Sunday, September 24, 2006

Looking Back on a Tragedy With Energy and Respect

From The New York Times: Looking Back on a Tragedy With Energy and Respect

September 12, 2006The CoverageLooking Back on a Tragedy With Energy and Respect By ALESSANDRA STANLEY

It was smart of CNN to send Anderson Cooper to Afghanistan, not ground zero, for the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Afghanistan is where this all started. Ground zero is where innocence ended. That was obvious throughout the slow, mournful roll call of victims’ names at the World Trade Center memorial service — a public tribute to private family tragedies, more than 2,700 of them, one after another.It was just as clear on MSNBC, which chose to rebroadcast the “Today” show of Sept. 11, 2001. Until the second plane hit the south tower that morning, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer assumed, like almost everyone else, that the first plane crash was an accident. What stands out now is how calm they seemed as reality sank in and things kept getting worse, and how little anyone really understood at the time.It is painful, but not difficult, to memorialize Sept. 11 on television. There are so many images from that morning, so many ways to recreate its horror and mourn those who died. President Bush used that sadness and rekindled anger as a frame to challenge criticism of the Iraq war in his televised address. “We face an enemy determined to bring death and suffering into our homes,” he said from the Oval Office. “America did not ask for this war, and every American wishes it were over. So do I. But the war is not over — and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious.”The day of ceremony, remembrance and wreath-laying was bracketed by fresh scenes of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and renewed jitters at home. Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued his own tribute, a video warning that new attacks were imminent. In Afghanistan, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the funeral of the assassinated governor of Paktia. A United Airlines flight from Atlanta to San Francisco was diverted after an unclaimed BlackBerry was found on board. In New York, Pennsylvania Station was evacuated for a while. For New Yorkers especially, yesterday unfolded with that same sense of sorrow and unease that darkened the entire fall of 2001.CNN provided the morning’s most ambitious fifth anniversary special by weaving together a time line of pivotal moments on Sept 11, 2001. Besides covering the president and Laura Bush as they paid their respects in New York, in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, CNN brought out witnesses in those places who recounted their memories. A CNN reporter, Jonathan Freed, was at the Norad command center in Colorado to review what took place there five years ago. From there, he was the first to report that United Flight 351 was being rerouted for fear of a terrorist bomb — a precaution that fortunately proved unnecessary. Mr. Freed’s live bulletins may have needlessly alarmed viewers, but they did evoke the pinpricks of tension that are a legacy of Sept. 11. Sometimes CNN switched to the ceremony at ground zero, at others it went overseas to a forward base in Afghanistan where Mr. Cooper had gone to observe American soldiers gather for their own commemoration in the field. As he spoke onscreen about being on the “frontline” of the war on terror, the men suddenly broke into a run behind him, rushing to escape incoming fire. (To his credit, Mr. Cooper, who was on live, kept talking and didn’t duck or run.)Throughout all those zigzags, CNN held its own tribute — the news crawl at the bottom of the screen showed a candle and the word “remembering” as the names of the victims spilled across the screen, all day. At 9:05 a.m. yesterday, CNN showed the clip of that exact moment five years ago in a classroom in Sarasota, Fla., when President Bush first learned that the county was under attack, and sat frozen in his seat. CNN accompanied it with an interview with the teacher who sat next to Mr. Bush at the blackboard, and she recalled that she knew something was wrong by the look in his eyes.Hours before the president attended the ceremony for Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., CNN interviewed an assistant volunteer fire chief, Rick King, at the same time that, five years earlier, he was on his porch talking by cellphone to his sister when he saw a fireball in the distance and rushed to the scene of smoke and tangled metal. “I just looked around, and no people,” he recalled. “I was thinking, Where are the people?” All the news programs covered the anniversary with energy, respect and exhaustive detail. CNN found a way to relive the day hour by hour without losing track of the world around it.
Posted by Christiane Amanpour

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