- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

Viewer dread of September 11 anniversary television programming is building, even as broadcasters and advertisers alike wrestle to find an appropriate role in it all.
Re-creations, analyses, investigations, timelines, remembrances fraught with emotion is America up to it?
"We're asking the industry of wretched excess to properly cover a day of quiet solemnity. And their plans to surround us with wall-to-wall remembrance smacks of overindulgence in grief," said Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
"It is a day that must be remembered, but not with busy graphics and chat-fests, but with a reserved approach which doesn't lend itself well to television," Mr. Felling said.
C-SPAN questioned viewers earlier this week, revealing diverse opinions about suitable anniversary coverage. Several called for network and cable channels to go black all day as a "powerful" symbol of respect; others feared they would be "stuck in sorrow" or mired in unnecessary rehash of disturbing events.
"I'd like to see a mushroom cloud over Mecca. A big one," volunteered one viewer.
The Wall Street Journal also asked readers about "commemorative programming" in an online poll of 750 people, 56 percent felt it should be commercial-free.
"I will not watch any commemorative programming," one man wrote at the Journal's Web site. "The attack still 'plays' in my head on a daily basis."
Even Katie Couric, host of NBC's "Today" show, had reservations about heavy-handed broadcasts. "I think you do run the risk of just giving people too much of the story that is too devastating for them to watch," she said earlier this week.
But how much is too much? No one seems to be holding back.
NBC will expand the "Today" show to six hours on the anniversary, followed with an afternoon-long "town meeting" and a two-hour evening concert.
"It's a democracy," Miss Couric noted. "People don't have to watch it."
CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves agreed that there is a "danger" of viewer overload, telling reporters on a recent press tour, "It is far better to err on the side of giving too much coverage than not paying enough respect to what happened."
Some won't soft-pedal the horror. "We need to be extraordinarily careful about sanitizing the images out of a misplaced concern of causing offense," one filmmaker wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
Advertisers are treading carefully. The 93 straight hours of repetitive but often visceral TV coverage that followed the attacks last year were commercial-free. It took months for hushed commercial "sponsorships" and public service announcements to revert to customary shrill caterwaul.
For the anniversary, Pepsi and Dell Computers have announced they will buy no advertising, according to the Wall Street Journal, which hints that McDonalds, Revlon and other major players are poised to follow suit.
Some broadcasters are offering programming early. Tuesday night, NBC aired a restrained investigative story on the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, though the program also managed to plug a book on the crash by a New York Times reporter.
The Discovery Channel plans a 14-hour "Faces of 9/11" series beginning Aug. 29, while CNN will present "America Remembers," a two-part documentary, beginning Aug. 17, though the network plans 15 straight hours of coverage with 25 correspondents come September 11.

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