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Janensch on the Media: 9/11 Rumors and Truth
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Media Commentator Paul JanenschMedia Commentator Paul JanenschSeven years ago, on 9-11-2001, almost 3,000 people were killed after four commercial airliners were hijacked by 19 terrorists.  How did the news media respond to this disaster at the time and since then?  Media commentator Paul Janensch gives us his assessment.

The immediate response by the news media was commendable.  Budgets were cast aside.  Television, all-news radio and public radio devoted non-stop coverage to this enormous story.  Newspapers and news magazines provided analysis and background, as well as dramatic photos.  

And yet seven years later I am troubled by how ill-informed many members of the public are about just what happened on that bright September morning.  I wonder if the mainstream news media have done enough to knock down misinformation and conspiracy theories and to remind us of the verifiable facts.  

Reporter Marian Gail Brown addressed this issue last Sunday in the Connecticut Post of Bridgeport.  You can find her cogent account at connpost.com.  Reporter Brown quotes Communications Professor Carolyn Lin of the University of Connecticut as saying many people still think the 19 hijackers were from Iraq when in fact none was from Iraq and 15 were from Saudi Arabia.  

9-11 myths sprang up instantly, not in the respectable media, but on talk radio and especially the Internet.  Here are some of the myths, none of which is backed up by any credible evidence:  The U.S. government had advance information and warned high officials not to fly on commercial airlines that day.  The third World Trade Center building, which housed CIA offices, did not collapse but was blown up by the government.  Jews who worked in the World Trade Center knew what was going to happen and stayed home .  These rumors are total nonsense.  Yet the nonsense lives on.

My Quinnipiac University colleague Alex Halavais told reporter Brown that the mythologizing is an attempt “to make sense of the disaster.”  Another Quinnipiac colleague Rich Hanley said 9-11 was the first global event of its kind “to be widely distributed over the Internet.”  Professor Lin of UConn told me by e-mail that all the major news outlets should add a regular segment entitled “Rumors or Truth” to curb the spread of balderdash about national traumas such as 9-11.   

I think that’s an excellent idea.  I wish the news media had started separating 9-11 rumors from truth long ago.