NEW YORK—On Sept. 11, 2002, Americans will sort through emotions ranging from anger to grief, pain, and a profound sense of loss. But while the day will surely be difficult to endure, it remains unclear which television network will rise to the occasion, with its sensitive, cathartic anniversary coverage helping us decide what to feel while bringing a sense of closure to our national period of mourning.
Will it be a major network like CBS that heals us, salving our wounds with its around-the-clock, Dan Rather-hosted coverage? Or will it be a cable channel like CNN, its crack team of veteran telejournalists guiding us to a place of rebirth and renewal as only a 24-hour news network can? Or will it be a surprise young upstart like MTV, speaking to our hearts in a way foreign to its stodgier counterparts?
"When we're doing our jobs right, we're not merely reporting the news; we're helping viewers cope with the grief and pain in their lives," ABC News president David Westin said. "That is one of the central purposes of any newsgathering organization, and never will that be clearer than on Sept. 11."
"Now more than ever, we are a nation undivided," Fox News Channel senior producer Tom Bird said. "From the simple farm houses dotting the Iowa countryside to the condominium complexes of Los Angeles to the rustic cabins of Cape Cod, on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Americans will be huddled in front of their TV sets to assuage their grief and testify to their patriotism. And Fox News Channel will be right there with a shoulder to cry on."
All told, an estimated 800 hours of Sept. 11 retrospectives, memorials, and clips packages will air on more than 50 channels, including TNN, ESPN, and Oxygen. An estimated 200 million Americans are expected to tune in to at least some portion of the day's programming.
Diane Blauvelt, whose husband Nathan died in the attack on the Pentagon, said she looks forward to the all-day coverage.
"It's been an incredibly hard year for me," Blauvelt said. "At times, I didn't think I could endure the grief. But I kept telling myself, 'Diane, just hang on until this coming Sept. 11, and the networks will make it all better.' That's the only thing that got me through."
GETTING THROUGH IT
Dr. Andrea Herman, a University of Maryland psychiatrist and licensed grief counselor, has developed the following set of guidelines to help Americans get through the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:
Remember that you are not alone. An estimated 150 million people will be watching the three major networks.No one channel is the "right" one to watch. Find the programming that is best for you and believe in your choice.Look to your elders. Find comfort in the wisdom and guiding hand of experienced leaders like Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings.Take a break. If non-stop television coverage becomes overwhelming, you may need to get away by occasionally checking out a game show or sitcom rerun.Turn to your community for support. Tune into local news coverage, as well as national news programming.Seek out your peers. Get support from niche-oriented networks with which you personally identify, such as BET, Lifetime, or MTV.If needed, seek therapy. There is no stigma attached to turning to a counselor like Dr. Phil for help.
Added Blauvelt: "I can't tell you how healing it will be to once again see that footage of the smoldering Pentagon where my Nathan died."
"We as a nation need to experience some sort of closure," said Marcy McGinnis, CBS senior vice-president of news coverage. "And no one needs that more than the people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11. They will never forget what happened, but they need to move on and feel whole again. They need the sort of tasteful tribute montage set to Bruce Springsteen's 'Empty Sky' that we've got planned at CBS."
"How are we to memorialize an event of such unspeakably horrific proportions?" Fox News senior producer Jeff Kent asked. "How can we eulogize those whose deaths we can scarcely comprehend? Well, Fox is giving it a shot with the two-hour special The Day America Changed. I think you're going to like what you see."
In what may be the most touching display of caring, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings will host a question-and-answer session for children.
"Just imagine how confusing this all must be for the children," Westin said. "Thank goodness Peter will be there for them, from 3 to 4 p.m. EST."
Lawrence Crouch, a media-studies professor at Syracuse University, said the Sept. 11 anniversary coverage will stand as a shining example of the healing power of television.
"Will the answer to the nation's woes come in the form of a CNN special memorializing that tragic day? Or a Katie Couric interview with an emotional Rudy Giuliani, live from Ground Zero?" Crouch asked. "Are our hours of personal reflection better spent ruminating on the fate of those lost by watching an interview with a firefighter's widow, or by celebrating our living heroes with a rousing musical salute? It's a toss-up, but my money is on NBC's Concert For America. I understand they have Alan Jackson on board."
According to NBC News senior producer Alan Koslow, TV news plays a vital role in Americans' lives.
"In the past, someone like Walter Cronkite merely informed. But in this day and age, Tom [Brokaw] and his fellow news anchors do so much more," Koslow said. "They function as parent, friend, teacher, social worker, grief counselor, and spiritual advisor. That's a lot of pressure considering they also have ratings to think about."
"Some people ask how a bunch of network executives can decide whether America should continue to mourn or get back to regular life," Koslow continued. "Well, it's very complicated and involves a lot of research and data the average person would never understand."
One of those average people, Chicago-area homemaker Adrienne Coffey, said she knows exactly where she will be at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11.
"I want to share the day with others who are feeling what I'm feeling," Coffey said. "I'm going to be right there in front of the TV."