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9/11 in the Rearview Mirror

In our fast-moving times, with high-sugar diets, the attention span of preoccupied gnats and Twitterized communications, maybe it was just a matter of time before the events of Sept. 11, 2001, started to fade. Perhaps the more miraculous thing is that they stuck around in vivid memory as long as they did. Perhaps this is inevitable. After all, another “day that will live infamy,” one that scarred a prior generation, isn’t even a fuzzy memory for millions of us but a vague historical reference.

Everyone promises “We won’t forget,” but eventually we do.

I sense the shift while noting how local radio covers the anniversaries. For instance, listening to Washington’s WTOP this morning, as I always do (except, ironically, on the actual Sept. 11), I was a bit perturbed by “We’ll never forget” promises that felt robotic to me, delivered with a strange lack of context. The words “terrorism,” “terrorist,” “attack,” and the names of perpetrators such as Atta or bin Laden were wholly absent in the coverage I heard. The vibe I got was that a bunch of people, some of whom might have been “heroes” of some kind, had died 12 years earlier; and we must not forget them, whoever they were; exactly how or why they died wasn’t explored here. The few personal, brief, remembrances I did hear were along the lines of “my husband died. I’m sad. I won’t forget.” Then onto the next thing.

Illustrating the anodyne effort were two “moments of silence” as the station acknowledged the exact moments that the planes hit their targets (though I didn’t hear newsreaders actually use that phrase, or anything like it). These moments of silence consumed all of four or five seconds of air time; one cut jarringly into an ad about cybersecurity. I didn’t hear the station replay programming from 9/11, not even the first halting news excerpts when confusion reigned. I listened for only about 90 minutes this morning, though it was during the exact period of the day when you’d expect the most and best coverage, analysis and memories; but I heard very little.

I guess I expected more. WTOP, owned by Hubbard Radio, is considered the gold standard of all-news stations round here; and 9/11 was not just a national but a very local story in our market. But the vividness, the cutting pain of that day are no longer evident in coverage. Local competitor WNEW(FM), which didn’t exist as a news station in 2001, had more content this morning (New York’s WINS(AM), also CBS Radio-owned, did a good job from what I can see …. But Googling around, I ran across precious little 9/11 material online from radio organizations. Most of it was from the 10-year anniversary two years ago. The New Jersey Broadcasters Association sent out a memorial email though they didn’t post it on its site. That’s better than nothing.The National Association of Tower Erectors did the same.

My sample is admittedly small; but to me, radio seems to be keeping 9/11 at arm’s length now. Maybe all of our society is. I suppose I should adjust to changing reality. The “kids” don’t get 9/11 and it’s not coming back (hopefully).

As a society, we will, eventually, forget.

How’d your station do? There’s always next year. 

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