Saturday, September 12, 2009

Too Much

I've been engaged in a discussion this morning with friend and former colleague Jordan Rau about the need for, and content of, Sept.11 anniversary stories. I'm of the mind that we need to have them, though they should focus less on trite, cheap emotionalism.

Someone else weighed in and said that mourning should private. I seriously disagree with that since there couldn't have been a more public death for so many, and the attack was aimed at all of us as a country. There's a reason for Memorial Day, even though it's turned into a three-day weekend beach-and-barbecue event for so many, though not all. There's nothing private at all about Sept.11. Shortly after the attacks, I started seeing references from people in the West to "the attacks on the East Coast" and thought that was an oddly parochial view. I still think so. As long as I live, I will think of that day, the lives lost and the awful effects on our political culture and its militarizing effects. (Take a look at how some police units look like soldiers some time.)

As I drive around Long Island, with many streets and parks named for dead firefighters, police officers and office workers, I know that memory will live on in both our public and private lives.

That said, the day brings us to another kind of story floating around Facebook, and that is the question of children and how they get to school, more often eschewing walking for buses. At some point, and not in a way that we mention it, dismiss it and move on, we in the media have to figure out and take responsibility for our own fear-mongering. It isn't enough to mention that parents' fears are exaggerated, given the numbers, and then go right back to leading the broadcast or the newspaper with the latest tidbit of information that little Michelle is still missing. (My apologies to all little Michelles who ARE still missing.) We spread fear. We alter reality. We need to stop, just as the endless number of crime dramas, prison "documentaries," and other nonsense that floods the airwaves every night exaggerates the crime rate. Several years ago, a then-thriving newspaper I worked for did a 13-part series about the area partially titled "The Fear and the Facts." Distilled, the series could be summed up this way: It ain't nearly as bad as you think.

So why do people overestimate the chances that they or their children will become crime victims? Who is responsible for that? We are. It doesn't even seem driven by the pursuit of a good story. It's just become reactive and easy to do.

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