Metaphors and Miracles: Image Repair and New York City After 9/11

The September 11, 2001 attacks dealt not only a harsh blow to the lives of those directly affected, but to the economies of each city as well – particularly New York. Travel and tourism, a significant part of the New York City economy, took a sharp downturn in the months following the terrorist attacks. The attacks cost 400,000 individuals their jobs and resulted in a decrease of $2.8 billion in revenue. The tourism industry was especially hard-hit, with 30,000 losing their jobs in that sector alone. The city’s economic decline that was initiated in January 2001 allowed the attacks to become a moving factor in pushing New York toward a spiral of economic and social despair.

Faced with such a crisis, city officials and tourism leaders considered ways to attract the public back to New York City. One of these methods was unveiled by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on November 8, 2001: The “New York Miracle” campaign. This television campaign, produced by noted advertising agency BBDO, featured recognizable New York celebrities in unusual or juxtaposed positions, in order to demonstrate, as a press release from Giuliani’s office declared, how “New York can help make people’s dreams come true.”


This post examines the ways the “New York Miracle” campaign represented image restoration on behalf of the governmental and business leaders of New York City, and specifically how this image restoration campaign is significantly different from the majority of instances currently found in the field of crisis communication. That’s because the primary assumption of crisis communication—that an actor is responding to being blamed for an offensive act—isn’t in play when the actor is victimized by an event but nevertheless suffers from a threat to its image. 

First, we’ll will examine the beginnings of image restoration research, and address Anderson’s proposition of a new model of image restoration based on a rhetorical study of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Finally, a previous study into post-9/11 rhetoric will be discussed along with an introduction to the “New York Miracle” campaign.


Image Restoration’s Beginnings

A new approach to examining image restoration began with Abelson’s 1959 theory pertaining to the resolution of belief dilemmas. Abelson posited four modes of resolution:

  1. Denial
  2. Bolstering
  3. Differentiation
  4. Transcendence

Ware and Linkugel applied these four modes to the apologia model, creating four factors commonly found in speeches of self-defense. Ware and Linkugel proceeded to examine the ways in which these four factors emerged in speeches delivered throughout history, starting with Socrates and ending with Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick address.

The broadening of image restoration strategies beyond apologia came with the taxonomy proposed by William Benoit.  Benoit and Dorries focus on the message options available to a rhetor when faced with an image repair situation. The taxonomy offers five broad categories of image restoration strategies, along with several variants for the strategies. Benoit’s five strategies include:

  1. Denial
  2. Evasion of responsibility
  3. Reducing offensiveness of the event
  4. Corrective action
  5. Mortification

Denial can be performed in one of two methods: simple denial (the rhetor denies having performed the act) and shifting the blame (the act occurred, but it was performed by another agent). Evasion of responsibility is realized through provocation (the speaker was moved to act in response to the act of another), defeasibility (the speaker was unaware or unable to perform in the appropriate manner), accident (the act was a mishap), or good intentions (the act was meant in the best of faith). Reducing the offensiveness of the event may emerge through bolstering (the stressing of positive traits), minimization (the attempt to show the act was not serious), differentiation (placing the act into a different context), transcendence (the act led or leads toward an overall good), attacking the credibility of the accuser, or compensation (providing goods or services to the wronged individuals). Finally, corrective action (communicating what the speaker plans to do to keep the act from being repeated) and mortification (an apology that expresses deep regret and a well-defined plan for preventing reoccurence) have no substrategies.

While William Benoit and his colleagues’ research adds to the understanding of the ways in which a firm can remake its public image, it, as a whole, examines image repair through the Burkean projection of guilt. Burke left us with the lasting image of the guilt-victimage-purification-redemption cycle that, he claimed, was the strongest discourse motivation in our culture.


Anderson and a new model

With the idea of responsibility in mind, Anderson sought to develop a new taxonomy for evaluating image restoration campaigns on the behalf of public entities considered to be victims. She appropriated Benoit’s method and radicalized it, adding the concepts of metaphor and oxymoron to the traditional typology. By examining the ways in which Hillary Clinton encompassed the myth of the Madonna persona in the wake of President Bill Clinton’s 1998 sex scandal en route to positioning herself as a successful U.S. Senate candidate, Anderson helps us better understand newer, more flexible strategies for image restoration.

The idea of metaphor being used in image adjustment discourse was first used to explain political candidates’ attempts to bolster their own credibility and damage that of their opponents. Anderson explains Hillary Clinton utilized explicit metaphors in order to shape both a political identity for herself and appropriate the female identity archetype of the Madonna. This is a vital change in the standard image restoration strategy; Anderson argues Clinton would have likely failed to elicit a positive response from her audience had she utilized the classical Benoit prescription for bolstering. Furthermore, the oxymoronic nature of the Madonna metaphor allowed Clinton flexibility in embodying the dual roles of passive victim and active agent. Finally, bolstering is utilized in Anderson’s model as a warrant for the other aspects of the rhetoric.

The “New York Miracle” campaign

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani made a clear effort to place his elected position front and center in the post-9/11 period. This was made no clearer than on November 8, 2001, when at a press conference, he announced a public service advertising campaign designed to “salute the spirit of New Yorkers and encourage others from across the nation to visit the City and become part of the ‘Miracle of New York.’”  His announcement is filled with self-references and the pronoun ‘I’. In fact, the campaign’s kickoff spot, aired during the Major League Baseball American League Championship Series (which featured the New York Yankees), features Giuliani, who communicates his pride in his constituents.

The campaign found success not only in its acceptance by the public but in its spiraling exposure as a result of press coverage of the campaign itself. The ads found more airtime as a result of being covered in news stories than in their actual paid ad slot times. The eight spots that followed Giuliani’s kickoff were, briefly:

1. A woman at a tourist-trap Broadway diner, one of many famous for their celebrity-titled sandwiches, orders a “Ben Stiller… with bacon.” The waiter calls out the order, and actor Ben Stiller saunters to the table followed by… actor Kevin Bacon.

2. Robert De Niro, dressed as a pilgrim, explains to Billy Crystal, in a turkey suit, why they’re wearing those respective costumes as they’re carried on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

3. Barbara Walters energetically auditions for a Broadway singing role, performs miserably, and is dismissed.

4. A man performs gorgeous figure-skating moves on the ice at Rockefeller Center. As he finishes, his identity is revealed to the audience: actor/director Woody Allen. He asks the audience, “Would you believe it’s my first time on skates?”


5. A bulky figure with the dimensions of Babe Ruth circles the bases of Yankee Stadium, sliding headfirst into home plate. He looks up to the camera and the audience discovers it to be former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who mumbles, “Derek who?,” referring to Yankees star shortstop Derek Jeter.

“Yankee Stadium”

6. An orchestra in legendary Avery Fisher Hall performs under the passioned baton of a conductor, revealed to be former Yankee and New York legend Yogi Berra, who in his classic deadpan asks “Who in the heck is this guy Phil Harmonic?”


7. NBC “Today Show” weather anchor Al Roker not only competes in, but wins, the New York Marathon, outdistancing thinner, more athletic runners.


8. Noted character actor Christopher Walken welcomes children to his lap while dressed up as an FAO Schwartz Santa Claus.


The campaign’s clever nature may hide the rhetorical underpinnings of changing the public’s view of New York City after the events of September 11, 2001. Therefore, we can utilize Anderson’s methodology for understanding image restoration from a victim’s standpoint to see how it was not only humor, but rhetoric, that would lead to the metaphorical rebuilding of New York’s status as “America’s First City.”


The first tactic utilized within the New York Miracle campaign is metaphor. The master metaphor, or the common theme to which the rhetor attempts to compare his/her image, is of the Miracle, or the achievement of a lifelong dream. In the Madonna context, we see New York City as the mother, able to birth the miracles we, the public, can then accept. Each spot of the campaign espouses its own particular application of the metaphor tactic and the achievement of lifelong dreams.

In “Deli,” the normally inaccessible becomes accessible for a woman who meets two major celebrities in what can only be considered a once-in-a-lifetime chance meeting. Furthermore, the sheer likelihood (or lack thereof) of both Stiller and Bacon being in the same small deli at the same time is particularly “miraculous.”

“Turkey” plays into the dream of memories of individuals familiar with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This massive tourist event is not only a dream for those who wish to be a spectator, but particularly for individuals who dream of one day participating in the parade itself. De Niro and Crystal realize this dream, though to participate, they’re forced to adorn the costumes necessary to play their parts in the complicated machine that is the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In “Theatre” we are confronted with an individual whom, despite her successful journalism career, clearly has a lifelong dream of being on stage. New York provides her this dream, giving her access to the process by which she can achieve it (although, as we’re shown in the spot, her own lack of talent holds her back. New York can provide a lot of things, but not, apparently, a decent singing voice.)

“Skating” once again utilizes familiar surroundings recognizable to the audience in order to inspire dreams of involvement within the audience. While few can imagine performing the stunts “Allen” does upon the ice, the rink at Rockefeller Center remains a major tourist attraction in the winter, as evidenced by the number of obvious first-time skaters present at any given time. Allen plays into this dream, with the tag line at the end of the spot.

The miraculous metaphor is espoused perhaps most perfectly in the “Yankee Stadium” spot, in which a common narrative dream is exploited: that of athletic success. It is a childhood dream of millions of Americans to one day hit a home run in Yankee stadium; this is exactly what Kissinger accomplishes, thus melding the miracles of success and a dream-come-true.

The “Philharmonic” spot utilizes class structure as a tool in promoting the New York Miracle metaphor. The New York Philharmonic, traditionally considered accessible only to the rich and elite, is here presented as a dream attainable to even an “average” person (embodied in Berra himself). You can be part of the culturally privileged for at least one night – courtesy New York City.

“Marathon” combines some of the metaphoric tactics of previous spots in both exploiting the athletic success dream with the spectator dream. Like the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the New York Marathon is a well-attended event by tourists, many of whom will contribute to the marathon experience through cheers or by providing assistance to runners. Roker takes this the next step, and, considering his athletic shape, it is truly a New York Miracle for him to win the race.

Finally, the Walken spot incorporates several miraculous metaphors as it combines the traditional miracle/Madonna metaphors of Christmas with a child’s dream of the most famous toy store on earth, alongside previous examples of the dream of celebrity interaction.


The second theme that emerges in the spots of the New York Miracle campaign is oxymoron, understood as placing uncommon themes together in one place. This tactic is at the heart of the New York Miracle campaign, as we see readily-identifiable characters placed in other identifiable places, but ones (we assume are) unfamiliar to those characters.

In “Deli,” we find the oxymoronic nature of two famous, wealthy movie stars existing within the walls of a casual, pick-of-the-litter deli. Furthermore, the humorous Bacon turn creates an oxymoronic incongruity, reflected in the reaction of the woman ordering the “sandwich.”

“Turkey” creates possibly the most indelible oxymoronic image, that of recognizably “tough-guy-actor” Robert De Niro wearing, of all things, a pilgrim outfit. Traditionally, we’d expect a celebrity participating in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to be more or less outfitted casually, with costumes (particularly of the sort worn by Crystal, that of the turkey suit) worn by non-celebrities.

“Theatre” creates a layered oxymoron; initially, we are curious why Walters, a successful television journalist, would be auditioning for anything. This then expands into the oxymoron of her truly pathetic singing and dancing abilities being placed upon a massive Broadway stage, and, finally, her dismissal at the hand of the producers. Incidentally, this spot is the only of the six to feature a “down” ending; the audience is free to choose whether Walters actually achieves her New York Miracle or not (depending on whether they narrate her goal to be that of simply auditioning or to actually get the role; on account of her abilities or lack thereof, the audience mainly concludes the former).

“Skating” places notoriously unathletic actor/director Woody Allen into a hyperathletic space, the Rockefeller Center skating rink. Furthermore, he (or, more accurately, his stunt double) performs breathtakingly gorgeous skating maneuvers. The oxymoronic nature of this is far from deep or inaccessible to the audience, and it is further encapsulated in Allen’s only line referring to it “only being his first time on skates.”

In “Yankee Stadium,” the audience is forced to recognize the allusion to Yankees hero Ruth, until the turn when the figure is revealed to be Kissinger, an individual who, not only owing to his physical size and age, but to his career recognition within the audience as a statesman, is viciously juxtaposed in his existence within the space known as “The House that Ruth Built.” The audience is thus forced to confront this opposition of assumptions, particularly with Kissinger’s reference to current Yankee hero Derek Jeter.

Continuing with the Yankees theme (BBDO clearly shows Bronx bias in its neglect of any reference to the Mets), the presence of erstwhile pop philosopher Yogi Berra in the traditionally “high art” space of Avery Fisher Hall creates its own visual oxymoron, which is then buttressed by the intertextual “Phil Harmonic” reference. Without the context of knowing who Yogi Berra is, and thus his penchant for witty malapropisms, the audience still picks up on the incongruity.

The oxymoron of recognizably heft celebrity Al Roker winning the New York Marathon, indeed, even competing in it, is so blunt it warrants no further discussion.

Finally, Walken’s culturally posited reputation as being fairly frightening in both his roles and his public persona clashes severely with his placement in the spot as a friendly, inviting Santa Claus. In this space, it is as incongruous as Roker winning the New York Marathon, with the included oxymoronic nature of questioning whether parents would even allow their children to sit on Walken’s lap (not the first time children being afraid of Walken has been explored; a Simpsons episode makes light of this as well).


This more traditional method of image restoration is a tactic used to bring positive associations back into the minds of audience members. This method is particularly important considering the context in which the New York Miracle campaign took place. By nature, most Americans associated negativity with the city of New York. After all, the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history had occurred there only months before. Sadness surrounding the event contributed to negative associations enough, but the threat of future terrorist acts complimented this negative association. Thus, the burden of reversing these feelings fell upon the campaign, and it was achieved both concretely and abstractly.

The campaign attempts to use recognizable New York landmarks, visual images attached to specific ideas in audience members minds’ prior to 9/11, as a primary concrete bolstering method. FAO Schwartz, the Philharmonic, Yankee Stadium, Rockefeller Center, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade are instantly recognizable to audience members, generally with a positive association.

In the abstract sense, the bolstering is accomplished through the use of celebrity. As referred to earlier, the metaphor of New York City as a place to meet celebrities, or go “star-watching” is found within each spot (encapsulated most perfectly in the Stiller/Bacon spot, but seen within the seven others as well).

As the tenets of Anderson’s theory are understood, and it has been applied to the New York Miracle campaign, the obvious question arises: Was it successful? Davis explains humor in advertising makes people laugh, but it doesn’t particularly contribute to them buying what the vendor is selling. In this case, New York is selling “tourism,” and thus, analyzing tourism in the post-campaign period may be telling.

In the months following 9/11, tourism revenues in New York fell by over $100 million. However, economists had projected this fall to be far greater. By March 2002, theatre operators reported attendance and receipts to have returned to the previous year’s levels, and, indeed, were in many cases exceeding them. Overall, the growth was slow, but many economists attribute this to a national recession rather than the actual terrorist attacks.

The campaign itself was a success within the advertising agency. It garnered attention in most trade magazines and, in January 2002, it earned “Overall Champion” honors at the International Advertising Awards competition.

Finally, Anderson’s theory is innovative in its approach to image restoration, but it has a few areas that can be researched further. Specifically, it is vital to understand if there are differences between individual and organizational image restoration campaigns. In this case, we apply a method designed to understand an individual’s rhetoric to that of an organization. While it works within this context, it may not be applicable in all situations. Further understanding of the differences can exist within the literature.

The September 11, 2001 attacks have never been anything to laugh about. However, the opportunity to examine communication events that have taken place as a result of them is rich and the discipline must continue to study them.


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