After reading that title I’m sure you thought to yourself, “9/11 wasn’t a tool. You are the tool for saying that”. Yes 9/11 was a tragic time in our nation’s history in recent memory, but at the same time look at the aftermath and how the news manipulated the event. To prove my point, I will be looking at both the agenda-setting theory and the cultivation theory, and how they were used after the events of 9/11.
To paraphrase Maxwell McCombs and Donald L. Shaw, agenda-setting theory is the belief that the media can influence their agenda onto the public (1972). When I think about the aspect just mentioned and 9/11, the first thing that comes to mind was theme of patriotism. When we discovered the culprit behind the attacks was Al-Queda, millions of people wanted to return the favor and attack the organization as they attacked us. Donna Miles wrote a piece saying The Department of Defense recorded that in August of 2006, 5 years after the attacks, the United States Army, Marines, Naval Air Force and Navy successfully recruited 10,500 soldiers, 4,300 Marines, 3,200 Airmen and 4,100 sailors, surpassing their monthly recruitment goals in those branches (2006). When you think about it that’s a lot of people joining the military. The Department of Defense then goes on to state that military support among the people has also raised tremendously (Miles, 2006). So as one can see, the media’s agenda has influenced us more than we know. But our patriotism has also blinded us. There were rumors that Iraq had a WMD (weapon of mass destruction), and that Iraq had been assisting Al-Queda. According to Michael J. Muin in his work, “Agenda-setting theory and the role of the media in shaping public opinion for the Iraq war”, the media jumped upon those rumors and got people rallied up about the incident (2011). Eventually we discovered that it was all propaganda and that the WMD’s were not all we thought them out to be (though technically the toxic gasses soldiers found are labeled as weapons of mass destruction, the media hyped up nuclear warheads)(Muin, 2011). So as one can see, the news molded the catastrophic event of 9/11 to best influence us Americans into a false sense of patriotism.
After the events of 9/11 people were drawn to their television sets and watched thousands of aftermath stories unfold. Those stories resulted in creating fear among the people. George Gerbner called the phenomenon of television creating shrewd views of the world “Cultivation Theory” (Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N, 1980). One of the misperceptions that we interpreted was that flying was not safe anymore. Since the hijackings on that day, millions of Americans were afraid of flying commercial airlines. It was reported that it took at least three years for the airline industry to match the average number of flyers pre-9/11 according to Ken Notis of the U.S. Department of Transportation (2005). Also tales of increased security in airports and random screenings also plagued the minds of U.S Citizens. Some felt like their rights were being taken away due to all of the safety checks and that the world is not as safe as it used to be. This type of cynical belief is another term that Gerbner coined called “Mean World Syndrome”. It is a belief that you think the world is full of negativity and it is a belief found in most people who do excessive television watching (Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N, 1980). These types of post-9/11 issues are still being brought up today, so the fear is still real.
In conclusion, the media has used the agenda-setting theory and the cultivation theory to subliminally influence us in our post-9/11 world. Hopefully you read all the way through and realize some of the influence the media has done. I encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions on the matter. Because we make the world what we see, and I don’t see a world full of fear, but a world of hope and understanding.
Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1980). The mainstreaming of America: Violence profile no. 11. Journal of Communication, 10-25. Retrieved from: http://www.asc.upenn.edu/gerbner/Asset.aspx?assetID=1644
McCombs, M., & Shaw, D.L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of the mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36, 176-185. Retrieved from: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~amgutsch/MccombsShawnew.pdf
Miles, D. U.S Department of Defense, American Forces Press Service. (2006). Five years after 9/11, recruiting, retention remain solid. Retrieved from American Forces Press Service website: http://www.defense.gov/news/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=823
Muin, M. J. (2011). Agenda-setting theory and the role of the media in shaping public opinion for the iraq war . (Master’s thesis, University of Central Missouri)Retrieved from: http://centralspace.ucmo.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10768/26/MMuin_Communication.pdf?sequence=1
Notis, K. U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (2005). Airline travel since 9/11 (13). Retrieved from Research and Innovative Technology Administration website: http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/special_reports_and_issue_briefs/issue_briefs/number_13/html/entire.html
Simpson, G. (Cartoonist). (1998). Misinformation Highway [Web Comic]. Retrieved from:http://www.cartoonwork.com/misinformation_highway_sjpg334.jpg
Platt, S. (Photographer). (2001). Moment of Impact [Photograph]. Getty Images. Retrieved from:http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/399/cache/september-9-11-attacks-anniversary-ground-zero-world-trade-center-pentagon-flight-93-second-airplane-wtc_39997_600x450.jpg