Though my head is exploding over the lunacy of John McCainâ€™s increasingly cowardly and dishonorable presidential campaign, it seems imperative that I join the rest of the political culture in taking a break from the back-and-forth of lipstick and pigs and idiot conservatives (whoops), and devote some space to a reflection on 9/11 and its continued impact on our American life.
There. Can I move on now?
I donâ€™t mean to sound crass. I just donâ€™t believe that, seven years on, you need to hear my personal perspective on 9/11. I also donâ€™t feel a need to impart my memories of that day (suffice it to say I was at work at the U.N. when the planes hit, then was evacuated from both my office and Grand Central Station and spent the day with fellow future-Popdoser Bob Cashill, who was kind enough to take me in). My thoughts on the attacksâ€™ long-term political and cultural ramifications similarly aren’t important; youâ€™ll get enough of that elsewhere today, unless you choose to spend the day (as I might) under a rock.
However, when the wife woke me this morning with the news that she had spent the previous hour and a half watching a real-time replay of the Today showâ€™s 9/11 coverage on MSNBC, I was stirred anew by rage and resentment. Not toward al Qaeda or bin Laden or the Taliban or the hijackers, though thatâ€™s there too â€“ itâ€™s always there, not just one day a year. Instead, I raged at the callousness of those who continue the cynical use of 9/11 as a tool for achieving their own purposes â€“ be they a political party or a television network.
Anyone who watched MSNBCâ€™s coverage of the Republican convention last week, or who watched Countdown last night, knows that Keith Olbermann has been apoplectic over the video â€œtributeâ€ to 9/11 that aired minutes before McCain accepted his partyâ€™s nomination for president. Olbermannâ€™s fits, which culminated in a typically rambling â€œSpecial Commentâ€ last night, have been well-placed (if untidy and, as usual, over the top). That convention video was truly appalling, a crime against the memories of those who lost someone in the attacks as well as those who lived through them. It was overly explicit both in its footage and in the (wrong-headed) politics of its narration. Perhaps even worse, by conflating the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80 with al Qaedaâ€™s campaign of attacks on U.S. interests, it once again betrayed the Republicansâ€™ inability to differentiate Shiâ€™ite Muslims from Sunnis, and thus it implicated the full sweep of contemporary Islam as the â€œenemyâ€ (the videoâ€™s word) in our War of Terror (Boratâ€™s words).
It was part of a pattern of â€“ yes â€“ racism that marked the last two days of the convention, a pattern which also included Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palinâ€™s disparaging remarks about Barack Obamaâ€™s work as a community organizer, and the response of the baying wolves in the hall to those remarks. Thatâ€™s an issue for another day, but Republicans who think the rest of us didnâ€™t notice their horrifying behavior are kidding themselves.
Olbermannâ€™s immediate response to the GOP video was even more primal, and (thankfully) more succinct, than his rant of last night. Here are his words from last Thursday: â€œIâ€™m sorry, itâ€™s necessary to say this, and I wanted to separate myself from the others on the air about this. If, at this late date, any television network had of its own accord shown that much â€¦ graphic videotape of 9/11 â€“ and I speak as somebody who lost a few friends there â€“ it â€¦ we â€¦ would be rightly eviscerated by all quarters, and perhaps by the Republican Party itself, for exploiting the memories of the dead and perhaps even for trying to evoke that pain again.â€
Cut to 8:51 EDT this morning, and the break-in on those same MSNBC airwaves of Katie Couricâ€™s voice announcing that an airplane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. (It was 5:51 PDT in not-yet-sunny California, where I live, which goes to show how early my wife has to get up in the morning so that I can live my life of leisure, child-rearing and Popdosery.) The replayed coverage continued for over three hours, as the second plane hit the towers, a third struck the Pentagon, and a fourth hit the ground in Pennsylvania; as both towers collapsed; as the survivors stumbled in droves uptown and across the Brooklyn Bridge; as a bomb scare was announced at nearby Stuyvesant High School (where my niece was then a junior); and as the sketchy early reports of hijacked airliners began to coalesce into a tale of coordinated terror that would spur the (few) triumphs and (many) disasters of George Bushâ€™s foreign policy.
I’ve detailed these events that played out (again) on MSNBC this morning just in case youâ€™d forgotten them. Whatâ€™s that you say? Youâ€™ll never forget them? Well, no kidding! So why does MSNBC feel it needs to give us the opportunity to relive the Worst Day of Our Lives every year on September 11? Do the network honchos somehow believe theyâ€™re performing a public service? Or might it just be that they recognize the potential for a once-a-year ratings boost, and have decided theyâ€™ll keep firing up the videotape every year until the numbers no longer jump?
Well, MSNBC, Iâ€™m here to eviscerate you for exploiting the memories of the dead, and for trying to evoke that pain again. Will Keith rail against his own bosses in another â€œSpecial Commentâ€ tomorrow evening? Donâ€™t bet on it. But he should.
And perhaps next September, once this election season has finally finished shoving a long-awaited cork in the Bush era, politicians and news networks (and bloggers) should back off a bit on the 9/11 reminiscences and updates and analyses and replays. Yes, it was a cataclysmic event for our entire nation, but it was also a day of personal tragedy for millions. Maybe itâ€™s time to start giving everybody just a little bit of space to mourn, to reflect, to rage, to hope â€“ thoughtfully â€¦ and quietly.
By the way, we wonâ€™t see Keith tonight; his show is being pre-empted for the â€œForum on Serviceâ€ that has been cooked up to give McCain and Obama a chance to appear all statesmanlike before McCain gets back to the business of savaging Obama like a jackal tearing into an antelope. (David Gregory will be anchoring MSNBC’s coverage for the first time since Olbermann and Chris Matthews were correctly displaced from that job in favor of their commentating roles.)
Iâ€™ll be amazed tonight if Obama can get through this somber occasion while suppressing what must be an overwhelming urge to bitch-slap that cowardly, lying bastard McCain. (Editorâ€™s note: Jon, did you just call Sarah Palin a bitch? The right-wing blogosphere awaits your apology…)