Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.
The attacks and their aftermath have had a profound effect on our country politically and socially in the decade-and-a-half since.
Yet, the fifteenth anniversary begins to mark a turning point, where a news event gradually becomes a historical event. Many students today have little to no recollection of the event (including this author). And many more, from high school freshmen and younger, were born after 2001.
The attacks unfolded live and raw over the morning news. The image of the second plane hitting the South Tower of the World Trade Center is seared onto the national consciousness. For many, it is a terrible realization that the horror in front of them was not some terrible accident, but an attack. Whether they saw it live before work or school, or a still photo in the newspapers all around the world on September 12th, it is perhaps one of the most identifiable and shocking images from the day.
The second collision was played on the news over and over at a time when a vast majority of Americans still turned to television as a main source of news.
Michael Freedman, professor of journalism at The George Washington University, called September 11th a bookend of the television era, one that began with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.
The networks, along with CNN and Fox News were considered trustworthy, Freedman says, and there was a larger attempt among them to gather information and sort it before reporting.
In the days following attack, television coverage continued of course, but newspapers began pumping out information and images.
At the Newseum in Washington, D.C. a simple but poignant exhibit features the news antenna from the top of the World Trade Center, flanked by a wall of the front pages of newspapers from across the globe, many featuring the same image of the South Tower.
“The U.S. had the support of seemingly the entire world in the next few days” said Freedman. “The world seemed unified.”