The question isn’t: Was it overkill? Was all that Sept.11 coverage too much? Did it last too long, take up too much time on the air and too much space in print?
Of course it was overkill. Everybody knows that. It was endless and repetitive, although for the most part tasteful and dignified and altogether appropriate.
The question is: Is overkill necessarily a bad thing? And that one cannot be answered so easily.
Walter Cronkite thinks the answer is yes. To CNN’s Larry King a few nights ago, he said, "I think we’re going to get very weary, as tragic as are the stories, as heartrending as are the stories, as tear-jerking as are the stories. I think we’re going to get very tired of hearing them over and over again over a period of two or three days or more. I think it’s going to be overdone."
And it was, even though Cronkite had recommended otherwise. "We can be reminded of the horror . . . of these great structures collapsing. We can get all of that and the loss of life in a very quick flash. I think that’s enough."
TV news executives did not. They strung together so many flashes that the effect was of a single sustained glare, which lasted not just for the day of the observance, but for several days in advance.
But was it such a bad thing? No, it seems to me, for two reasons.
First, media overkill can be ignored. Or, if not ignored, then at least disregarded for large chunks of time. One can simply watch less of his favorite all-news station than he usually does, and skim more rapidly through his favorite newspaper for the day or days in question. And, in fact, with regard to the former, statistics show that the average viewer of an all-news network watches for about twenty minutes at a stretch, then turns his attention to other matters. Those hours and hours of overkill, in other words, are hours and hours only for the very few people who sit in front of their sets that long. Most people do not. For most people, even coverage of the anniversary of Sept. 11 was more a matter of minutes and minutes.
Granted, it might still have been too much. All those events that got all that live coverage, all those documentaries and retrospectives and reminiscences. All those patriotic videos on the Country Music Network and the independent films about Sept. 11 on Cinemax and the sports-and-Sept. 11 features on ESPN. I half-expected Comedy Central to become Tragedy Central for the day.
But---and this is reason number two---in this case, there might have been an advantage to too much, especially for the Bush administration. Certainly it is true that people do not need their memories jogged about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, but this past week’s re-immersion in the horror of that day might just have rubbed our emotions raw again, thereby preparing us for the retaliation that the White House desires against terrorism generally and the Al Qaeda and Iraq in particular. It might have helped Americans to see more clearly the wisdom, in fact the justice, of striking back at those who murder innocent people.
And, although Cronkite is right and some Americans may have been wearied by the excesses of Sept. 11 coverage, perhaps the murderers of innocents had a different reaction; perhaps they realized, even more than before, how much we Americans value human life, that we value it so much, in truth, that we are determined to vanquish those who do not value it.
So, yes, we overdid it on Sept.11, 2002. In all probability, we should have.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .