How the US Media Portrayed Pakistan after 9/11
Major US newspapers struggle to eliminate bias and exaggerations in their reports on terror
Susan Moeller: YaleGlobal, 21 June 2007
Summary: Since the 9/11 attacks, a US priority has been to eliminate global terror. The US has spent and accrued billions in debt, invading Afghanistan and Iraq and enhancing security procedures in travel and everyday routine. A study of newspaper coverage of Pakistan, following the 9/11 attacks, suggests that journalists, either willingly or unwittingly, contributed to overall public confusion regarding global terrorism. Susan Moeller, director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda and author of the study “The ‘Good’ Muslims: US Newspaper Coverage of Pakistan” points to some trends of bias in reports. For example, journalists often use words such as militant, extremist and terrorist interchangeably, discounting distinctions in motives, politics or history. Rather than inform, newspapers stoke fear among readers. Moeller urges newspapers and readers to reflect on the many economic and political motivations behind official Washington admonitions that huge expenditures can protect against a fragmented and elusive threat.
WASHINGTON: When reporters from non-American news outlets write about the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” they typically place the words in quotation marks to indicate a distance from the White House’s political rhetoric. But most mainstream media in the US use the phrase as generically as the words World War II or the Vietnam War.
Behind those missing little bits of punctuation lies the story of how the top newspapers in the United States helped obfuscate the real nature of events post-9/11. A study, titled “The ‘Good’ Muslims: US Newspaper Coverage of Pakistan,” found patterns of coverage in major US newspapers in the year following September 11, 2001, and five years later in 2006 that may still contribute to public confusion over the perception of the global terrorist risk.
“The ‘Good’ Muslims” investigated the reporting of that “other” major theater in the “War on Terror” – Pakistan and Afghanistan – and discovered that American journalists too often failed to challenge the president’s representation of the dimensions and immediacy of the terrorist threat. The language that the White House chose to tell its story was the default way the events were described. And the papers’ use of American officials as their key sources further reinforced the Bush administration’s politicized packaging of events.
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