Pain and Pride

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I was driving into work today past police cars with lights flashing, parked at every entrance to the HOV lanes on I-395 into D.C. They were blocking off ramps in preparation for the dedication of the Pentagon memorial to those who died there on another Sept. 11.

I also passed large trucks being checked out by bomb-sniffing dogs, another reminder of how different all our succeeding Sept. 11’s have become.

As I was just pulling even with the Pentagon, I noted that it was just about this same time–a little after 9 a.m.–that I passed the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and first learned, via my car radio,  that the first Twin Tower had been hit.

I was reminded of what a great job both radio and TV did on that day. For all my griping about UFO shows, and medical mysteries and tabloid crime stories posing as network news magazines. For all my beefs about cable news’ headlong rush toward the next factoid, for all my complaints about…Ok, you get the point. Broadcast and cable operations earn their keep and put some in the bank whenever there is actual breaking news of national import. 

But I digress.

As I was pulling even with the Pentagon again today, a guy stopped his car in front of me and cracked open the car door. Usually that signals someone dumping the remains of a coffee or littering or worse, so I was ready to lay on the horn since this was in the left lane of a highway at rush-hour, though nobody was rushing.

But the door swung wide and a well dressed 60-ish man jumped out. For a second time I almost hit the horn, but held my fire for some reason. He bent over to pick up an American flag, one of those car flags that wedge in the window but had come unwedged some time ago and was now lying on the shoulder surrounded by trash. He quickly unfolded it, shook out the dirt, and carried it carefully back into his car.

I looked back toward the Pentagon and saw the tops of two square towers, which I have always assumed are part of the power plant for the building. There was a plume of steam that looks eerily like smoke coming from one of the buildings. The new memorial is on the opposite side of the Pentagon. It is a group of benches, one for each person who died. But the towers, which I see almost daily, have been a constant reminder to me both of the event and of the media coverage with which it is inextricably linked.

As I write this, Barack Obama has just put his hand on John McCain’s back and smiled as they walk together to Ground Zero for a ceremony. CNN has chosen not to fill the moment with talk, reminding me of why I love that last few seconds of CBS Sunday Morning and why I wish that Wolf Blitzer’s advice about pictures being worth a thousand words were more generally applicable to cable news.

I switch quickly to Fox: "Sometimes the moment is more important than my words," says the anchor, also allowing the picture to speak for itself.

Sometimes I thnk there is hope for us, yet. Despite the underlying sadness of the day, this was definitely one of those times.