9/11 television – magic media turning into nightmare
9/11 Television Viewing Linked To Dreams And Stress
Dream journals being kept by students in a college psychology class have provided researchers with a unique look at how people experienced the events of 9/11, including the influence that television coverage of the World Trade Center attacks had on people’s levels of stress.
Reported in the April 2007 issue of the journal Psychological Science, the study data finds that for every hour of television viewed on Sept. 11 — with some students reporting in excess of 13 hours watched — levels of stress, as indicated by dream content, increased significantly. In addition, the study found that time spent talking with family and friends helped individuals to better process the day’s horrific events.
“We had not set out to conduct a scientific study of TV viewing and trauma,” says lead author Ruth Propper, PhD, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. “But it so happened that students enrolled in one of my courses during the fall 2001 semester were already in the process of keeping dream journals on a nightly basis. As the events of 9/11 were unfolding, I realized there was a valuable opportunity to find out what impact both media coverage and social interactions were having on individuals throughout the course of this tragedy.”
So, on September 12, Propper distributed a questionnaire to her students asking them to report on their activities of the day before, including the amount of TV they had watched, the amount of radio they had listened to, and the amount of time they had spent talking about the experience with family and friends.
“What distinguishes these findings is that they occurred in ‘real-time,'” adds coauthor Robert Stickgold, PhD, a sleep researcher in the Division of Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Because we have the students’ pre-9/11 dreams with which to compare, we can draw more reliable conclusions about our post-9/11 findings.”
“People’s dreams can function as a measure of how much distress they are feeling and how well or poorly they are coping,” says Stickgold. “If, in your dreams, you are still seeing specific traumatic images — buildings collapsing, fire burning, people jumping — then it means that these stressful events are not being adequately processed. But, if you’re seeing tangential events in your dreams — for example, a hurricane rather than the specific 9/11 images — it indicates that your brain is trying to make sense of the trauma and that you are coping successfully.”Not surprisingly, the researchers found that in the days and weeks following the attacks the students’ dreams were twice as likely to contain at least one of the four “content features” as they had prior to 9/11. But, says Propper, “Our next question was, ‘Is there an explanation for why some individuals’ dreams contained specific images of 9/11 and others didn’t?'”
So, the authors turned to the questionnaires.
The questionnaire responses showed that throughout the day of Sept. 11, students spent between 0 and 2.5 hours listening to the radio. They spent between one and 12 hours — an average of 5.9 hours — talking about the events with family and friends. And they spent between 1.5 and 13 hours watching television news coverage of the attacks, an average of 6.5 hours.
“When we compared these responses with the dream journal entries, we discovered that for each hour of TV viewing a subject reported, there was a statistically significant six percent increase in the proportion of the dreams containing a specific reference to the attacks,” says Propper. Among the individuals who watched less than three hours of television there were no specific references at all.
At the same time, the authors found that the greater the amount of time students spent talking about the 9/11 events with family and friends, the greater the likelihood their dreams contained “thematic” images, rather than specific images. “This suggests that by talking through traumatic events, perhaps you are better able to get past the trauma and to integrate it into the broader framework of your life,” explains Propper.
“Repeated viewing of horrific images may result in increased levels of stress and trauma in the general population,” the authors write in their conclusion. “[And] insofar as watching television replaces talking with others about such events, these undesired consequences may be amplified. In light of these findings, news broadcasters might consider whether repetitious broadcasting of traumatic images is actually in keeping with their goal of serving the public. The public, in turn, might consider the benefits of talking about traumatic events with friends and family.”
In addition to Propper and Stickgold, coauthors include Merrimack College student Raeann Keeley, and Stephen D. Christman, PhD, of the University of Toledo in Ohio.
Dreams are a reflection of the way the mind is processing and sorting the day’s events, and depending on a person’s state of mind, will contain different images. For the purposes of this study, the authors separated dream content into four categories: dreams containing specific references to 9/11 (smoke, explosions, police, box cutters, etc.); dreams with generalized threatening content (which made people fearful even though they didn’t contain specific references to 9/11); dreams containing broadly related themes related to 9/11 (for example, disasters in general, rather than the 9/11 disaster specifically); and, dreams with strong negative emotional content (which elicited general feelings of anger, fear, or sadness).
But dreams are not only measurable for the individual distress they convey, but also, indirectly, the impact of mediatization of the catastrophy. Galtung laid out 12 points of concern where journalism often goes wrong when dealing with violence. Each implicitly suggests more explicit remedies.
- Decontextualizing violence: focusing on the irrational without looking at the reasons for unresolved conflicts and polarization.
- Dualism: reducing the number of parties in a conflict to two, when often more are involved. Stories that just focus on internal developments often ignore such outside or “external” forces as foreign governments and transnational companies.
- Manicheanism: portraying one side as good and demonizing the other as “evil.”
- Armageddon: presenting violence as inevitable, omitting alternatives.
- Focusing on individual acts of violence while avoiding structural causes, like poverty, government neglect and military or police repression.
- Confusion: focusing only on the conflict arena (i.e., the battlefield or location of violent incidents) but not on the forces and factors that influence the violence.
- Excluding and omitting the bereaved, thus never explaining why there are acts of revenge and spirals of violence.
- Failure to explore the causes of escalation and the impact of media coverage itself.
- Failure to explore the goals of outside interventionists, especially big powers.
- Failure to explore peace proposals and offer images of peaceful outcomes.
- Confusing cease-fires and negotiations with actual peace.
- Omitting reconciliation: conflicts tend to reemerge if attention is not paid to efforts to heal fractured societies. When news about attempts to resolve conflicts are absent, fatalism is reinforced. That can help engender even more violence, when people have no images or information about possible peaceful outcomes and the promise of healing.
— Danny Schechter, Covering Violence: How Should Media Handle Conflict?, July 18, 2001 (Emphasis Added)
And here, what Eco calls the magic representation of the world in the media, turns into a nightmare, becoming pseudoinformation and recruiting a traumatized nation’s feelings for a shrewd war propaganda.
Ottosen identifies several key stages of a military campaign to “soften up” public opinion through the media in preparation for an armed intervention. These are:
The Preliminary Stage—during which the country concerned comes to the news, portrayed as a cause for “mounting concern” because of poverty/dictatorship/anarchy;
The Justification Stage—during which big news is produced to lend urgency to the case for armed intervention to bring about a rapid restitution of “normality”;
The Implementation Stage—when pooling and censorship provide control of coverage;
The Aftermath—during which normality is portrayed as returning to the region, before it once again drops down the news agenda.
O’Kane notes: “there is always a dead baby story” and it comes at the key point of the Justification Stage—in the form of a story whose apparent urgency brooks no delay—specifically, no time for cool deliberation or negotiating on peace proposals. Human interest stories … are ideal for engendering this atmosphere.
[(O’Kane’s reference to the dead baby story is about the 1991 Gulf War where a U.S. public relations firm got a Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter to pose as a nurse claiming she saw Iraqi troops killing babies in hospitals. The purpose of this was to create arousal and demonize Iraq so war was more acceptable.]
— The Peace Journalist Option, Poiesis.org, August 1997
What ensued as “war against terrorism” has not made terrorism disappear, but increase instead, and it has ruined — and keeps ruining — Iraq, as well as the moral of the United States and their allies themselves. Democracy is hollowed in the name of information processing and national economies are impoverished, while cuts being made mainly in the social sector endangering social peace.
For those who need more details, just some techniques used by governments and parties/people with hidden agendas
- Paying journalists to promote certain issues without the journalist acknowledging this, or without the media mentioning the sources;
- Governments and individuals contracting PR firms to sell a war, or other important issues
- Disinformation or partial information reported as news or fact without attributing sources that might be questionable
- PR firms feeding stories to the press without revealing the nature of the information with the intention of creating a public opinion (for example, to support a war, as the previous link highlights where even human rights groups fell for some of the disinformation, thus creating an even more effective propaganda campaign)
The Gulf War in Iraq, 1991, highlighted a lot of PR work in action. Founder of the Washington PR firm, The Rendon Group, John Rendon told cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1996:
“I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician,” Rendon said. “I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” He reminded the Air Force cadets that when victorious troops rolled into Kuwait City at the end of the first war in the Persian Gulf, they were greeted by hundreds of Kuwaitis waving small American flags. The scene, flashed around the world on television screens, sent the message that U.S. Marines were being welcomed in Kuwait as liberating heroes.
“Did you ever stop to wonder,” Rendon asked, “how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American, and for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?” He paused for effect. “Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then.”
… Public relations firms often do their work behind the scenes….But his description of himself as a “perception manager” echoes the language of Pentagon planners, who define “perception management” as “actions to convey and (or) deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning. … In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover, and deception, and psyops [psychological operations].”
— Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, How To Sell a War, In These Times, 4 August, 2003
Such technical phrases like “truth projection” hide their true meanings and intent: propaganda. One can understand how these have been tactics of war. Hence, reading those above mentioned dream diaries and studies just as an expression of personal distress means turning a blind eye to the cognitive distortion as a consequence of fear-mongering and distorting facts.