Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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1.3.1 Section 6: Media and the production of spectacle

The media, as we shall see, make a vital contribution to the ways in which we understand people, places and politics. The impacts of television, newspapers, radio, the internet and other media should not be underestimated; for the majority of Western populations they now provide the primary sources of information about what is happening in the world. With this in mind, sections 6–8 provide a three-part examination of the role of the media in framing the ‘war on terror’ and post-9/11 conflict. We will look predominantly at how television is implicated in the presentation of conflict.

  • First, given the media is a ‘mediator’ of the ‘spectacle’ of war, we ask how did the televising of the 9/11 attacks affect its social and political impact?
  • Second, to what extent is the media used by both terrorists and governments to pursue what critics have termed an 'image war' – the battle to control public opinion through manipulating the daily flow of media events, images and discourses? How far have the US government and TV networks become complicit in the creation of media images? To what extent has reporting been specifically designed to promote the apparent strategic success (as well as moral legitimacy) of post-9/11 US military activity?
  • Third, we examine how the power of the media can be simultaneously used by state and government interests to try and shape or influence public opinion. Does it provide a platform for those who wish to question or challenge the policies and actions of these elite interests? Television has been identified as a source of critique as news journalists attempt to fulfill their long-established professional and ethical responsibility to strive for ‘objective’, ‘factual’ and ‘critical’ (rather then simply ‘government-friendly’) reporting. In this regard, the ambivalent role of the ‘embedded reporter’ is examined. How far, we ask, do television and newspaper journalists working alongside and within military units possess the freedom to report the facts as they see them?

Section 6 concludes with the suggestion that the media is comprised of many diverse organisations, which in themselves contain many individual views and perspectives. So while the media can appear to act simply as a ‘tool’ of the powerful, promoting US (and UK) state and military interests, it also offers the prospect of dissent and a contradiction of the pro-military consensus.

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