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Today, ‘This Week,’ this year

On the anniversary of Sept. 11

By Leigh E. Rich

My week, I must admit, starts with David Brinkley.

Well, it used to.

For some time now, the ABC Sunday morning program This Week has been hosted instead by Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.

But as of Sunday, they too—this dynamic duo—will turn in their press badges and hand over the reigns to George Stephanopoulos.

Political views aside, whether you love him or love to hate him, Clinton’s Georgie boy is the logical prodigal son to follow in Brinkley’s boot steps. And so my Sunday morning regimen of vanilla yogurt, low-fat granola, and pre-stirred political commentary continues unabated, despite being A.B.—”After Brinkley.”

Whether you’re bacon and eggs, grits and biscuits, or fresh-fruit smoothie with a side of wheat grass, morning programming such as This Week is as American as America gets. Well—the gazillion pay-television channels aside—the America that ought not to get lost in the swarm of angry bees that are the fluffed-up, formulaic morning shows from Monday through Friday—with some now encroaching on the venerated Sunday.

Sure, if you’re looking for gossip about the latest Hollywood whoopdeedoo or for confirmation that maroon is the new black, and you don’t want that live performance by *NSync interrupted with too many regurgitated and mainly superficial news headlines, then by all means turn that dial to any one of a number of buzz shows marked by friendly banter and forecasts every 15 minutes.

I don’t care how much Pepsi one television show can sell or how many times the cast of Road to Perdition can give a TV interview in the same week, give me just an hour every Sunday to contemplate the state of the union.

Though perhaps something every American should do every day, we are all likely to ponder the political climate today, this day, the anniversary that’s been heading our way since the sixth-month memorial last April.

We at the Advocate spent some time debating how to handle the anniversary of a tragedy and an act of war. I contemplated, albeit only for a nanosecond, not joining the media frenzy—forgive me, but that’s what it is—though my sense of duty as a journalist has brought me here, to Page 7, Volume 20, No. 4, Wednesday, Sept. 11.

You may laugh or scoff at the juxtaposition of “duty” and “journalist” in the same sentence, though I will unveil that the two editorials on this page have been penned by a bioethicist and a philosopher—and idealistic ones to boot.

I believe in professional responsibility and ethical journalism, let the world mock me as it may.

It was unanimous at our weekly editorial meeting to refrain from what several of our bigger, grander, more economically savvy media counterparts have planned: daylong broadcasts reexamining, replaying, and reliving every moment of last year to be capped off with a remembrance “ceremony” in which Kelly Clarkson of American Idol will serenade us to the tune of the national anthem with her lithe voice.

Frankly, it all disgusts me.

“Remember and don’t ever forget,” my uncle said when I called him to talk about his reaction 61 years ago on Dec. 7, 1941, “but it’s not a ball game, it’s not a pageant.”

But don’t tell that to the media. Entertainers Kelly Clarkson, who sings this afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial, or Alan Jackson, who highlighted a Good Morning America special about the Pentagon Monday morning, are nothing more than dancing bears sent to entertain us—and all of it smacks of American idolatry.

At least Clarkson, upon reexamining her own emotions of the anniversary, tried to pull out of her 9-11 performance—though her management company, 19 Entertainment, has convinced her otherwise. And so the show, sadly, must go on.

Though you can mourn and grieve, pay tribute to, or even forget however you like—this remains America, after all—perhaps memorialize the victims of Sept. 11 by turning to your duties as Americans and tuning out the network party line.

Vote. Vote in every election, even the primaries. Sure, the Tuesday on or after Nov. 2 is always inordinately busy. Tuesdays have been the 13-hour production day at practically every weekly for which I’ve worked, and it’s difficult to tear myself away from putting the paper to bed so that I may send my two cents to Washington. But it does add up, as we witnessed in 2000, and Coloradans in particular could change the dynamics on the Hill this year.

Volunteer. Anywhere. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister, work as an ombudsman in an assisted living facility, build houses for the homeless, walk dogs at a no-kill shelter, donate food or clothing to a local organization. Do something. You’ll feel better and so will whomever you helped.

Donate. As Sam Donaldson reiterated Sunday, the business of America is business, and at times we express our feelings best with our pocketbooks. But do so anonymously. This goes not only for the students rubbing their loan checks together or professors struggling for tenure in a publish-or-perish world, but also for the Microsofts and Coca Colas of the nation. No matter how much money you give, product placement shouldn’t ever be the byproduct.

Reconnect. With your elders. As hokey as it might sound, I learned quite a bit from interviewing my aunt and uncle this weekend about their reactions after Pearl Harbor, including that—no matter how much our communications technology has advanced since then—the feelings of disbelief and disembodiment are exactly the same.

But there are differences, too: This time, we have no clearly defined enemy. This time, the war propaganda machine isn’t cranking out “Yellow Fever” rhetoric. This time, we are not interring our own citizens because of their heritage.

Be skeptical. As always of your government, but even more so of your media—who have a truckload of snake-oil elixir they want to hock to you in the guise of news journalism.

Sure, the journalists on This Week are nothing if not talking heads, just like those on all the other morning television shows.

But at least the members of this roundtable don’t dally in frivolous repartee about Matt Lauer’s latest haircut.

Rich, L. E. (2002, September 11). Today, ‘This Week,’ this year. Advocate, pp. 7, 13.

Third Place – General Columns – Colorado Press Women – April 2003

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