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Editorial: Television helps unify the nation

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

We use this space regularly to chastise the television industry when we disagree with the way it goes about its business. But in the face of a tragedy on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we are reminded of the unique, vital role the medium continues to play in American life.
And we are reminded of the extraordinary level of professionalism and dedication that characterizes the men and women who make up the industry.
When disaster strikes, Americans turn on their television sets to find out the latest news, to search for comfort and reassurance, to seek a focus for their anger and to share the nation’s collective grief. It’s what we have done for almost half a century, through the JFK assassination, the space shuttle disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing and other defining moments in our history. Today, even in the Internet age, we continue to depend on television to unify us as a nation.
The Internet has given us another option, proving itself to be a useful source of information. As the horrifying events unfolded last week, we turned in large numbers to Internet news sites such as CNN.com and MSNBC.com, and despite glitches caused by the unprecedented volume of traffic to the sites, they provided timely and detailed updates.
But even the best news sites could not match the immediacy or the humanity of television news as it delivered a flood of heart-wrenching images and moving commentaries to living rooms and offices nationwide. The sight of a CNN reporter bursting into tears as she interviewed family members of missing workers at the World Trade Center was something that could only be found on live TV. And it was the kind of image that was repeated all across the television dial.
As the men and women of each network and each station did their best under extraordinary circumstances to help the nation come to terms with its loss, the television industry as a whole put public service ahead of the concerns that had seemed so important before Tuesday morning. Hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial revenues were sacrificed to present uninterrupted news coverage. The start of the fall season, which suddenly seemed irrelevant, was postponed.
Clearly, other concerns outweigh the interests of the television business: public safety, the rescue effort, the search for the people who perpetrated the attack, deciding how to respond. But the role of television should not be minimized. In their own way, the men and women of television, both on-site and in the studio, have performed heroically during this national tragedy. They deserve our recognition and our thanks.