Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2002/ 5 Tishrei 5763


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Look back in anger: More terrorism is imminent | LIKE MILLIONS of Americans, once or twice a week I go numb and think back to the terrorist attacks of one year ago. It doesn't take much to set off a wistful reverie. The paved-over playing fields of Stuyvesant High School visible from my terrace. A "for rent" sign on a storefront in Lower Manhattan. The framed photo of my sons playing baseball last August on the roof with the World Trade Center in the background. An e-mail from a friend whose family fled Tribeca last October. A phone call from one of my cousins, a firefighter who spent three months at Ground Zero.

The left-wing press, exercising its stronger-than-ever First Amendment rights, is often so frantic that it's hard to ignore. The New York Times, which has degenerated into an anti-Bush/appeasement-at-any-cost propaganda sheet, recalling the paper's strange coverage of World War II, is a topic I'll examine below. But even fringe publications like The Nation are as irritating as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who are stricken with amnesia about their own vast array of foreign policy failures while butting into the Iraq debate, as if anyone wants to hear from these born-again experts on terrorism.

Just one example, from a Sept. 23 Nation editorial: "Abroad, the Bush team's initial military victory in breaking up Al Qaeda cells and routing their Taliban protectors in Afghanistan has been tarnished by a stream of postwar revelations of needless civilian deaths from US bombs and mistreatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners."

Maybe it hasn't dawned on the upper-income-bracket editors of The Nation, but these captured fanatics are enemies of the United States and were engaged in war with this country's military, as well as rejoicing at Osama bin Laden's well-planned massacre a year ago.

With the exception of those old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, the carnage of Sept. 11, 2001, is the central historic event of our lives. I was eight years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and for decades after the question, "Where were you when...?" was a common benchmark, something anyone born before, say 1957, could share, regardless of political ideology. The crumbling of the Twin Towers instantly relegated that (still-unsolved, in my mind) shocking murder to a long-ago era.

Writing two days before the first anniversary of Sept. 11, my sadness and incomprehension of that day has largely been replaced by anger. It's mostly directed at the ratings-obsessed media, the lack of security in New York City and other obvious high-density targets, self-aggrandizing politicians mainly concerned with reelection and a rubber-necking U.S. culture that craves constant commemoration of an horrific occurrence.

The television coverage of this one-year milestone (far more saturated than the one-month, six-month and nine-month ceremonials about the same event) is grotesque. In part, it's an insult to all the families whose lives were forever altered by the attacks, as if they need one more extended period of mourning to mark their losses. On a larger scale, the ubiquitous tv marathons, books and magazine "special" editions this month trivialize the perilous condition of the world, a confusing jumble of violence that hasn't been matched since World War II.

Both Newsweek and Time printed "One Year Later" issues last week, which was reasonable enough, but the fact that both publications dated their editions Sept. 11, 2002 (a Wednesday), instead of the usual Monday date, was obscenely cynical. Worse yet was that Newsweek's newsstand copies were printed on heavier-stock paper than issues sent to subscribers, with "Commemorative Edition" the headline at top. The flailing U.S. News & World Report also published a stand-alone, advertising-free "commemorative issue" (the fine print on the cover reads"Keep on sale through Nov. 11, 2002"), and opened with a mandatory photo of the burning towers in New York.

I witnessed the event live on Hudson St. and then like the rest of the nation saw nonstop film of those planes crashing into the towers for days after. It's not an image-or sequence of images-that bears repeating at this point.

Last Saturday night I was watching a video documentary about Ulysses S. Grant, and while rewinding the first reel, Larry King sprung up on CNN, interviewing network anchors Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw about their "reporting" experiences last year. After being assaulted by about 15 cliches, I turned to Cartoon Network until the second half of the Grant biography was ready for viewing. One hopes, probably quixotically, that Americans will boycott the orgy of television self-congratulation, save the live speech by President Bush on Wednesday morning in New York City.

Writing in the Sept. 6 New York Times, critic Caryn James had several smart insights. She said: "Some of Wednesday's attention is clearly necessary, notably the live coverage of the memorial ceremonies at ground zero. The documentaries and taped reports, though, continue what television has already been doing. There is such an emphasis on human-interest stories and eyewitness accounts, it's as if the whole country has been engaged in a year of televised talk therapy...

"In an ABC report scheduled for Wednesday night, Barbara Walters visits a therapy group of widows and their adolescent children. The cameras have followed these people for months; they knew they were being discreetly observed. Yet there is still a creepy voyeurism involved, no matter how complicitous the subjects."

A month earlier, on Aug. 2, The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger was more harsh. In the column "Wonder Land" he wrote: "There's a fine line between remembrance and mawkishness. TV makes sure we cross it. The way American television production is conceived, with all of life reduced to melodrama, makes this inevitable, and we're used to it. But what happened September 11 transcended nearly all frames of human reference within which most of us have ever lived, and it's unsettling to know almost for a certainty that TV next month will absorb this event into its maw and make it their show. This might not happen, if they did less. But on TV, more, and a lot more after that, is all."

My own plans for the one-year anniversary are simple: I'll read the daily papers, drop my sons off at school, play "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" twice in a row, hold a lit candle as I gaze into the distance from my roof at where the Trade Center once stood and probably watch the Yanks and Orioles play at the Stadium.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith