Events 9/11 That Cannot Be Forgotten

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Throughout history, the media has been the source from which most of the public receives their information on current events. The media plays a vital role in shaping how the public reacts to certain events based on how the networks deliver news and important information. The media chooses how and what they report, so they have enormous power over what information the public receives. Most of the American public was informed of the terrorist attack that occurred on September 11, 2001, against the United States by Islamic terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, through the media as it was one of the most broadcasted historical events in America.

The media portrayal of the attacks caused widespread vulnerability and fear to spread across the nation as the idea that the terrorists were able to blindside the United States government and attack the U.S. at home was heavily publicized. As a result of this devastating attack, America had been fundamentally changed forever as it had become imbedded into the culture of the United States. The national media broadcasting of the destruction of major U.S. landmarks for the government, economy, and military instilled widespread panic throughout the nation. As a result, both individuals and the U.S. as a united nation have vivid memories from that day as the images and stories became ingrained in minds of the nation. The media serves as a link between the world’s individual and collective memories of the September 11 attacks through the intense amount of coverage surrounding the event.

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On September 11, 2001, millions of Americans were glued to their television screens as they watched the deadliest terrorist attack in history on American soil unfold. The media delivered the message to the American public that Islamic terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, performed a series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., which are major targets in the United States that the terrorists knew would cause extreme harm and devastation to the nation (Bergen, Peter). On this day, the lives of every American changed forever as it was an event that affected the entire nation. The media served as the main tool that created awareness among the American public of the devastating events that were happening on that day.

The media displayed the enormous amount of death and destruction that occurred, where around 2,750 people were killed in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania, as well as the 19 terrorist attackers. As hundreds of police and firemen rushed to the devastating scenes, 400 of them lost their lives as well (Bergen, Peter). Americans recall the events of 9/11 so vividly because of the fact that it was so heavily broadcasted. The media drilled information about the attacks into the American publics’ heads through the overflow stories of what happened and the replayed terrifying images. Mass media played a significant role in spreading information throughout the country about the events of 9/11. The media has become an essential part of everyday life, as it has become the main tool of communication in society. Mass media serves to link individual memories of an event to the collective memory of how the nation remembers an event as a whole.

The notion of ‘memory’ has taken its place now as the leading term in cultural history as “it has been used to explore, first, the memory of people who actually experienced a given event … then to denote the representation of the past and the making of it into a shared cultural knowledge by successive generations, and others” (Confino, 1). With 9/11, the famous images that have flashed on every television network every year since the attack have become a means for such “shared cultural knowledge”. Every American knows that the image of the planes crashing into the twin towers followed by the flood of smoke filling the streets of New York City is associated with 9/11 thanks to the media. The creation of the collective memory of 9/11 began with those who were personally impacted by the event, who then shared their stories with others. Collective memory of an event could not be made without individuals spreading their memories first. Individual memories got passed as the most famous ones were shared on every media network.

These individual stories that are relayed to the public and spread by word of mouth after the shock of hearing and seeing it eventually result in these stories being turned into a “shared cultural knowledge” for the events that occurred on that day. These stories spread across the nation and are now taught in schools and passed down to the next generations. Without the media, the spreading of these stories would not have been so easy. One person’s story was able to be shared with millions of people at once because of the media, which resulted in those stories becoming a part of the collective memory of 9/11. The media played the role of delivering mass amounts of information about the attacks to the American public at once, which have influenced how 9/11 is remembered today. Those who were alive during the event and those who were personally affected had their own individual memories of the attacks that they added to the general ideas and images that have been imbedded into the nation’s minds through the work of the media.

As a result of the mass media coverage, Americans everywhere have linked the orchestration of the events of 9/11 to Osama Bin Laden. Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the Islamic organization al-Qaeda, is a huge part of the collective memory of 9/11 as his name is linked in direct association to 9/11. The media showcased him as an enemy of the U.S. in the hunt for him, following the events. Leading up to the attacks, Bin Laden believed that the United States was weak and could easily be taken down. He referred to the U.S. as a “paper tiger”, meaning that the U.S. appeared to be much more threatening than it truly was. He then portrayed this belief onto the whole Islamic group, which eventually led to the execution of his plan for an operation to utilize training pilots who would crash planes into monumental buildings in the United States on a day that resembled safety in the U.S., with reference to the universal emergency number 9-11 (Bergen, Peter).

Following this devastating day, widespread panic and devastation spread across the United States as a result of the media coverage. The media replayed a set of images that instilled fear in the American public. These images influenced how the American people collectively remember the attacks, as the images of planes that crashed into the twin towers, a symbol for global capitalism, and the Pentagon, a symbol for military power, became tools for the instilled panic and fear that spread across the nation. As these images became ingrained in individuals’ memories, their collective memory of the event became associated with the panic that came with seeing the images of destruction of major U.S. landmarks. The media delivered the message to the nation that terrorists were able to use the tools of a modern global society, the internet, open borders, and high tech airplanes to attack the United States at home, which made Americans feel vulnerable. As a result, the media created a very drastic response, “had the world responded to [Osama bin Laden’s] attack on American with moderation he would probably have disappeared, expelled from Afghanistan or killed by his Tajik enemies” (Jenkins, Simon).

The media created the exact reaction that Osama bin Laden had dreamed of when originally planning the attack. The media actually gave him the satisfaction of stirring up widespread panic, fear, and vulnerability throughout all of the United States. The reactions that spread throughout the nation reaffirmed his belief that that U.S. was in fact weak and could be broken easily. The media led to the collective memory of 9/11 as being a day of fear that spread across the United States. It has become difficult to distinguish whether these fearful reactions were a result of the actual terrorist acts experienced, or the feelings that the media told the public that they should have through the portrayal of the events. Without the media, these reactions would have remained on a much smaller scale as it would have mostly stay with those who have their own individual memories.

The media served as a direct form of communication from the delivery of individual memories to the public that have contributed to the collective memory of the attacks. The collective memory of the attacks have been formed by combining parts from differing individual memories that were told to the public through the media, to form a unified memory that can be told to future generations and remembered for years to come. There were thousands who, unfortunately, barred witness to these repetitive images that have appeared on all of the television networks time and time again. There were many detailed individual perspectives from people on the hijacked planes, at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in the New York City Fire Department.

For example, husband of Madeline Sweeny, a flight attendant on the American Airlines Flight 11, learned of the attacks through her phone call that described the hijackers and how they had killed a passenger and attacked two other flight attendants. Her husband remembered her last words of “Oh, my God” as their plane struck the south tower. Her husband then took this individual sense of panic and fear for his wife and discovered more about what was happening through the media and the rest of the events to follow (Jameson, John). His individual memory of his wife was then impacted as he watched the rest of the events of the day unfold. His collective memory of 9/11 comes from what he then learned happened to his wife on television. For others, the media contributed to the formation of their own personal memories of the events of that day that contribute to the collective memory.

For example, in an interview with Robert Taddeo, a Wall Street Trader who worked in the World Trade Center at the time, he told how he woke up on the morning of 9/11 going to drive to work as usual but was forced to stop at a mechanic shop because of faulty brakes. In this scenario, he said, “My first experience of seeing what had happened was sitting in the waiting area of a car repair shop watching the building in which I should have been at, that I worked in, get hit by an airplane. I stayed at this shop for about 30 or 45 minutes longer until we had found out that it was a terrorist attack through the news” (Taddeo, Robert). The media served as a way to inform those that their lives should be put to a halt, as it hit close to home for many. For Robert, the media told him that he would not be going to work that day and that he needed to get home to his family. The media linked his individual memory of being at the car repair shop to the collective memory of the images he watched on television that instilled fear in him and the rest of America. The memories from someone who should have been in the building, that was destroyed by terrorists, compared to someone on the other side of the country was watching the events unfold on television, is a very different experience.

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Events 9/11 That Cannot Be Forgotten. (2022, May 16). Retrieved from

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