...

  6. PART II

    • 4 Framing September 11: Overview of the Media and the Audience’s Response
      (pp. 55-69)

      It is difficult to imagine that an event could receive more media attention or produce a more attentive audience than did the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The sheer volume of media coverage devoted to the attacks and their aftermath was staggering, as was the fervor with which the public sought and consumed coverage of these events. In the words of media scholar Bernhard Debatin, “The whole world was watching the events in real time or very shortly after the events occurred” (Debatin 2002, 165). Although this statement may be construed as more hyperbole than fact, to do so is...

    • 5 Seeking Sense amid the Shock: The Coverage on September 11
      (pp. 70-94)

      When word that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers first broke on the morning of September 11, the cable and broadcast networks’ on-air personnel knew little about what they should say about the scene unfolding before them. The suddenness with which these events began and the way that the drama and calamity built in those first frantic morning hours presented extraordinary difficulties for the anchors, reporters, and other news workers who were trying to fashion what was happening into reportable news. The events were clearly newsworthy, even if what they were witnessing was not...

    • 6 The Drama Is in the Details: Dramatic Amplification at Ground Zero
      (pp. 95-116)

      NBC’s September 12, 2001 edition ofTodayopened with what had already become a familiar collection of video footage and still photos: the flames and smoke billowing out of the upper reaches of the WTC’s north tower, a plane flying into the south tower of the WTC, the two towers on fire after the impact, the explosion at the Pentagon, the crumbling of each of the WTC towers, the chaos of the emergency response, devastated rescue workers covered in soot and ash, and wide shots of the smoldering debris and ruins at Ground Zero. While these images were showing on...

    • 7 A Nation’s Tragedy: Cultivating Emotionality at Ground Zero
      (pp. 117-132)

      As the week wore on, the heightened drama that characterized the initial postattack period began to wane. This meant that there was more space available as well as great need for 9/11-related reports that were not explicitly focused on the terror of the attacks or the drama of the responseand-recovery operation. This subtle shift in focus already can be seen at various points in NBC’s September 12 coverage, but it became more visible during the September 13Todaybroadcast, as evident in this exchange between Couric and Lauer:

      Lauer: Katie, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about personal stories...


    • 8 America’s Heroes: New York’s Firefighters in the Spotlight
      (pp. 135-153)

      No individual or group (other than, perhaps, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda) received more frequent and prominent attention in the extensive postattack coverage than the firefighters of New York City. Within hours of the attacks, as information began to surface about what had happened and more about the magnitude of the destruction and loss of life in New York City became known, it became increasingly clear that the FDNY would be central to the developing story of September 11. Right after the attacks, many of the most visible “front-stage” aspects of the emergency response—evacuating the occupants of the buildings,...

    • 9 To the Stars Go the Spoils: Moral Currency and the FDNY
      (pp. 154-170)

      Within hours of the attacks, it became increasingly clear that New York City’s firefighters occupied a unique place in these tragic events. As the media and their audiences learned about the enormous loss of life among their ranks and witnessed their resolve as they combed every inch of Ground Zero for the remains of their fallen “brothers,” the firefighters became part of both the developing media narrative and public consciousness. By the close of the first week, the frequent and uniformly positive portrayals of the firefighters had become staples in the mainstream coverage of September 11. This continued in the...

    • 10 September 11 and Beyond: Public Drama in the Twenty-first Century
      (pp. 171-182)

      “There’s only three things [Rudy Giuliani] mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There’s nothing else.” These were the words of Senator Joe Biden, invoked to communicate his perception of Giuliani’s qualifications (or lack thereof) to serve as president of the United States.¹ Biden’s comment gained a laugh from many as it made the media rounds. Lost amid the obvious humor and political partisanship, however, was a more subtle message: September 11 remains a vital political resource for those who are willing and able to use it.

      The symbolic value of September 11 has been a central...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 183-202)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-216)
  10. Index
    (pp. 217-220)
  11. About the Author
    (pp. 221-221)