How much 9/11 TV footage is too much?

UA Flight 175 hits WTC south towerTen years on from the fateful and tragic day, once again our TV screens relive the moments when the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon came under terrorist attack.

Footage of planes exploding into skyscrapers, crumbling buildings and billowing dust clouds are all now indelibly etched into all of our psyches. It was a watershed moment for countries, world religions, and citizens the world over – and now it is right that due homage is paid for the lives wasted and suffering that resulted. For each of us, September 11th 2001 will hold different meanings.

But is repeated coverage of towers tumbling, bodies falling and people dying truly helpful? It may serve to educate the young and provoke solemnity within the rest of us – but continuous looped footage (as some news channels have opted for) accompanied by increasingly tenuous documentaries is possibly doing those who suffered that day a great disservice – and increasing their mental anguish…

The “September 11 Effect”

Midnight September 11 2001In 2001, there was no Twitter.

Facebook and ‘social networking’ didn’t exist either. So when news broke, it was on the Television. And shortly after 8.46 am on September 11, 2001 – it did.

For the first time, we could all watch – in horror and fascination – what skyscrapers look like when they collapse. In scenes reminiscent of the movie Independence Day, most US citizens (60%) used the TV to watch the action live.

A testimony to the power of televisual media, after September 11th 2001, most Americans underwent a shock reaction similar to having personally experienced a tragedy. Some went so far as to claim they suffered post traumatic stress disorder from the TV. Most psychiatrists say this is impossible. Others are speculating as to whether the definition of PTSD should now be broadened.

In the months and weeks that followed, Americans and people around the world tried to make sense of the destruction. Research shows that most people were unable to suitably reconcile the disaster. And when this search for meaning fails, it is normally replaced by fear (in this case fear of future terrorism).

Can Repeated 9/11 Footage be harmful?

We are privileged to live in a world where television, camera phones and the internet makes it possible to appreciate the significance and magnitude of national disasters from afar.

However, those who suffered firsthand the events of 9/11 face an extra challenge trying to move on with their life. Some things can help people come to terms with tragedy: a loving family, friends and a positive self-image.

Many things make it harder. Re-watching scenes on television is an important one. By watching TV footage revisiting a traumatic event – for most it hinders the mind’s normal healing process.

So spare a thought for those who those who suffered that day ten years ago.

Today may be a good day for them to turn the TV off…

Thanks for reading – comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!


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RELATED POST: September 11 and PTSD – Tabloid misreporting


Updegraff, J., Silver, R., & Holman, E. (2008). Searching for and finding meaning in collective trauma: Results from a national longitudinal study of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (3), 709-722 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.3.709

Schuster MA, Stein BD, Jaycox L, Collins RL, Marshall GN, Elliott MN, Zhou AJ, Kanouse DE, Morrison JL, & Berry SH (2001). A national survey of stress reactions after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The New England journal of medicine, 345 (20), 1507-12 PMID: 11794216

Neria, Y., DiGrande, L., & Adams, B. (2011). Posttraumatic stress disorder following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: A review of the literature among highly exposed populations. American Psychologist, 66 (6), 429-446 DOI: 10.1037/a0024791

2 responses to “How much 9/11 TV footage is too much?”

  1. I agree. Some things are better not brought back to memory over and over again. In case of 9/11 the media has a “good story” to write about and scared people are easier to manipulate… so I guess covering 9/11 in such great detail does serve some groups interests.

  2. […] The same would go for the footage of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. It has been estimated that the average American viewed an average of 18 hours of repetitive viewing of the same plane slamming into the towers from different views and each time we relived the trauma of knowing that human beings were inside those towers, suffocating, burning and eventually crushed when the towers fell in free fall. […]

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