EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the July 26, 2004, issue of National Review.
On Saturday, September 15, 2001, just four days after the terrorist attacks, ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings hosted a special program entitled “Answering Kids’ Questions.” Exploring the effect of the attacks on children, Jennings and a Yale psychiatrist discussed whether young people should see the much-played video of airliners crashing into the World Trade Center. The answer was no. “I mean, some of us have kids, too,” Jennings said. “And we remember from the past that if you run these images over and over and over again, it is tough.”
That was the beginning of a new policy at ABC News: No more use of the planes-into-towers video. “We actually talked to a number of psychologists, who told us that kids seeing this over and over were unable to distinguish that this was something that was [not] happening again and again and again,” says ABC News vice president Jeffrey Schneider. Because of that possible effect on children, Schneider continues, the network decided to use only still pictures to tell the September 11 story.
ABC is not alone. Indeed, across the network- and cable-news spectrum, there is a virtual blackout of the video of the actual terrorist attacks of 9/11. Network executives say they have made the decision on the basis of taste, or respect for those killed, or concern for children, or other reasons, but the end result is that at a time when there is a continuing and passionate debate about the direction of the War on Terror, there is little, if any, graphic representation of what started that war in the first place.