Watching the “living history” coverage of 9/11/01 on MSNBC, I am struck repeatedly by the language journalists used to describe the morning’s events. It was language of tragedy, to be sure…but it was also, even in the earliest hours of the post-9/11 world, the language of war. “This is nothing short of a declaration of war,” Brokaw flatly declared, shortly after the collapse of the towers.

In light of history—in which 9/11 did, not inevitably, but deliberately, lead to war—the language is striking. And a potent reminder of the grave consequences of journalism’s status as the first draft of history.

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.