Nine One One

On the date of America's worst emergency, did the media meet the challenge?

Locally, both daily newspapers rolled out special editions, with the East Valley Tribune (motto: No other part of the Valley exists) reportedly beating the Arizona Republic (motto: The West Valley doesn't exist because we're too busy chasing the EV Trib) by about two and a half hours.

A Tribber reported, however, that the newspaper rewarded their effort by making them pay 50 cents each for copies of the special edition. Bastards! Hey, with a country headed into recession every 50 cents counts. And according to Tribune Publisher Karen Wittmer, it was a bargain because some people were paying upwards of $3 for that edition.

Tribune Editor Jim Ripley thanked the publisher for allowing the use of extra newsprint, leading one reporter to comment, "Yeah, if it hadn't been for that we would've blown the story off." Newsrooms are cynical places.

The nation's best day-after headline had to go to the San Francisco Examiner for its succinct lead-in.
The nation's best day-after headline had to go to the San Francisco Examiner for its succinct lead-in.


Read more New Times coverage of the attacks in New York and Washington D.C.

The local coverage from my vantage was uniformly predictable -- tracking down relatives of victims, local people who once worked in the WTC 10 years ago, monitoring Sky Harbor Airport, talking to local Muslims -- but unimpeachable.

Ripley (my old boss) did win best local column ending, saying, "We'll show you what we're made of, you son of a bitch." Jim! Didn't know you had it in ya, to put that into a family newspaper.

I do recognize the immense effort it took, and continues to take, to cover the story, both locally and nationally, and during a time when newspapers are losing revenue (think airline and insurance ads), they did make a commitment to providing the added newshole to cover every angle of the tragedy.

As one colleague put it, "Maybe this will remind the business end of the industry (stockholders and bean counters) that newspapers play a role that goes beyond the bottom line, and we need to be able to continue to do that."

Now, however, more than a week beyond the tragedy, will be the time for media to reevaluate its role, to stop showing us the endless images of an exploding World Trade Center (I see the irony -- it's on the cover of this edition), and to recognize the awesome role it can play on influencing the American psyche.

These are dicey times and the potential for the media to drive the course of events is tremendous.

President Bush says he wants to fight for freedom "at all costs"; that he wants to see Osama bin Laden either dead or alive.

Those are fightin' words we Americans can relate to, but we must be vigilant that our government doesn't conduct this fight at the price of our individual freedoms.

The need for military secrecy is understood as America fights back.

But unlike the Gulf War, Americans deserve to know more about what's happening. The media during the Gulf conflict were kept sequestered, and allowed very little chance to do any enterprise reporting. The press, you see, had caused Americans to turn against the Vietnam War, because reporters shared too many graphic images and stories.

Bush hinted on Monday that the press might get even less access to this fight against terrorism, when it should be allowed far more.

This is when the media can shine at their brightest.

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