Ethics of 9/11 anniversaries

11 Sep


As we discussed in class, there is some controversy within professional journalism circles about the extent to which the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 should be commemorated/relived on the anniversary.

There is enormous pressure on media organizations to commemorate key anniversaries such as Pearl Harbor or D-Day and now 9/11. As an editor, I would take a dozen or more calls in any year when a Pearl Harbor remembrance story failed to make our Page 1 on Dec. 7 or a D-Day commemoration on June 6. Woe unto the editor who forgets a Page 1 presence on Veterans Day or memorial Day. Although I am off-line now, I suspect much the same pressure comes from readers and viewers on 9/11. Yet The New York Times and New York Post chose not to commemorate the event on their front pages today (although there was coverage inside). Is there an ethical component to the anniversary question? At what point is it ethically responsible for journalists to turn over a watershed event to historians and move on?

Meanwhile, MSNBC today once again replayed the as-it-happened recording of the Today Show as it was  broadcast live the morning of the attacks 11 years ago. The replay presents the events as they unfolded live on television and includes images of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center south tower and images of both towers as they collapsed. The Today anchors reference falling bodies although the live coverage at the time did not show falling people.

Critics argue this 1oth repeat of the 9/11 telecast is a gratuitous reliving of events that can re-traumatize people, especially children.

What are the ethical issues involved in MSNBC’s decision to replay the Today Show?

How would you defend The New York Times decision to take 9/11 off the front page? How would you defend MSNBC’s decision to rebroadcast the Today Show? How would you defend the opposite decisions?

Comment below.

Steve Smith


3 Responses to “Ethics of 9/11 anniversaries”

  1. Lindsey Treffry (@_LindseyTreffry) September 11, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    I feel like the Today Show is just beating a dead horse. Playing the same footage over again sounds like more of a slow news day than an attempt to commemorate 9/11. On the other hand, ethically, I believe they have every right to do so (even if it opens old wounds). It shows the story as it unfolds and is kind of a cool way to remember it … but I still don’t see the point.

    I think The New York Time’s decision to omit front page 9/11 coverage was a good one. We just passed the 10 year anniversary and I think after that point, newsrooms should decide if they continue coverage altogether, every year, every five years, or every ten years from that point. There are only so many ways to remember 9/11 it seems. On the other hand, some people often look forward to, even demand, front page coverage to remind people of the loved ones they lost or to remind them of the heroes. Still, I stand by NYTimes decision and I think that 9/11 can only be talked about so much every year.

    As for traumatizing children, I don’t think that would happen. If I was a kid, I think I’d understand it was history and look at it as something in the past, not something so recent. 11 years in kids’ time is like 30 years in our time. It’s a different world to them.

  2. anaover September 12, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    I agree. I think that maybe MSNBC was worried about being scrutinized for making light of the anniversary, or they felt that since passing the 10 year mark they needed to do something even grander to remind people of the emotion and bring them back exactly to that moment. I can see how they thought the best reminder was to use that emotion provoked as a way to honor all involved, but I don’t think it worked that way. At this point, it is a piece of history and the nation has taken a lot of steps to build from it. So much has changed due to 9/11 and the attack should be held as a thing to be remembered, but not relived. I think commemorating it in a paper is absolutely necessary, but even putting it on the front page as a big ordeal may be too much.

    I agree with the New York Time’s decision to leave it off of the front page as well. It has been brought to peace and we are at a point where the anniversary should act as a reminder of what happened and an honoring of the heroes that came from it, but there isn’t much to be discussed beyond that. To turn it into any more of a dramatic scene is only a step back.

  3. Olivia Calza September 13, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    I think that it is ethically acceptable to include the photos we discussed in class, and that the program should be made available. Not running it on the front page was a decision I would stand by, as I think it is more pertinent to concentrate on other more present horrors. The event should never be forgotten or disrespected, but I think it is wrong (and often happens this way) to let this event eclipse other tragedies. I think due to Political Correctness the media in our country especially has a habit of doing this…Hurricane Katrina is another example. No one should be disrespected or forgotten, but many more people are in need of attention elsewhere or locally every single year (in some cases every single day) and our news needs to stop keeping the public so sheltered and ignorant of all the pain in the world that might put our own suffering in perspective.

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