Downtown View: Exploiting 9/11

Last year, on September 11, 2011, I was on a plane, just like I had been on September 11, 2001. I was uncomfortable. It wasn’t the plane or fear or the coincidence that I would be on a plane both on THE day and on its 10th anniversary.

My discomfort grew from the way this terrible tragedy has been exploited by everyone from politicians, to the media, to many individuals who lost no one but enjoy being entertained by the intense feelings such an event can evoke.

Let me make one thing clear: if you lost someone dear to you on 9/11, you can grieve all you want. You can isolate yourself on that day’s anniversaries or you can join others to commemorate it. You are in a different category from the rest of us.

But the exploitation of that day by some Americans is disgusting. Maybe it is because of my upbringing, in which people endured sorrow quietly and with dignity. I wasn’t around for Pearl Harbor, where almost as many people were killed and many more were wounded, but I remember my parents’ commemoration of it. They did nothing to commemorate it, even though it affected their lives profoundly, uprooting them, plunging my father into military service and putting them into a four-year struggle that pitted America against an evil more potent and challenging than the one we faced after 2001.

Last year as I was getting ready to return to Boston, the television coverage at my hotel was 9/11 non-stop, as it had been for the two weeks leading up to the anniversary. So was the radio coverage as I drove to the airport. The ceremonies were mostly dignified. But they sometimes featured the public wallowing in grief even though they had witnessed the event only on television. Our family complains about the “grief industry” swooping in with platitudes and pop psychology after any tragedy. We didn’t wallow after Pearl Harbor. The wallowing probably started with President Kennedy’s assassination, by which time we were sufficiently connected by the media to begin grieving en masse and seeming to enjoy it.

But it’s not just my attitude toward how to handle tragedy. It’s my shame over the behavior and judgment of public officials and of regular Americans in the aftermath.

George Bush was a prime exploiter. After the plane attacks, his handlers made him incommunicado, insisting that he fly aimlessly over the plains with no one mentioning that a leader should lead. He was so absent that Peter Jennings finally asked on the air, “Where is our president?” He limped in long after Rudy Giuliani and Tony Blair spread eloquent words of comfort throughout the land. Later, he took false credit for leadership during those days. It was embarrassing.

Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft were the next exploiters, trying to scare us with orange alerts and poorly prosecuting a war in Afghanistan because they were making up stories about Saddam Hussein. As bad as Saddam was, he balanced the power of Iran, which we are now left to deal with. Then they disgracefully tried to rewrite history last year in their books as they conveniently forgot how they had lied to manipulate Americans into believing threats that were not there.

There’s more shame to go around. The introduction of torture, the eavesdropping without court approval, the rounding up of both perpetrators and innocents, the establishment of Guantanamo, which Obama should eliminate, and the suspension of habeas corpus that was scary to people who worry about such things, were actions that repudiated American values. Silly us. We believed in the strength of Americans to face threats with our laws and values intact. Others, fearful and with less backbone, couldn’t abide American values when the chips were down.

The imprudent 9/11 political leadership was shortly joined by corrupt, foolish and/or naive bankers, lenders, regulators and ratings agency officials, who squandered our wealth in the interests of their own pockets.

They were followed by a group of apologists waving the flag of a capitalism they don’t understand, refusing to regulate these voracious industries which can benefit us mightily if they submit to a firm hand on the regulatory tiller. In refusing to do so they threaten western values much more than Mohammed Atta ever did.

The media oversaw it all. Dramatic stories get the attention of a public wanting to be entertained, so they supplied them. Even authors got into the exploitation frenzy, like Claire Messud’s “The Emperor’s Children,” in which 9/11 is a preposterous backdrop.

But there is change in the air. I’m writing this five days before it will be published on September 11. The Democratic convention, funny, fashionable and entertaining, has eclipsed coverage of 9/11. I’ve seen nothing about it in the newspaper, heard nothing about it on the radio. Of course, there is still time to resurrect the wallowing.

But it is going to be less of an event than last year. Maybe we are ready to put it to rest, recognizing its tragedy, but rising above it to become brave, reasonable and optimistic once again. Let’s hope so.


Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

8 Replies to “Downtown View: Exploiting 9/11

  1. Please tell me you are not falling into the trap of all the neighborhood newspapers and regurgitating this very slanted,excessively liberal woman’s personal opinion every week!

    1. If you do not like Karen and her column there is an easy solution. DON’T READ IT. While I take issue with much of what she wrote in this particular column, the majority of her pieces are about local issues that have nothing to do with her political beliefs. As Matt pointed out to me this morning, it is clearly labelled an opinion piece. You don’t have to agree with it but she is entitled to her opinion and Matt is entitled to post whatever he chooses on his BLOG (this is not a newspaper).

      1. When the Regional stopped publishing Karen’s columns on a regular basis, a number of North Enders told me they missed it. I reached out to her and asked to publish them here. She graciously agreed to share her columns on a gratis (that’s free) basis.

        Few people have done as much as Karen in support of community news for the downtown Boston neighborhoods.

        Every columnist’s opinions are their own and, as always, we have open comments for folks to express their views, pro or con.

        If I could find a well-written, “slanted, conservative” column, I probably would run that too! If you or anyone else wants to write a regular (or one-time) column on, feel free to contact me or just submit it here.

  2. Because it was 70+ years ago and almost all of the survivors/widows have passed away. In the grand scheme of things, 9/11 was relatively recent and the majority of American can still recall how they were affected on that day.

  3. I did not lose any family members on 9/11. I did not lose any friends on 9/11. I did not know a single person who died on 9/11; however, everybody who died that day did so in the United States of America. Almost all who died were Americans. Myself being American, an American Soldier to be precise, I will always stand by and support my fellow Americans in time of need and sorrow. We all knew someone who died on 9/11. We may not know their name, but we know they died on American soil by terrorists who hate Americans. Those who died are Americans.

    I will never forget that day and I will always honor thy fellow Americans who lost their lives on that September day.

    Instead of writing an exploiting article about exploiting 9/11, maybe you should think back on how life was prior to that day and recall what has changed since that day. Things are not the same and they never will be the same. All because of this one event.

    Where I work, every year on the same day we hold a moment of silence in honor of Pearl Harbor and those who we lost on that day and the years afterwards. Just like Pearl Harbor, we rallied our troops and took care of business to defeat those who did us harm and to make sure they never did it again. The same happened after 9/11. Only 9/11 is our generation. We have memorials all over this country in honor of our WWII veterans so we never forget our fellow Americans who gave their lives so we can be where we are today.

    And for the political slant of this opine, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would be sitting around in front of a TV waiting on our president to make some sort of remark to make us feel good about something. After an event such as this I think we would be trying to find a way to help, donate blood, volunteer your services, comfort someone who may have lost a family member. Instead of complaining that some politician didn’t speak to you fast enough is avaricious. Don’t wait for anyone. Be a leader yourself and do what you need to do to help. Don’t wait for something to be given to you. Give it yourself first. If you don’t like something, don’t complain about it. Get out there and try to fix it. Gather the facts, write to those politicians who work for you and get it taken care of. Don’t wait on them to tell you what to do. Do it yourself first.

    I volunteered to join our armed services after this event. That’s how much this event affected me. I do not want to ever see this occur ever again in my lifetime. I will remember all the past to ensure the same events don’t occur in the future. Now, as an employee of a federal law enforcement agency, I’m still helping to make sure this doesn’t happen again. And what’s my motivation doing my job everyday? To make sure my fellow Americans never have to experience another attack on American soil.

    9/11 is my motivation. That’s not misusing this event. That is proper utilization.

    Forgive my “intense feelings” that this event has evoke upon me and many other Americans.

    Never Forget. Always Remember. God Bless the U.S.A.

  4. “The Democratic convention, funny, fashionable and entertaining, has eclipsed coverage of 9/11. ”

    The fact that a political convention be funny, fashionable and entertaining shows where her priorities are. Only in Massachusetts.

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