Posts from September 10, 2004

Oink update

Oink update

: After the post below on the political piggies wallowing in mud, I got lots of comments and email continuing the slinging and also going on about the alleged forgery of the Bush documents used on 60 minutes. Two points:

First, yes, CBS did quote and link to all the questions prominantly on the CBSNews homepage. They say they’re still standing by the story. I have no way to know who’s right, who’s innocent, who’s guilty, who’s scamming, who’s not. Which leads to my second point:

I still don’t care. It’s all about mud. I don’t care about the mud. If, as Rex says in the post below, all the mud that has been slung is true it’s not going to make a difference in how I view these candidates — and it’s only distracting from the debates we should be having. It’s just mud.

Another commenter suggested I should push the debate to those other topics. When I did that on health care a few days ago, good discussion ensued. I’ll try. The only problem is: I’m no expert on any of those topics. That’s why I’m hoping to find bloggers who are going to be better than me at leading those discussions. So what I really want is links to the folks who know about and are talking about — from each perspective — health care, jobs, the economy, homeland security, and education … the issues that all matter one helluvalot more than mud.

The mudslinging is coming from media, campaigns, 527s, and bloggers — they’re all guilty of slinging crap instead of debating issues. I had hoped that we bloggers would be holding them all to a higher standard and, yes, I’m harping on that. Go read Rex’s post again.

: LATER: Having had the time between meetings to read more of the stories about the documents….

Yes, bloggers should be proud of exposing what, indeed, looks like a hoax. This is a great power of blogs — and I wish they would do it more often. Fact-checking the asses of media and politics should be part of our mission.

Yes, CBS should not only quote those reports and link to them but also respond more fully and immediately. Every second that clicks by on that 60 Minutes stopwatch is another degree of credibility shot.

Yes, CBS should now put its investigative powers toward find out and revealing who perpetrated the hoax. I do not assume it was CBS; I assume instead they were dopey and duped.

Yes, if anyone in the news organization is found to be complicit with a hoax in any way, it is a scandal that tops Jayson Blair by miles and harms the credibility of not only the network but also the industry. I doubt this will be the case but who knows?

Yes, CBS should vow to get to the bottom of this and make that vow quickly and publicly.

But, no, I still don’t care about the would-be Bush or Kerry military scandals. I still say it’s all about mud. I still say it’s distracting and destructive.

Falling

Falling

: A few days ago, I wrote a piece about the image I cannot bear from September 11th: the falling.

It was wrenching to write and apparently wrenching to read, for I received some very touching notes and comments from people suggesting dealing with PTSD. Let me assure you that I’m fine. I meant everything I said in that piece but, of course, it’s a concentrated view of one aspect of the day and the aftermath and though metaphor is real, it’s still mataphor.

Today, I read something even more wrenching: a New York Times report on the people who fell.

It points out what I speculated about back then: that perhaps many of the people who fell did not jump but fell out of the windows as they leaned out to get oxygen or to escape the unbearable heat and smoke or under the crush of other people trying to do the same thing.

Police helicopter pilots have described feeling helpless as they hovered along the buildings, watching the people who piled four and five deep into the windows, 1,300 feet in the air. Some held hands as they jumped. Others went alone. As the numbers grew, said Joseph Pfeifer, a fire battalion chief in the north tower lobby, he tried to make an announcement over the building’s public address system, not realizing it had been destroyed.

“Please don’t jump,” he said. “We’re coming up for you.”

Almost instinctually on Sept. 11, people recognized that they had an unfortunate view into an intensely private matter, an unseemly intrusion not just into someone’s death, but into the moment of their dying. American broadcast networks generally avoided showing people falling. A sculpture that depicted a victim, known as “Tumbling Woman,” was removed from display at Rockefeller Center after one week.

Some commentators later remarked that those who had fallen had made one brave final decision to take control of how they would perish. Researchers say many people had no choice. Witness accounts suggest that some people were blown out. Others fell in the crush at the windows as they struggled for air. Still others simply recoiled, reflexively, from the intense heat.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the city agency had not classified any of the dead as “jumpers,” a term used when people jump to their deaths, because the people were forced from the buildings.

“This should not be really thought of as a choice,” said Louis Garcia, New York City’s chief fire marshal. “If you put people at a window and introduce that kind of heat, there’s a good chance most people would feel compelled to jump.”

What’s almost more difficult than reading again about this image that I find unbearable is reading about the horror within the buildings:

Temperatures in pockets of the buildings rose to more than 1,000 degrees, sufficient to weaken steel, according to researchers. The first people jumped or fell from the upper floors of the north tower just minutes after the impact of American Airlines Flight 11. The heat reached people on the upper floors long before the flames. Some of those trapped reported that the floor itself had grown so hot they had to stand on their desks, according to a fire official.

“The heat was absolutely phenomenal,” said Dr. Guylene Proulx, who studies human behavior in fires for the National Research Council of Canada. “If you have ever burned your finger, you know how much that hurts and how you pull away. In the trade center, it was such a hot fire. It was impossible to think you might survive. Why suffer a minute longer when it is so unbearable? It may have appeared to be the best thing to stop the pain, when the window is shattered and the opening is there.”

Then there are the questions of how many and who fell. The Times quotes earlier estimates saying as many as 200 did.

When I wrote my news story about surviving the attacks on September 11 (I recorded these audio memories days later), I got the number way wrong. I said I saw at least three; as a reporter, I felt compelled to give a number and make sure it was right. But I know I saw many more. Now I think this was some strange, subconscious effort to protect my memory from the reality I’d witnessed. The human in me defeated the reporter in me. Surely, I apparently wished, this couldn’t have happened to more than three. Surely, I didn’t really see that. Lord, I wish I hadn’t seen that.

200.

That’s another hard number. 2,726 dead. 1,000 degrees. 200 fell.

It’s important to remember. It’s important to prevent. But I wonder whether we are reaching the point at which it is no longer important to dissect every aspect of that day, every toll of tragedy, every pain.

September 10th

September 10th

: A reader sent me this link to a Washington Post story about what was happening on September 10, 2001 — besides sharks. Patrick Gavin is writing a book on the day.

Outgoing Mayor Rudy Giuliani attends a sermon by Father Mychal Judge, who is addressing current and former firefighters, as well as Fire Department Chief Pete Ganci, at a Bronx firehouse. “You have no idea, when you get on that rig,” the priest says at the firehouse, “no matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea what God’s calling you to do. . . . Good days, bad days. Up days, down days. Sad days, happy days — but never a boring day on this job.”

President Bush’s approval rating stands at 51 percent. He spends the first part of his day meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, discussing a potential free-trade agreement between the two countries. Later he flies down to Florida to promote his education bill, pursued throughout the day by questions about the slumping U.S. economy. Unemployment is 4.9 percent and rising. The surplus is disappearing. More than 1 million people have become unemployed since January.

“This has been an awful week for the stock markets,” Sam Donaldson declared yesterday morning on ABC’s “This Week.” He was being modest: It has been an awful year. The manufacturing and technology industries have been especially hard hit by the economic downturn, and corporate profits have dwindled. The Dow Jones is down 11 percent this year, the Nasdaq down 32 percent.

“Is the worst over?” Donaldson asked. “I mean, what’s ahead?”

And then there were things happening that did not make the news, yet:

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, informs Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had sent Cheney a copy of her legislation on counterterrorism and homeland defense in July, that the vice president will be unable to review her legislation for at least six months.

At the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft rejects the FBI’s request for $58 million to fund such counterterrorism initiatives as new field agents, intelligence analysts and translators.

U.S. intelligence agents tape al Qaeda members saying “the match begins tomorrow” and “tomorrow is Zero Day.” The tapes won’t be translated until tomorrow.

I don’t long to return to September 10th. Oh, of course, I wish September 11th had never happened. But I don’t long to return to some imagined era of innocence, which was really an era of ignorance. We didn’t know. We weren’t prepared (and I’ll argue, unlike the 9/11 Commission and other pilers-on that we couldn’t have been). But now we know.

Always on paper

Always on paper

: When Always On started, I snarked that it was a magazine from a company that couldn’t afford paper anymore. A big cruel, I’ll admit, but I liked the line.

Now it turns out to be true — and they can afford the paper. AlwaysOn is freeze-drying itself as a magazine.

Somebody (I forget who) said it was the first web site to become a magazine. Nope. Nerve beat ’em. And Lawrence.com is a web site that became a paper. Ditto NorthwestVoice.

Are readers demanding to see all these sites on paper? No, I don’t think so. Ad sales people are. It’s still a lot easier to sell ads on paper than on screen. The ad industry just hasn’t caught up to the market.

But as soon as you try to make the switch and get the ambition to kill trees, watch out: Lots of risk and expenses — production, paper, ink, printing, distribution — follow. Print is hard.

: Rex Hammock, the boswell of slick print, chortles at all this:

So, just to bring us all up to speed regarding these vaporzines: The Red Herring is selling subscriptions to a weekly and Tony Perkins is selling subscriptions to a quarterly written by former Red Herring writers.

So does Rafat Ali.

Want to join my society of amateur journalists?

Want to join my society of amateur journalists?

: I’m on a panel today at the meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Doesn’t that title sound anachronistic? Under one definition of the word, it’s odd these days to demark just those who are paid (the only blogger I hear going about that is Eric Alterman… and, by the way, how come I haven’t heard much of him lately?) These days, a lot of people do practice journalism — and, yes, it is journalism — for free because it is their passion, because they are — in the right definitions of the word — amateurs.

And under the other definition of the word — it’s all about standards, you know — the title is still anachronistic. Did these folks revoke Jayson Blair’s membership card because he was unprofessional? There are good and bad journalists and good and bad citizen journalists. Bragging about being “professional” seems like another way to try to stand up and apart from the people, it’s about creating the priesthood of the professionals.

Of course, I’m not criticizing the group for inheriting this name or even the folks who created it. Back in the old days — oh, five years ago — the only people who could practice journalism were the professionals because they were the ones who had access to the presses and broadcast towers their bosses, who paid them, owned.

But that has changed in an era when anybody can publish, anybody can broadcast, anybody can be a journalist. Being “professional” is now about being apart.