Almost as jarring as looking at the magazine covers that followed the attacks of September 11, with their shocking, unflinching images of the burning buildings and falling people, is watching the television coverage that day.
The planes hit the towers in the midst of prime morning television and many of the shows, including the Today show, GMA, CBS’s Early Show, and the local news, were all tasked with reporting on the unfolding catastrophe live.
What is so striking about this coverage is not, in fact, the images. It’s the tone.
10 years later it’s nearly impossible to imagine any emergency taking place without some consideration that it might involve terrorism. Especially in New York City. Over the last decade, and particularly in the five years following 9/11, the sense that we might be under attack has become almost a default position. A day to day reality, particularly for today’s cable news organisations, which love nothing better than to conclude the worst and grudgingly work back from there.
But not that day.
In fact, there may not be any better measure of how significantly the nation’s mentality has shifted than watching the network morning show hosts, those genial, perky folks the country agrees to start its day with year after year, calmly (and it’s arguably the initial calmness that is most jarring) puzzle over why the twin towers are on fire and what exactly is going on.
Especially staggering is watching along with the hosts as a second plane swoops into the frame and slams into the South tower. “Oh my goodness,” exclaims one local Fox News host as the reality dawns on them, “this seems to be on purpose.”
And with that realisation one might argue the 21st Century truly began.
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