- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

ON MEDIA

The most extraordinary news event of the century became an overnight reflection of the American soul as initial media coverage gave way to collective emotional reaction.

Stories reverberated with visceral expressions of outrage, anguish, anxiety and fierce resolve from a huge swath of the population: politicians, eyewitnesses, pundits, heartland farmers — all had their say in what was almost universally billed as "The Day After."

"Raise your American flag today," advised North Carolina's News and Observer. "Let our own generation sound its battle cry: Remember New York!"

America would "get the bastards," according to Norman Schwartzkopf on NBC, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, on CNN; and a New York Post commentary yesterday.

"What would Dad do? Ronald Reagan would be a shoulder for the nation to cry on," wrote his daughter Patti Davis in Newsweek's online edition.

In times of calamity, a noble media can unite the public in a forum of shared ideas and feelings, reasonable observations and accurate recounts of facts— no matter how few they are. But 12 hours after the terrorist incidents, broadcasters took liberties with those images of violence and destruction, which should remain unsullied by entertaining packaging and glib commentary.

Both Fox and NBC offered shameless musical montages of video footage from the disaster during evening newscasts Tuesday. Such manipulative ploys are a disservice to the public and erode trust and tolerance of the media. Most viewers are already shaken enough by the stark reality of news coverage alone.

Some journalists did not know when to cease and desist. Before news came that Air Force One was a potential target, some criticized President Bush for not immediately returning to Washington. Others were rude and impatient during televised press conferences when restraint and decorum should be paramount.

And in a tasteless moment, ABC's Peter Jennings chose to drone on yesterday morning during live prayers offered by the House and Senate chaplains.

Preliminary ratings estimates from Nielsen found an estimated 61 million homes were tuned to broadcast networks during prime time, about a 75 percent increase over the previous night. Estimates placed NBC in the lead, followed by ABC and CBS. New York-based Nielsen, which normally provides overnight numbers, was closed yesterday.

Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report will publish special terrorism editions Friday. Time editor Jim Kelley described it as "a day in the life of America" while Newsweek editor Mark Whitacker predicted, "There's going to be a lot more to say about this."

The global media offered highly charged reaction. "Great God, stand by us," read one German headline. "Armageddon, A great country. A great tragedy. A great pain," said Moscow's daily Izvestia, while Britain's Independent called the incident "Doomsday America."

The Hollywood establishment, meanwhile, made some positive gestures. Disney, CBS, Fox, Paramount, Sony and ABC have delayed premieres and pulled on-air promotions of both film and TV productions that capitalize on terrorism, nuclear threats and clandestine operations.

"It would be insensitive to continue," said Fox spokesman Scott Grogin.


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