MEDIA: by Michael ScammellNews Weekly
September 11: media's 'greed for tears' writ large
, October 5, 2002
So which September 11 moment sticks in your head? When the plane slices into the first World Trade Centre Tower? Or the strike on the second tower? Or when the whole thing falls over like a pack of cards and that cloud of smoke starts to float through the streets of New York?
No matter what your most compelling memory of September 11, you have no doubt seen it ad nauseum
For the television networks, September 11 was nothing if not a battle for exclusives
. Channel 7 was first, claiming it had the all-important exclusive
of the week - the French-made documentary 9/11
with footage never before seen.Documentary
Not be left out, Channel 10 conjured up their own - a Sandra Sully hosted exclusive
documentary focusing on the New York fire fighters which they ran a week before
the September 11 anniversary, no doubt to scoop the programming on the other networks.
And Channel 9, sticking to their usual adage that "more is better" (even without Eddie McGuire) ran an all-night special on the day of the 11th itself.
Given the popularity of television "football marathons" at this time of year, perhaps this new fashion in Grief Marathons
is the way to go in the battle for ratings.
And if you can't beat your rival networks to the exclusive
footage, you can at least reinvent the tragedy as a backdrop to showcase your news and current affairs stars.
Thus Sandra, Naomi, Kerry and Mike made their way across the Pacific to the empty paddock of Ground Zero and set up shop with the rest of the world's media in an attempt to have some of the gravitas
of the occasion rub off on them.
Influential American journal New Republic
has described this linking of high profile media commentators to major international events as creating "tourists in history".
All those journalists on location
on September 11 interviewing each other and asking that all-important and perennial journalist-to-journalist question: "Where were you
when the first plane hit?" - it's kind of scary to contemplate.
None of the above is meant to treat glibly the events of September 11; rather it is an attempt to get inside the heads of those in the media who generated this glut of coverage.Replays
The truth is we live in an age that likes to think it looks to the future but in fact - courtesy of an electronic media with an insatiable need for copy - returns constantly to the past and repackages and replays it over and over again.
A tragedy on the massive proportions of September 11 feeds to what has been described (again, the New Republic
) as the media's "greed for tears".
Nothing was more real for the media than what happened "live-to-air" that day in New York City - the smoke from the first crash was witnessed and described first-hand by a New York breakfast television program - but of course once that moment's passed, television has to fill the next moment... and the next. So it goes on.Momentum
No doubt the media can keep the momentum of September 11 going for a while yet - and then of course there are the 10th and 20th anniversary specials to come.
Keen media followers will recognise the process - haven't we seen it all before with the death of Princess Diana, and the whole media industry created around the tragic Mills and Boon story that was her life?
But perhaps none of this should surprise us. Bin Laden and the terrorists that piloted the planes on September 11 knew a thing or two about the media.
They carefully chose the attack sites and the time of day to create an event that television would find impossible to avert its eyes from.
Given the enormous media coverage planned over the next week, one would have to say that at least on that score the terrorists succeeded in their plans.
Of course quieter commemorations to the victims of September 11 without the media hoopla did occur - church services were held around Australia.
They were moving events. And if you were unable to attend, no doubt you caught the footage later - tears and all - on the television news that night.
- Michael Scammell is a former Media Officer for the US Consulate in Melbourne. - firstname.lastname@example.org