For many Americans, the world was turned upside down by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the period leading up to the attacks, the United States had become smug and complacent in international affairs, and the American public was withdrawn from world affairs. The news media only provided minimal coverage of foreign news, and President George W. Bush became president, even though he famously floundered in response to a series of questions about foreign leaders.
Before September 11th, the United States was not accustomed to having wars fought on its own soil and having civilians put in jeopardy. Americans had been taught that the United States' distance from the war-zone battlefields and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans naturally protected the country. Unfortunately, that belief was elementary and wrong. The terrorist attacks on September 11th represented the first time a foreign adversary attacked the United States mainland since the War of 1812. The most recent attack on American soil had occurred at Hawaii's Pearl Harbor during World War II. Until September 11th, these events seemed far away, involving our then-distant possession of Hawaii and targeting our military forces, not civilians. American confidence was bolstered by the fact that the United States had “won” the Cold War without being attacked on our shores.
On September 11th, Americans were confronted with how terrorism had gone global. The United States fights today's wars with advanced technologies such as precision bombs, yet the terrorists who attacked the United States used conventional methods in unconventional ways. In doing so they overcame American military superiority. They enrolled in American flight schools to train themselves, and used American planes as guided missiles. It was as if the terrorists were trying to cripple the United States in one fell swoop. One plane attempted to take out the United States militarily by attacking the Pentagon; two planes destroyed the World Trade Center Towers in an attempt to cripple the United States' financial capability. If not for Todd Beamer and others on Flight 93, the hijackers might have taken out the United States' seat of government; it is speculated that the plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania was headed either for the White House or the United States Capitol.
The United States has become much less complacent since September 11th. Americans were outraged with the terrorist attacks, and that outrage was magnified by the fact that Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the attacks, is not a traditional adversary--he is not the leader of another superpower or even another country. Although he has reportedly operated from bases in Afghanistan, he allegedly has a vast network that transverses state Bin Laden attacked the United States on a shoestring budget. It is estimated that the entire September 11th plot, including flight lessons, cost as little as $200,000. Finally, bin Laden and the other nineteen alleged hijackers all had brown skin. Their dark complexions are impacting U.S. foreign policy, U.S domestic policy including racial profiling, and the media's influence on the public.
This Article explores, from a critical race theory perspective, the impact that the media have had on our society since the September 11th attacks. Part I explains critical race theory with respect to racial profiling in the United States.
Parts II and III explore racial profiling prior to September 11th and related media coverage.
Part IV applies critical race theory to pre-September 11th racial profiling. Part V examines how pre-September 11th racial profiling patterns enabled nineteen hijackers to escape detection. Part VI further examines the impact of September 11th on the racial profiling practices introduced in Part I, and how public discourse about the phenomenon has changed. Further, in contrast to the Article's review of pre-September 11th racial profiling media coverage,
Part VII examines the media's impact on racial profiling practices after September 11th.
Part VIII reviews narrative accounts of individuals alleged to have engaged terrorist acts since September 11th, and Part IX examines the media coverage of post-September 11th terrorists. The Article concludes that the media have a powerful influence in shaping public opinion in the aftermath of September 11th.