18
Talking war

How journalism responded to the events of 9/11
Martin Montgomery
How and when did the talk of war begin after 9/11?
What other forms of description were available?
Did journalism lose its critical distance from public figures?

This chapter examines ways in which journalism responded in the immediate aftermath of the events of 9/11 by examining verbal reactions in 'the public sphere' (Habermas 1989) and by focusing in particular on how the talk turned to war. In doing so, it explores the interface between journalism and significant public figures such as the US President, his spokesperson and the Secretary of State. Drawing upon data from newspaper headlines, broadcast interviews, briefings and presidential addresses it will chart the transition for 'terror' to 'war', from immediate reaction to more developed response. It will show that the term war–which was to prove so decisive–emerged very early. Initially, however, the term was used as a figure of speech, uncertainly and awkwardly, before coming to be the decisive expression for articulating a public response. In the transition from shifting, heteroglossic and equivocal uses to its elevation as the dominant term of description, journalism played a central and–quite literally–a defining role. On the one hand, by a process of discursive amplification the press in newspaper headlines of11 and 12 September came to highlight the term. On the other hand, in adversarial encounters, in interviews and briefings, journalists called its use into question. Once war became established, however, as the dominant term of description, it re-organized the discursive fields through which responses to the destruction of the twin towers could be articulated and led them in a fateful direction. Even though other expressions were available, which could have provided competing currencies of description, war quickly came to dominate public discourse and ultimately thereby to dominate events.

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