At first, the televised images of airliners disappearing into the sides of buildings was as horrifying as it should be to a civilized world.
But after a week of watching and re-watching airplanes turn into deadly fireballs and office towers turn into dust, those images have lost much of their power to shock.
It’s not hard to see why.
Repeated round the clock on every channel this side of HGTV, often running in the background of news reports and interviews, the awful video became just another clever TV graphic, a subliminal commercial for our newest all-channel mini-series, “Attack on America.”
Television has performed superbly in a time of national crisis, so we ought to forgive its excesses. But, ironically, if you want powerful visual proof of last week’s horrors that does not diminish with time or repeated viewing, the place to find it is at your magazine rack.
Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, plus People, the New Yorker, Business Week and Fortune, have frozen the death and destruction of 9/11/01 in dozens of news photos that prove how powerful a still photograph still can be.
The magazines all capture many of the familiar, but still startling images, from exploding fireballs to Americans of every color and kind covered in blood and gray dust and running for their lives, often hand in hand.
To its many photos from Sept. 11, People magazine – which whipped up a special issue on two day’s notice last week – added gripping first-person accounts from survivors and reaction from around the country.
Even the stuffy New Yorker, which hardly ever runs photos unless they’re part of a Ralph Lauren ad, supplemented its coverage with several dark, ghostly, almost beautiful photographs of the rubble-covered streets at ground zero.
The cover of Business Week’s special report, which predicts that a recession is now a near certainty, carries a photo of a fireball sprouting from the side of the World Trade Center.
But Fortune’s cover – the week’s best – is a metaphor for what may lie ahead for the economy. It shows a business man in a suit, slathered with gray ash, covering his mouth as he stumbles through the wreckage of New York’s financial district.
At the three major newsweeklies, the theme is patriotism and national unity. Each has a U.S. flag on its cover and comes loaded with pages of news pictures, graphics of the fallen buildings, mini-essays on Islam and profiles of Osama bin Laden.
U.S. News is outclassed, as usual, by Time and Newsweek. Time’s best offering is a long, inside look at the men who conspired and carried out the attacks. And both Time and Newsweek show in articles about how to make American air travel so perfectly safe from suicidal hijackers that it’s a hopeless impossibility, even if we turn into a totalitarian country.
In a similar cold splash of realism, Newsweek points out in “How to Strike Back” that it’s not going to be easy to back up our big war talk about punishing the terrorists.
A quick strike at the right targets will only be a first step. But in the long run, Newsweek says, it looks like the way to win America’s war against terrorism will be to follow the model we used to defeat communism – a policy of containment.