Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Media & 9/11…Ten Years Later

By Tim Richardson

When planning my blog for this month, I had an idea in place for many weeks. But as I sat in my living room on the morning of September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the horrific day that forever changed our way of life, I was moved to change my topic.

The morning of September 11, 2001 began as any other day. People got up to go to work; pilots and passengers boarded airplanes for what they expected to be normal business trips, social travels, etc.; and America went about its business as normal…until 8:46 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. At first, many, including the networks reporting the story, speculated about what happened…was it just an unbelievable accident? That conjecture ended just 17 minutes later when United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower. Add in the strike at the Pentagon and the crash in Shanksville, Pa., and we knew that our nation was under attack.

Whether it was a national network or a local radio station, every media outlet in the country had to decide how they were going to cover the unfolding stories of that day as chaos and confusion swept the country. Decisions were made in newsrooms across the nation that would have critical and lasting impacts on how the media would cover stories in the future,

This was new territory for the media and they had to evaluate whether exercising sensitivity outweighed the choice to often exploit sensationalism. In the days after the attacks, David Westin, the president of ABC News, ordered that video of the jets hitting the World Trade Center was not to run repeated on the air so as not to disturb viewers, especially children.

Westin’s decision was unique and admirable. In the introduction to “September 11, 2001,” a book that compiles the front pages marking the attacks, former Executive Editor of the New York Times, Max Frankel, describes the media’s role in the hours and days after the terrorist attacks: “honest and reliable news media could instruct the world in its vulnerability, summon Americans to heroic acts of rescue, and ignite the global search for meaning and response. Only trusted news teams could discern the nation’s anxiety, spread words of hope and therapy, and help to move us from numbing fear toward.”

Ten years later, we live in a world with a completely new media landscape. Those “trusted news teams” are much smaller or no longer in existence. The majority of Americans get their news from the Internet. Plus, neither Twitter nor Facebook existed in 2001…can you imagine how that day would have unfolded in the social media universe?

According to Vice-President Biden’s speech from the Pentagon last Sunday, more than 2.8 million people of the “9/11 Generation” joined our Armed Forces following the attacks that September day in 2001 “to fight for the people who died that day” and to protect those of us who live under the blanket of freedom that is America.

My father is part of what is known as “America’s Greatest Generation” and that is a label that he and so many others richly deserve. He was alive on “a day that will live in infamy” when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and killed over 2,400 Americans. I remember my dad telling me 10 years ago that he never thought he would live to see another day where our country was attacked in such a catastrophic way. He also talked about how incredibly different it was in terms of how Americans learned of that attack in Hawaii, compared to the media coverage of 9/11. Close to 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001 and I believe that the “9/11 Generation” will go down in history as our nation’s most resilient and united in a time of great sorrow.

Finally, then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue chose to cancel the NFL games scheduled for the Sunday following the attacks in 2001…a decision that has been applauded and criticized. So it was ironic that the 10th anniversary fell on the opening weekend of the NFL season. Sports are something that tend to unite people, and the NFL should be commended for the role they played on Sunday in uniting a nation:

Tim Richardson is Executive Vice President at Maroon PR.  Contact him at

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