For TV and
radio news stations, the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks
will be a nonstop blur of memorial events, emotional reminiscences
and related news stories. Their challenge: Cover the occasion
without bludgeoning it. Everyone else in radio and TV -- those
normally devoted to playing cartoons, comedy shows or Kenny
G songs -- faces a different challenge: Ignore the anniversary
without seeming callous or mindlessly irrelevant.
or not enough? Coolly dispassionate or exploitatively emotional?
As the one-year anniversary approaches, the electronic media
-- which served as a unifying presence for Americans in the
hours and days after Sept. 11 -- are still wrestling with the
question of the right balance.
broadcasters, there's a real struggle to pay tribute but not
be seen as exploiting it," said Kenny King, operations manager
for "smooth jazz" station WJZW-FM and Mix 107.3, which plays
upbeat contemporary music. "Everyone is still trying to work
out what's the right thing to do."
volume of programming planned for the day by American media
outlets is overwhelming, not to mention the subject matter.
TV networks, assisted by their Washington affiliates, will carry
all-day coverage of events in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania.
So will the cable news networks -- CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and Fox
News Channel. Anniversary programming of some kind will appear
on a dozen other networks as well, from Discovery to MTV to
Public Radio, which plans nearly 24 hours of live coverage,
has even commissioned special piano music to tie the day's events
coverage guarantees that the same themes and images will be
played and replayed. Is America prepared to deal with terrorism?
How has the country changed? Is it safe to fly again? How are
the families of victims faring?
emotional overkill has already been satirized by the spoof newspaper
the Onion, which last week put up an American flag flying at
half-staff surrounded by television network logos and the sarcastic
headline "Who Will Bring Closure to a Grieving Nation?"
media researcher and critic said the media should stop worrying
-- the public is eager to ritualize the events and emotions
surrounding Sept. 11.
the amount of coverage that counts but the occasion it's devoted
to," said Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media
and Public Affairs in Washington. "Journalists are more comfortable
reporting facts than bearing witness. But at times like this
they play a cathartic role in the life of the nation."
element is sure to be missing from much of the coverage: commercials.
Most electronic media outlets decided weeks ago to ban ads from
at least part of their telecast day. The nation's largest radio
chain, Clear Channel, has banished ads for most of the day on
its 1,200 stations, which include eight in the Washington area.
The major broadcast networks expect to forgo tens of millions
of dollars in ad revenue on Wednesday; a few programs may have
sponsors, but otherwise there will be few if any commercials.
was partly altruistic, partly for appearance's sake -- and also
a recognition that many advertisers planned to take that day
get hurt by what you don't say," said Washington advertising
executive Howard Bomstein, who has advised his clients to stand
down on Wednesday. "So if you say nothing, no one can accuse
you of commercializing a solemn holiday. The smartest thing
to do is not advertise."
of commercials, of course, means even more anniversary coverage
-- echoing last Sept. 11, when stations went round the clock
with news reports for nearly five days. With no lengthy commercial
breaks, the reporters on WTOP-AM/FM, for example, will have
seven more hours of air time available than they would in a
typical 24-hour period. "We've been preparing for this for weeks,"
said WTOP News Vice President Jim Farley.
channel will be draped in black: TV networks that specialize
in entertainment will acknowledge the day in subtle ways, if
will rerun a series of documentaries about the TV shows "Cheers"
and "Frasier." The significance: Both programs were produced
by David Angell, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11
when it crashed into the World Trade Center.
which shows old network series, plans to reprise the famed "I
H New York" commercials, but otherwise will stick to its regular
lineup, which includes "Brady Bunch" and "Happy Days" repeats.
Nickelodeon will carry its usual shows, too, but will add a
series of public service announcements offering children's reactions
to Sept. 11 and tips on how parents can talk to their children
Central, which stayed on the air with comedy programming on
Sept. 11, 2001, will do so again.
a lot last year," said the cable channel's spokesman Tony Fox.
had "plenty of opportunities to get news coverage and information,"
he said, but "there weren't a lot of opportunities for people
who couldn't or didn't want to see it to go somewhere else."
This Wednesday, he added, "we can offer a safe refuge for those
people. That's our overall thinking behind our plans."
exception: Jon Stewart's late-night "Daily Show," which did
not air on Sept. 11 and did not return for 13 days, will also
sit out the one-year anniversary.
show makes fun of "what's in the news and how the news covers
the news," Fox explained, and on Sept. 11 "the media was so
consumed with coverage of the tragedy, there was nothing the
show could work with other than that, and that was clearly inappropriate.
On the anniversary, the almost exclusive topic in the news will
be September 11th and we're not going to go near that."
exception of public service announcements honoring the occasion,
other networks will ignore the occasion in their programming
as well, remaining proudly irrelevant.
a network about escapism," said Laurie Goldberg, a spokeswoman
for the Cartoon Channel. "Basically, we feel it isn't appropriate
to do anything." The network has looked over the cartoons scheduled
for the day to ensure that there's nothing "evocative," but
otherwise it's business as usual. Said Goldberg, "Last September
11, we got letters from parents and teachers thanking us for
not mentioning what was going on."
some radio stations, the view is the same.
a day for a different kind of entertainment," said Jeff Wyatt,
program director of Hot 99.5, a Top 40 station that will stick
to playing music but not ads. "We don't want to make the public
relive one year ago. It's not our intention to relive horror."
the general game plan for Kenny King's jazz and pop stations
as well. "We'll talk about it," he said, "but for the most part,
we'll do our normal programming. We'll be ourselves."
and King said they'll keep a close eye on what's played on Wednesday.
They'll temporarily banish songs that set the wrong tone or
message -- R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It,"
or Eminem's mother-hating "Cleaning Out My Closet," for instance.
More likely to be played, they say, will be pleasant, uplifting
songs such as Enrique Iglesias's nice "Hero," or Faith Hill's
even nicer "There Will Come a Day."
writer Lisa de Moraes contributed to this report.