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Editorial: 9/11 a poignant reminder of TV’s place in society

Sep 16, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Overkill or fitting tribute, the television industry’s collective remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001, on the one-year anniversary was a powerful demonstration of both the degree to which the medium has been woven into the fabric of American life and the public service responsibility that comes with being a part of that fabric.
The 9/11 coverage also demonstrated that the industry takes that responsibility seriously.
That television plays a central role in the life of this nation in the 21st century is hardly a revelation. It has been at least four decades since we first learned to take for granted the flickering box in the corner of the living room, turning to it for information, perspective and, as we rediscovered one year ago, healing.
But the industry, perennially walking the fine line between business demands and public interest, has been inconsistent, especially in recent years, in its willingness to fulfill the latter role, at times shamelessly casting aside the greater good in the pursuit of profit. Until 9/11.
The terrorist attacks that forever changed the landscape and consciousness of America delivered a jolt to broadcasters as well, forcing them to re-examine their priorities. On that one terrible morning, it became clear that world affairs matter and that the media we depend on to keep us informed had allowed the American people to lapse into a false sense of security, a state of blissful disregard for how we are perceived around the world, blind to the growing power and determination of our enemies.
TV news departments saw graphic evidence that day not only that they had strayed from their mission but also that their lack of commitment to that mission could have dire consequences. Obviously, television was not to blame for the attacks. But just as obviously, it would have to do a better job from now on.
Predictably, interest in terrorism has waned since the months immediately following the attacks. And predictably, the attention paid to it by television has slipped. But the anniversary remembrance made it clear that we have not forgotten, as a nation or as an industry.
Whether U.S. viewers wanted to watch or not-and many made clear that they did not-we needed to see it, needed to remember how it felt, needed to reconnect as a nation and refocus on our role in the post-9/11 world. And broadcasters provided us with a forum to meet each of those needs, doing a masterful job of covering the event from every imaginable angle. It took hard work and sacrifice-including in many cases a loss of advertising revenues, the lifeblood of the industry-but television delivered.
In the process it reaffirmed its power to touch the soul of a culture in a way that no other medium can match. Broadcasters must never forget that they hold that power in their hands. They must continue to wield it responsibly, something that Sept. 11, 2002, proved they are capable of doing.