Communication and Terrorism/Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11/journalism after September 11/mass Mediated Terrorism/Running toward Danger/The Press Effect/Women Journalists at Ground Zero

Article excerpt

This collection of book reviews pro vides the first book review essay that we have run in recent years. Written by Christopher Hanson of the University of Maryland, it offers an analysis of a large portion of the literature on media performance in light of September 11, 2001. In addition to commenting on the books, Dr. Hanson discusses how the books challenge future press performance in light of such challenges to American society. No Neutral Corner: The American News Media After 9/11 Communication and Terrorism. Bradley S. Greenberg and Marcia Taylor Thompson, eds. Creskill, NJ: The Hampton Press, 2002. 377 pp. $29.95.

Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11. Allison Gilbert, Robyn Walensky, Melinda Murphy, Phil Hirschkorn, and Mitchell Stevens, eds. Chicago: Bonus Books, 2002. 303 pp. $24.95.

Journalism After September 11. Barbie Zelizer and Stuart Allan, eds. London and NY: Routledge, 2002.268 pp. $21.95.

Mass Mediated Terrorism. Brigette L. Nacos. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. 232 pp. $24.95.

Running Toward Danger. Alicia Shepard and Cathy Trost, eds., Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. 256 pp. $29.95.

The Press Effect. Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. 220 pp. $26.

Women Journalists at Ground Zero. Judith L. Sylvester and Suzanne Hoffman, eds. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. 224 pp. $22.40.

The ideal of journalistic neutrality was terrorism's first casualty on September 11, 2001. News outlets, particularly television, became the unwilling tools of al Qaeda airline hijackers. As Brigette L. Nacos defines the term, "terrorism" is political violence against civilians by nongovernment actors whose aim is to generate publicity that spreads fear far beyond the target area. Coopting the news media is at the heart of the concept, writes Nacos, a national authority on political violence, in Mass Mediated Terrorism. Hence al Qaeda had shanghaied the news media before a single victim died on 9/11. Journalists had no option but to report the group's kamikaze attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon, even though the coverage would inevitably terrify people far and wide.

After reporting the attacks, American media did not rush to a neutral corner. Instead, TV news anchors assumed what media scholar Michael Schudson in Journalism After September 11 termed a "priestly ... quiet, solemn tone" to help the nation bond. At the same time, journalists hastily re-characterized George W. Bush as an effective commander-in-chief and embraced his call for large-scale military retaliation, a process mass communication researchers Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School document in The Press Effect.

Scholars are in the early stages of studying how reporters tried through their coverage to make sense of an unthinkable, disorienting event. The anthology Journalism After September 11 explores what press reaction to the trauma tells us about journalism's core values and political loyalties. On the quantitative side, researchers are only just beginning to examine how viewers used the news on 9/11, how the reporting affected them emotionally, and whether the initial impressions of press critics are born out in scientific content analysis. The essays in Communication and Terrorism give useful overviews of early research and point to areas yet unexplored that could occupy media scholars for decades.

But even with a scant two years' historical perspective, the following questions have come intoparticularly sharp focus: Did news coverage inadvertently help al Qaeda more than necessary, stoking public anxiety in ways that could have been avoided? Did a spirit of intense nationalism compromise the coverage at a time when the Bush administration was making momentous decisions that deserved a more skeptical appraisal? …