People are being asked today to remember Sept. 11, 2001. In that vein, I have posted after the jump three columns I wrote in 2001, one from Sept. 12, two from the following October; then you can read a piece George Thomas and I did for Sept. 9, 2006, the fifth anniversary.
This was my print column the day after 9/11:
TV reaches us best when it brings us events that touch our own lives and hearts.
The horrible images filling TV yesterday certainly did that.
On Monday morning, I took my girlfriend to the airport and told her goodbye.
She had a safe trip, thank heavens. But I keep thinking of all the people who made similar farewells yesterday and now mourn.
I think, too, of her regular business trips to New York City. And my sister and her family, who live outside Washington, D.C. One of my nephews is attending college in Brooklyn, and heard the first aircraft hitting the World Trade Center while on his way to class. My older son would like to go to college in New York City. My mother lives near a host of military installations in Virginia, a possible future target of terrorism.
They are all safe. The chills don't stop.
This is a moment that has newscasters groping for parallels, searching their collective memory for something to compare this to.
A favorite was Pearl Harbor. Ohio News Network even interviewed a Pearl Harbor survivor.
But we know that Pearl Harbor, a military installation, was attacked in a strategic wartime move.
Yesterday's attacks did not aim to cripple a military force. They struck at our hearts, to frighten us, to take away our sense of safety, to make us feel helpless.
For at least one day, it worked.
The fear made it hard to look dispassionately at the information flowing from TV yesterday.
About 40 different channels carried extensive coverage of the day's atrocities. That's more than I have ever seen cover a single story at the same time. Some of those channels were not even on the air when the World Trade Center was first bombed in 1993.
Shopping channels stopped peddling. Sports channels took a break from scores and stats. A CBS telecast of the Latin Grammy Awards was canceled. Local stations in some cases filled two channels, for example in the combined coverage on WKYC (Channel 3) and WVPX (Channel 23).
So news spread. The world seemed to shake. And in other places, as odd as it seemed, the world went on almost as usual.
Some channels televising shows for children - among them Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and WVIZ (Channel 25) - stuck with their regularly scheduled programs during the day. Maybe that helped spare little ones from the terrors out in the world. But sooner or later, every family is going to have to talk about what happened.
Early yesterday afternoon, a Beacon Journal reader called to ask how to get Band of Brothers on home video. I haven't called him back yet.
A water meter reader stopped by my house as part of his morning routine yesterday.
Of course, he paused to watch TV coverage, getting news updates as he went from house to house.
That was one way the horrors around the nation broke into daily life. And overall, it felt stunning, and not just in the pictures of smoke and fire pouring from great structures, or the ash-covered streets of New York City.
There was a CNN discussion of what actions were being taken by the Pentagon - shorthand for the Defense Department - along with a question about where the post-attack Pentagon might be.
A symbol of American might was for the moment lost.
And what could be done with that might? Though speculation focused increasingly on terrorist Osama bin Laden, Fox News' Brit Hume noted that "it's a difficult question . . . how to retaliate." Local and national reports tried to keep people from turning their rage against a band of terrorists into hatred of an ethnic group.
American might itself seemed to wobble with uncertainty.
And over it all was another question: If we are not safe, what will we do to be safe in the future? Most of us would give up a little convenience. But are we ready to cast aside our bigger freedoms?
I don't know the answer to that one. Sometimes yesterday I thought I didn't know anything anymore. Across dozens of channels, I saw President Bush declaring his resolve. Earlier in the day, I had watched politicians singing God Bless America. It was a momentary comfort, at best.
A matter-of-fact trip to the airport on Monday is now a memory poisoned by might-have-beens.
This one is from Oct. 8, 2001:
In the weeks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, we've been urged repeatedly to find a way to get back to our normal lives.
Yesterday we got a reminder of what normal life on television now is.
It's not entirely unlike normal life before Sept. 11. Programmers have to make choices about what they put on the air, and viewers have to choose what to watch.
But since Sept. 11, and the allied attacks against Afghanistan yesterday, the decisions carry the added weight of blood and battlegrounds.
A lot of us went into yesterday afternoon with thoughts of relaxation, or of sitting down with a baseball or football game.
We need to feel some control over our lives - that it is possible to escape at least for a little while from the gloom of the last few weeks and the weeks ahead.
I watched news yesterday, some of it good, some of it muddled (especially when it came to remarks in a tape from terrorist group al-Qaeda).
I also watched some baseball. And a lot of the Browns game. I don't feel guilty about any of it.
And yesterday's revamped TV schedules had an array of responses to the need for news, and the need for that normal life.
The prime-time Emmy Awards, which were supposed to air last night after a three-week postponement, were postponed yet again, with no new date set.
The planned awards telecast had aimed to balance an awards show with the current atmosphere, with veteran newsman Walter Cronkite opening the show and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani closing it.
But there was no enthusiasm for that in the wake of yesterday's military actions.
"It was not a day to celebrate," said Leslie Moonves, president of CBS, which was due to televise the awards.
Handing out prizes in the wake of the Afghanistan actions "seemed like it was trivial. . . . This is a terrible day," Moonves added. "I think we're all sick to our stomachs."
With news of the Afghan action coming early yesterday afternoon, broadcast networks also had to decide what to do about their previously scheduled sports telecasts.
And no matter what was going on in the world, major sports events - including both Indians and Browns games - went on.
President Bush was speaking to the nation during the kickoff of the Browns game.
While local CBS affiliate WOIO (Channel 19) was carrying Bush instead of the kickoff on TV, you could flip on your radio and find a Browns broadcast going on as usual - and Channel 19 began its Browns telecast quickly enough.
At the same time, CBS did use part of halftime for a news update and had at least one other news cut-in during the game.
Channel 19 carried its locally produced Browns post-game show before going to CBS news coverage late in the afternoon.
Fox-owned WJW (Channel 8) had syndicated programming for a time, then carried Fox News for a couple of hours before picking up Fox's regular football coverage at 4 p.m., including a Green Bay-Tampa Bay game. (You could also find Fox News reporting on Fox Sports Net for a time yesterday afternoon.)
A NASCAR race planned for telecast on NBC - WKYC (Channel 3) locally - was moved to cable's TNT while NBC was carrying news coverage.
Late in the day, after NBC had gone back to regular programming, the race was airing on both TNT and NBC simultaneously. But where NBC had extensive news coverage on its broadcast network and MSNBC, its CNBC stuck with its regular lineup, including a bunch of infomercials.
ABC - WEWS (Channel 5) here - dropped regularly scheduled programming for news. The Indians' last regular-season game still aired on WUAB (Channel 43).
Cable's E! struggled to fill its planned hours of pre-Emmy coverage - even as NBC was reporting that the Emmys would not air. And even after carrying the press conference confirming the Emmys' postponement, E! ran an "Emmy's hottest men" special - albeit with a crawl noting the awards show had been postponed.
This from Oct. 11:
War is a good marketing device.
At least, it has been for Bill Maher, Ann Coulter, The West Wing, The Agency, news channels and sundry products.
The war was supposed to make us stop and think about what was important in the world, and for a while it did.
You could find news organizations doing good work covering the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and noble work in the days since.
One of the most important efforts, by both national and local news organizations, has been to make clear that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization are a specific group - that anger should not expand to any nationality or religious group.
Television in particular provided us with repeated opportunities for catharsis, from prayer services to an all-star telethon.
But it's been a month since the attacks. We're supposed to be back to business as usual. That includes marketing and promotion, even if it happens with a patriotic flourish.
The West Wing's special anti-terrorism episode a week ago was used by NBC to promote other programs in its lineup, including reality series Lost and police drama Law & Order.
It also had commercials for the Toyota Camry (with the flashing phrase "You Want It"), the movie Training Day, General Electric and Kellogg's corn flakes - and those are just from one break.
Early squeamishness about entertainment series cutting too close to real events has given way to shows promoting themselves in the context of the current crisis.
The Agency, a new CBS drama about the CIA, has had ads making it your patriotic duty to watch the series.
Where the show postponed its first episode because it had a story line dealing with Middle Eastern terrorists, it has gone ahead with an episode at 10 tonight including an anthrax attack. Star Gil Bellows even showed up on The View to promote the anthrax episode.
Serialized action-drama Alias went ahead with an episode on Oct. 7 with Middle Eastern terrorism in it, even on a day when allied attacks against Afghanistan had been launched. The prime-time Emmy Awards were also supposed to air that night; they were postponed again, but not before they had been promoted with TV spots that wrapped Emmy-watching in the American flag.
Even Tuesday's Indians-Mariners game went for a flashy, if irrelevant, bit of flag-waving. The closing "this has been a presentation of Fox Sports" was preceded by scenes of men at sea, apparently heading off into combat. Immediately after: a Ford commercial that included the Ford logo in front of the Stars and Stripes.
Now, some of the flourishes are to be expected, including TV newscasts battling for the most striking use of flag motifs and the phrase "America Strikes Back." But others, such as NBC's red-white-and-blue peacock, are just plain weird.
And weird devolved into slimy in recent career moves by Bill Maher, the host of ABC's Politically Incorrect, and Ann Coulter, the writer and TV commentator.
Maher said that Americans using cruise missiles to hit targets thousands of miles away was "cowardly." Politically Incorrect lost a couple of major advertisers as a result. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer used Maher as a warning that "all Americans . . . need to watch what they say, watch what they do."
Coulter, meanwhile, wrote in a column for National Review Online that America should "invade (terrorists') countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Coulter later parted ways with the online service, though who said goodbye first is open to debate.
Both appeared at first to be First Amendment martyrs, their opinions attacked in a time when many Americans tolerated no dissent.
But while there are signs of intolerance out there, I suspect Maher and Coulter were doing what they have always done - using blunt talk as a way of getting attention.
And this time it worked all too well. Maher even wound up on Jay Leno's talk show. Coulter bragged to the Washington Post about the publicity she had received. In the end, it did not matter what they were talking about. They saw a marketing opportunity and grabbed it.
Here's the fifth-anniversary piece:
You can think about 9/11 and the arts in the easy way or the hard way.
Well, it's all the hard way. Even five years after that horrific day in 2001, the images of the planes, the destruction, the falling bodies, the stunned onlookers stay with us.
"You find almost anybody . . . and ask them where they were when they first heard about the towers, they'll tell you exactly where they were," said Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11 Commission and senior consultant on ABC's controversial The Path to 9/11. "I think it's still embedded in people's imagination, in people's psyche."
But because those images are all embedded in our collective memory -- and are reprised when there are new threats and anniversaries -- art can reflect what has happened in several ways.
It can be a direct parallel to real life, as in a movie such as World Trade Center or a TV production such as The Path to 9/11, scheduled to premiere Sunday.
It can be something that was affected by 9/11 but doesn't deal explicitly with it. Two of Steven Spielberg's recent efforts, War of the Worlds and Munich, fit that bill.
Or it can be art made before 9/11, now seen by the audience from a 9/11 perspective. Or art made since 9/11 that has no allusion to the events, only to be seen as reflecting them.
Reactions differ, too. World Trade Center, The Path to 9/11 or the TV series Rescue Me -- following firefighters in a post-9/11 New York City -- can take us to places we have already been.
That's not to say we shouldn't go there -- although different media move at varied paces. Television, even entertainment television, in some cases faced the issue quickly. In music, Bruce Springsteen's album The Rising, steeped in 9/11, hit stores less than a year after the attacks.
Moviemakers have moved more deliberately: The provocative Fahrenheit 9/11 did not come out until 2004 (not coincidentally a presidential election year).
Goal is to not forget
However, the goal is the same. The artists working that material are determined that we go there again, that we don't forget what happened in 2001.
Rescue Me, for example, made a pointed reference to the memorializing of the New York City disaster in its third-season finale. It contrasted a touching memorial to firefighters, done without institutional support, with the gigantic hole meant to be filled with an official monument -- if political infighting ever allows it.
On the silver screen, last spring brought us United 93, directed by Paul Greengrass, which detailed the heroics of a group of passengers who thwarted another attack. More recently, Paramount Pictures released World Trade Center, which starred Nicolas Cage as John McLoughlin, one of the two first responders who were the last to be rescued from the building's debris.
"It's the right time because the movie exists," Cage said in a recent interview. "However, I think the movie is potentially healing for people. We live in a chaotic world, and it's getting worse and worse, as you can see by the images on television again."
The terrorist attacks made Cage look at his role selection more carefully. Soon after the attacks, he was offered a part in a film about corrupt firefighters. He respectfully declined.
The attacks also led Hollywood's most conspiracy-minded director, Stone, to make a simple movie almost bereft of political commentary.
"As a piece of drama, it transcends politics, and it should. Sept. 11 itself is a lot of baggage. You say it's five years later, and everyone sighs; their faces go glum, and they don't smile," Stone said. "It's all pro-con, but that's another movie, and it's sad.
"This was about that day; we're honoring those people and reminding ourselves, really, in a good way what those feelings were. We did come together. We helped each other. Men and women were strong. They overcame fear, and they acted."
Beyond the explicit
But a harder way to look at 9/11 and the arts is to seek out the connection in storytelling that is not explicitly tied to past events.
When, for example, a TV show's producer refers to his TV family as "like America," then it's possible to ask whether a disaster the family faces is its own little 9/11.
"Actually, very much so," said Jon Robin Baitz, creator of the upcoming ABC drama Brothers & Sisters. "It's their great change and crisis. . . . I don't think I was trying to hit (the 9/11 parallel) too heavily, but it's impossible to think about our lives now without . . . the fragility and danger of it."
Or when Spielberg releases two films -- War of the Worlds and Munich -- that deal with seemingly different topics, science fiction and history, respectively.
Byron Haskins filmed a classic version of H.G. Wells' alien-invasion tale at the height of the Red Scare, creating a cinematic allegory for that time. Spielberg's version functions in the same way as he confronted the issues of fear and our response to the attacks, all while never offering an easy answer.
Then in releasing Munich several months later, he filtered events through a historical prism. Using the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, he told the story of an Israeli hit squad assigned to track the terrorists responsible and kill them.
The group's leader, Avner (Eric Bana), begins his mission with patriotic zest, only to eventually question its ultimate goal; he came to the realization that the violence associated with the Middle East and its assorted ideologies is little more than a futile, never-ending cycle. More is needed than violence, the movie suggests.
The Nine, an ABC drama, follows a group of characters who have been involved in a long hostage-taking after a bank robbery gone bad. We don't see what has happened during the hostage siege at first, but we know that the characters are dealing with something arbitrary and inexplicable that has tested their character.
9/11 "is certainly something that is within our consciousness," said series co-creator Hank Steinberg. "We're not in the writers room saying 'Let's draw comparisons to 9/11,' but it's there for all of us."
Response to cataclysm
Indeed, like America in the years since 9/11, The Nine is less about the cataclysmic event and more -- as Steinberg said -- "about what happens to people afterward."
Jericho, a new CBS series about a small town trying to cope with life after an apparent nuclear catastrophe, has a sense of 9/11 in the way its characters react to their disaster.
Series co-creator Steven Chbosky even took a visual cue from the attacks on New York City. "I remember living in Brooklyn, two miles away, and I remember the business papers flying by my window," he said. He had that image -- at once mundane and a symbol of something greater -- in mind as he was writing the pilot for Jericho.
Finally, our view of art may have changed because our view of life has changed. We can be jarred by the sight of the Twin Towers in a show that was made before the terrorist attacks. A Sex and the City episode premiering in January 2002 ended with the sight of a snow globe containing a pre-9/11 Manhattan skyline; the image resonated, even though the episode had been made before the attacks.
At a media event for Spider-Man 2, director Sam Raimi graciously declined to autograph a poster for Spider-Man because the image contained the World Trade Center in the background.
And producers have at times tried to reduce or eliminate our having a belated reaction to what was originally an innocent scene.
24, the most obvious post-9/11 series on television because of its dealing with themes of terrorism and the government's role in fighting it, made its pilot episode before the attacks. Then, before its premiere in November 2001, it modified scenes of airline sabotage because of expected audience sensitivity to them.
Still, 24 has come back repeatedly to the idea of vast conspiracies and unexpected disasters outside our door. And, while it's sometimes considered a red-state favorite, 24's most recent season had a saga of government indifference and malfeasance in which the president of the United States was the biggest villain.
Of course, that may be a matter of reading it from different political points of view. Similarly, The Path to 9/11 has been attacked for inaccuracies that critics consider politically motivated, with the criticism forcing some changes in the program, as well as one report that ABC considered yanking the five-hour telecast entirely.
Art, after all, is a two-phased process. The artist makes it, then the audience takes it in. In both stages, 9/11 resonates.