Both the disparity and congruity of media reports, opinion and conjecture, as well as their effect on Public Opinion and Governments, confirm the power of media, be it print, television or the Internet.
By examining the front page coverage of the World Trade Center attack in The New York Times and Cairo's Al-Ahram over a one week period, this essay will demonstrate how and why two news organizations can perceive the same event in different ways, and that their coverage may occasionally influence public opinion - and government - but far more often reflects it by focusing on issues of concern to their readers.
Though virtually every newspaper in America was filled with articles about the World Trade Center attacks for weeks after it occurred (many smaller city papers used wire services such as AP), it is hardly unusual that The New York Times featured hundreds of articles about the tragedy in that time. From September 20th to the 26th the paper ran roughly 50-plus articles concerning the attack and its aftermath on its front page. A sampling of 32 of those articles reveals that they fall more or less into 5 definable categories:
Of course, hundreds of articles falling under the rubric of Personal Interest, etc. appeared within the paper, especially in the B Section. Because the attacks occurred in New York City, it is not surprising that, with the exception of Retaliation/War, most of the front page articles concern Manhattan and people who worked at the WTC.
What is surprising is that only in the OpEd section of the paper can one read what was so keenly felt by New Yorkers and Americans: grief mingling with outrage. Moreover, a demand that these attacks be revenged is muted. It would be up to the President of the United States to make such a demand. But we shall see how he, and by extension, the Government, was influenced by Media coverage and, to admittedly state the obvious, all were influenced by the events of 9/11.
The Fourth Estate has always maintained a curious relationship with Government, rather like the Remora with the Shark. Unlike that aquatic symbiosis, though, while each needs the other each also mistrusts the other. The Press relies on government's acknowledgment of 1st Amendment rights - a free and uncensored press - while the government relies on the press to accurately - and beneficially - report what it is doing for the country.
Following the attacks of 9/11, The New York Times (hereafter referred to as The Times) developed a Topic Phrase: 'After the Attacks.' This phrase preceded every article pertaining to 9/11 and the World Trade Center. But on September 18th, The Times changed that Topic Phrase to 'A Nation Challenged.' This phrase, in a less assertive form, made its way into President Bush's speech to Congress and the American people
on September 20th, 2001: "Tonight we face new and national challenges."(2)
R.W. Apple, writing on The Times' front page the following day, gave the President high marks for his speech but turned the notion of 'challenge' back on Bush by writing that it was the President's 'challenge' to make good on his assertions.