Crime or Act of War? -- The Media Defines 9-11

Kenneth Mentor, New Mexico State University

The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon can be defined as criminal acts. These events can also be defined as an act of war. Arguably, either definition can be fit to these events. The media and the White House chose their preferred, and shared, definition of events very early in the process of understanding and responding to 9-11. As we know, the state response to these events will differ depending on how the events have been defined. In fact, the process of definition is used to prepare the public for a particular response. This paper examines the media's role in defining the events of September 11. Rhetoric, symbolism, limiting of dissent, and narrowing of issues are discussed. In addition, continuing efforts to legitimate the chosen definition are examined.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006