Remembering 9/11 a year later: what are the media messages?

Remembering 9/11 a year later: what are the media messages? – Media Watch

Barry Duncan

The media can not truly get inside the heart and soul of America. Certainly no foreigner can do it. On September 11, the US will be awash in remembrance, but I fear the unavoidable pathos of it, the exhibitionism. Cheap sentimentality will not make Americans feel any more loved. And it will not make them any more secure in a world where anti-Americanism is the new currency.

Rosie DiManno Toronto Star 2 September 2002.

According to The New York Times, 31 August, teachers’ lesson plans for looking at 9/11 have come under fire, primarily by conservatives. They say the lessons are too focused on teaching tolerance and are unwilling to cast judgment or assign blame. In bending over backward to help students understand the ideology behind the attacks, they say, educators have gone so far as to be unpatriotic.

Debate this proposition and then discuss what you believe should be discussed with your students, what should not be and why. (Ideally, your students should participate in these debates.)

Clearly, 9/11 is a site of struggle as contested views are promulgated or attacked. Obviously there are many defensible pedagogical approaches providing they are honest and access dialogic and critical thinking skills.

In my study guide to 9/11 from October 2001 ( oct2001.htm) and also published in Australian Screen Education issue 28, I suggested that among many media literacy teaching strategies available, using discourse analysis was one of the best. Concentrating on how a topic gets taken up, discussed, framed, and culturally internalized, discourse analysis casts a wide net. Use these and other idea clusters to provide an in-depth look at how 9/11 is being memorialized one year later. Discourse analysis can provide a critical thinking focus that may be lacking in many discussions.


* Patriotism, flag waving, God Bless America. Under what circumstances will the hand on the heart be needed?

* How will the war in Afghanistan be connected with the activities around memorializing 9/11?

* The demonization of Iraq. How will this link to the manufacturing of consent for bombing Iraq?

* Resistance and protest. Will it be a sacrilege to criticize the official ceremonies? How should we define good taste?

* Gendered and racialized responses. How will Arab-Americans perceive the coverage? Women’s groups?

* Democracy, freedom and civilization. How will these mantra like words be exploited?

* Human rights and social justice. How well will the American government be able to convince us of the alleged necessity of surrendering some basic rights in order to have effective security?

* Terrorism and demonization; the axis of evil. How will those countries and groups be portrayed (demonized)?

* How have the connotations grown around the use of the word terrorism?

* Religious language and sensibility. How will this kind of language pervade the mediated ceremonies and rituals?

* Heroism and courage. The New York fire fighters and other narratives of bravery.

* Psychotherapy and grieving–The value of human interest stories centering on how people recover and begin the process of healing. (We saw plenty of this before on Oprah and Rosie O’Donnell TV programmes described as ‘the talking cure’) N.B. The role of the entertainment industry (Bruce Springsteen has a new album Rising centering on 9/11).

* Network news and news anchors (Will Dan Rather cry on cue? What kind of ideological scripts will the news anchors be required to read?)

* Will any satire be allowable (Jon Stewart and the ‘Daily Show’ and The Onion web site)?

* How will alternative news sources be recognized?

Barry Duncan is a semi retired, award winning teacher, founder and past president of the Ontario based Association for Media Literacy His best selling text book, Mass Media and Popular Culture, is published by Harcourt, Canada. This article was written for The Media-Awareness Network, Ontario, Canada ( and published in Barry’s Bulletin, January 2002. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the Media Awareness Network.

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