Framing September 11:
Overview of the Media and
the Audience’s Response
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 to miss the larger point, as it captures the essence of the “9/11 experience” for so many. This chapter looks at the patterns of how the media covered September 11 and how their audiences reacted to that coverage, in order to better understand some of the ways that the media and their audiences processed these events.
On the morning of September 11, the media dropped everything to cover the attacks. Television, as the medium best able to quickly capture and disseminate information about and images of the attacks, set the standard early for what the overall media coverage would be (i.e., extensive and, eventually, excessive). The three major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) preempted their entire programming schedules, including commercials, to cover the attacks from the morning of the eleventh until Saturday, September 15, transforming themselves into twenty-four-hour news channels, like those of the cable news networks, all of which also focused exclusively on the attacks. One of the most remarkable aspects of this coverage was that the competition among news organizations was forgotten as rival