Live from September 11
On the anniversary of September 11, the networks should re-broadcast their coverage from a year ago. They won't.
12:00 AM, Sep 3, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
A COUPLE WEEKS AGO, my colleague Richard Starr had a genius idea: On the morning of September 11, one of the networks should re-air, in full, its original broadcast from a year ago.
Yes, there would be a few embarrassing moments as the anchors reported developments that we now know weren't true. Yes, it would be painful--perhaps even hurtful--to people who lost friends and loved ones. Yes, it would preclude the broadcast of live memorial events that have been planned. But it would avoid sappiness and melodrama and, with any luck, help stiffen the national spine by reminding us that we are not recovering from a tragedy, we are engaged in a war.
Alas, no one is taking Richard's suggestion, and if the September 11 programming schedule is to be trusted, the Princess Dianafication of America is proceeding apace. Gary Levin of USA Today reports that ABC will highlight a town-hall meeting called "Answering Children's Questions." CBS will run "The Day That Changed America." Fox will air a special called "The Day America Changed" and a taped town-hall meeting. CNN will have 12 hours of Aaron Brown and Paula Zahn anchoring under the banner "America Remembers." NBC, also using the slogan "America Remembers," will feature six hours of the "Today Show" and another town-hall meeting with survivors, rescuers, and victim's families.
These broadcasts promise to be long on grieving and short, as they say, on root causes. Two weeks ago Michael Starr reported in the New York Post that the actual images of the attack--the planes striking and the towers collapsing--will barely be shown. Thom Bird of Fox News Channel explains, "We've decided to use that image [of the planes] in conjunction with the time it actually happened a year ago, and then you'll never see it again that day." A spokeswoman from NBC News said that they will use "extreme discretion" in showing these important images at both NBC and MSNBC. ABC News president David Westin told Michael Starr that his network has a policy of not showing the footage of the planes or the tower collapse, but that he'll "slightly modify" that policy for the anniversary.
This first anniversary promises to fill our screens with crying widows, lists of names, and commemorative concerts. But by not highlighting the footage of the attack, the networks are giving us grief, not purpose; sorrow, not resolve.
And this difference is the danger we now confront. If September 11 becomes a mere tragedy, something we mourn and grieve, then the war on terrorism becomes a symbolic war, like the war on poverty or illiteracy or drugs. If we are serious about ridding the world of terrorists, then September 11 is a starting point, a raw reminder to an increasingly complacent America that Freedom is not free. We need to remember not just the people we lost, but the threat we face.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.