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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sept 11, 2011: Mixed Feelings and Media Myopia

I’m having a very mixed reaction to the last few days.

Ten years ago, I, as with so many other people, heard the news about American Airlines Flight 11 striking the north tower of the World Trade Centre in New York City. I watched on live television as United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower just a few minutes later. The events continued as American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon while United Airlines Flight 93 was forced to crash land in a field in Pennsylvania. I can tell you where I was at each of those moments.

On that day, and many that followed, we watched first responders demonstrate incredible acts of heroism, running towards a scene everyone else wanted to be far away from. People outside the affected areas helped the best they could and in whatever way they could; 40 planes were accepted by Halifax International Airport, Vancouver International received over 8,500 diverted passengers while Gander International Airport accepted 39 rerouted planes, causing the population of Gander to swell by over 65% in hours.

Ten years later, the heroes should be celebrated and the dead remembered. Families and communities should come together, stand together, grieve and reflect together. Those who lost their lives were victims of an unimaginable event. Those who stepped up to help were heroic precisely because they jumped forward into action despite the inconceivable events transpiring.

Unimaginable. Inconceivable. The events of 9/11 were so large, so dramatically impactful, that they have become rooted as a chapter in the American story. Tragedy and triumph.

This I understand. Yet mixed feelings have surfaced again. Not around the magnitude of the attack or the tragedy of loss.

Mixed feelings come from the overwhelming rhetoric and coverage around this anniversary. Vice President Biden talked today about ‘a 9/11 generation of warriors’ galvanized around the event to fight back. News organizations like Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, as well as our own CBC, have filled hours with footage of the attacks and follow up interviews with family members speaking 10 years later.

When I woke up this morning, the U.S. East Coast media was into full coverage. At 6:23 a.m. EST.

Why are feelings mixed?

On September 11, 2001, 2,977 victims lost their lives in a tragic, unpredictable, horrific terrorist attack. Lives were senselessly ended and no one saw it coming. Three thousand, six hundred and fifty two days later, all major news networks devoted significant portions of their day to the various ceremonies. President Obama made numerous speeches in New York and Washington. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton spoke in Pennsylvania. At Ground Zero, the name of each victim was read aloud. Ten years later, all attention was brought to bear on one event, one randomly terrible event.

If something could have been done to stop it, to change the course of events, to advert this tragedy, we would all have stepped up, right? There is no way that a civilized society would have let this many people die if there was something in their power to stop it? Of course not.

Before I go to sleep tonight, here are a few other events of note:
  • 2,740 kids died from malaria. Most lacked the simple protection of a mosquito net.
  • 6, 027 people were newly infected with HIV.
  • 9,795 people died from water-related disease because they don’t have access to clean drinking water.
  • 25,000+ died from starvation or hunger-related issues.

All of these deaths occurred today. That’s right – today. The same number of people died yesterday, the day before and each day before.  By rough count, that’s 13,700,275 deaths in the last 12 months around basic food and water needs, as well as a disease few in advanced countries ever encounter.

We know how to clean water and make it safe to drink. We know how to grow food and how to protect people from disease. But we haven’t yet taken action. The numbers continue to rise. Many people are simply unaware. Did you hear the name of one child who died from malaria mentioned on the news today? Me neither. Perhaps there just wasn’t room in the 24 hour news cycle.

‘Tragedy’ is when a disastrous event happens, and 9/11 was indeed a tragedy. When disastrous events continue to happen daily and we do little about it, well, that is simply ‘tragic’.

1 comment:

  1. The media may seem myopic, but it was responding to public demand for 9/11 remembrances and memorials, and the viewer always has the choice to not follow, a choice I exercised for much of yesterday. And if I may play devil's advocate, ongoing crises such as disease, war and starvation are difficult to contextualize in news coverage for they are historic, nuanced and complex. There aren't often compelling visuals and audio they way there was with 9/11. And let's face it, the events you reference happen mostly far away to "other people." It's not right but I suggest developed nations and especially North Americans feel more sympathy with 9/11 victims because they seem just like us and many know (or know of) someone directly affected, plus the shock and suddenness of the event was so impactful. I wish yesterday there had been more grief and sympathy for the innocent Iraqi's who were terrorized and/or killed in the wake of 9/11. It wasn't one bad day, it's a legacy of pain and suffering.

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