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The 9/11 media legacy I will never forget: “buy Snow White on DVD”

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

September 11th, 2010

Every year on 9/11, corporate media push the PTSD buttons they installed in us on that first day, and those first few weeks, with 24-7 looped coverage of the Twin Towers getting struck by the planes, bursting into flames, and falling down, set to the backdrop of mass screaming, sobbing, confusion, panic.

Amid my own fear — all day I couldn’t reach one of Women In Media & News’s founding board members, my dear friend Sara Beinert, who worked very close to the WTC — I remember sitting on the phone with an activist friend, predicting that the tragedy my city was facing would be cynically coopted to restrict our freedoms, in order to supposedly save them. With great anxiety, we suspected that the Bush administration and the Justice Department would use this abysmal crime against thousands of innocent people as an excuse to extend to all Americans on a macro level, the civil liberties violations to which anti-corporate global trade protesters had been subjected for several years on a micro level: illegal surveillance, warrant-less searches, racial profiling, infiltration of advocacy groups, suspension of due process, censorship, and more. We hoped we were wrong. Sadly, everything we feared — and so much more — ended up coming to pass in the PATRIOT Act, at Guantanamo Bay, even at the false-sense-of-security theater we now witness at airports.

Instead of diligently reporting the implications of Americans’ freedoms being restricted in often-unconstitutional ways, U.S. media became complicit by ignoring (or, worse, cheerleading for) policies that have shamefully rolled back so many of the rights we consider fundamental to our democracy.

Why? Well, to understand that, we have to consider media economics. Post-9/11 media’s abdication of journalistic responsibility was perfectly articulated in the weeks shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by Michael Eisner, then-Chairman of Disney, parent company of ABC News. As I wrote at the time in “The ‘Big Lie’: False Feminist Death Syndrome, Profit, and the Media,” in Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century:

“Indeed, few people embody media greed as much as Mickey Mouse’s main man. Capitalizing on the country’s grief after September 11, the ABC News owner told the Los Angeles Times that he had a plan that would help Americans ‘get back to normal’ and boost his bottom line, all at the same time: “We’re going to use our own media companies to make sure the word gets out that it’s a good idea to have a good time after a period of mourning — to come to our parks, movies, and buy Snow White on DVD,’ Esiner said.”

To this day, I can’t remember a more craven, blatant or truthful explanation of the priorities of corporate journalism in the age of media consolidation.

In the crucial period after 9/11, Americans needed deep investigation, international reporting, reasoned analysis, dissent and debate. Instead, we got media conglomerates boldly pledging to use journalistic platforms to encourage a vulnerable and confused public to think less and buy more. Is it any surprise, then, that post-9/11 news basically amounted to print journalists and network newscasters sympathizing with racial profilers, anchors using their cable news shows as bully pulpits to demand the incineration of whole populations of innocent people (”Let them eat sand!“), and stories framed by self-interested experts culled from only one small sliver of our population: white, male military and ex-military, and government and ex-government, sources who unsurprisingly beat the drums for war?

On Twitter, on Facebook and throughout the blogosphere, there’s an outpouring today of “I will never forget” sentiment. As a native New Yorker, as someone who feared that I’d lost a best friend, as a member of New Yorkers Say No To War immediately after 9/11 — I empathize. I will never forget the smell of thousands of my fellow citizens (and undocumented workers who went uncounted in death) turned to ash and floating in bits of toxic fog across the city, like fine snow outside my Brooklyn window. I will never forget the heartbreaking hastily-photocopied 8.5×11 fliers with the faces of spouses, children, lovers, friends smiling back at me for weeks from every lamp post, subway platform and street light, pleading, “Have you seen my wife/son/neighbor? S/he worked on the 42 floor…” It was impossible not to know that every one of those missing loved ones had been murdered, making the hope on the part of the people who’d posted the fliers all the more devastating. I will never forget the haze-like near-silence on the F train going in to work on September 12, watching two pillars of smoke rise from the skyline where iconic towers once stood, tears in every stranger’s eyes. Those few of us who didn’t stay home from work that day walked through the city in a fugue state. I was the director of the Women’s Desk at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting at the time, so I knew I couldn’t indulge in a day off — I had media coverage of hate crimes and racial profiling to monitor. So no, I will never forget.

But I will admit that when I read and hear, “I will never forget,” part of me becomes irate — at just which aspects of September 11 we are supposed to remember (mass murder, loss of loved ones, fear, anger), and which we have always been conditioned to forget (civil liberties rollbacks, human rights abuses, and two intractable, expensive, deadly wars that have hardened international sentiments against America, leaving us more, not less, vulnerable to terrorism). Much of which may well have been avoided had U.S. media given us the critical, independent, unbeholden investigative reporting and reasoned analysis we needed so intensely at the time.

Instead, we got complicity from the press — and one of the Big Six media conglomerate’s owners promising to “use our media companies” to encourage consumption (more precisely, consumption of Snow White DVDs and Disneyland tickets) as the route to civic engagement and national rebirth.

That, I promise you, I will never forget. And neither should you.

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