The Ruminator: Nation, news outlets rise to occasion

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Regular readers of this occasional column know that I don’t mince words but like to play with them. Whether it’s references to my favorite beverage or my sometimes scathing commentary, I try to write a lively, insightful column that I hope readers find fun as well.
This week’s column is necessary, but it’s not fun. The wound of Sept. 11 is still too raw. But a few words about the nature of TV today must be said.
Television is now the way the world communicates. It’s been that way for many years. Second-by-second stock market coverage every day, live pleas by people looking for help in times of crisis-just plain live coverage from almost anywhere at any time. But the power of TV to bring us the facts and the emotion was made clear again last week with the attacks in New York and Washington.
With the events happening in the heart of the world’s information center, the terrorists certainly knew not only would they get saturation coverage of their dastardly deed, but also that the country-and perhaps the world, through CNN-would get some of the crashes live. Sadly, they were right.
But what happened afterward was even more telling. Instead of a despondent, defeated city and country, what the world saw was Americans at their best. Don’t fuck with us, and certainly, certainly, don’t fuck with New Yorkers. (How’s that line in “Casablanca” go? When the Nazi general tells Bogie that Germany plans to attack America, Bogie says something like, “There are certain neighborhoods in New York I wouldn’t advise you to invade.”) Strangers helping strangers, fire and police forces risking and many losing their lives trying to save people they never met and a population not boasting about recovering, but showing a steadfast resolve to do so. If television brought us the horror, it also told the world the attack ultimately would change New York, Washington and the country-and also change the terrorist forces roving the world who planned the attack.
In the 24-hour live cable news world, people from Saddam Hussein to the Pope have used words and images to get their message across, and unlike the past it is instantaneous. Reuven Frank, in an op-ed piece (see Page 8), talks about Pearl Harbor then and the World Trade Center and Pentagon now. No, I don’t remember Pearl Harbor. But I do know this. Then people heard about the attack on radio. Now they saw it live. Then there wasn’t blanket coverage. Now there is. Then your imagination could run wild. Now you saw everything live as it unfolded. Then America was primarily a rural nation with pockets of urban centers. Now the urban and suburban sprawls seem to meet.
The temptation is to get caught up in all the emotion following such a catastrophic event and to make short-term judgments that in the long run turn out to be wrong. But no matter what happens, television is truly the nation’s and the world’s way of letting everyone find out what has happened and learn what might happen next. Like all of you, I watched and watched and watched. From CNN to MSNBC, from Fox to ABC, NBC and CBS, the coverage was impressive and helped the nation and the people of New York get through the most unimaginable attack in our lifetime. As the days turn into weeks, months and yes, I’m afraid years, the people who bring us the news have an awesome responsibility to make sure their level of professionalism continues. For the media has become the world’s messenger.