The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
As an alternative, independent web publisher with no mandatory space to fill like newspapers or exacting air time to sell like television news stations, I normally shun the obligatory anniversary stories and leave that to the mainstream media.
But as I sit here Sunday morning on the Gulf Coast 1,200 miles from Manhattan on September 11, 2016, I feel compelled to say a few things about this anniversary, 15 years after the fateful attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that literally changed our world — and my life.
No, I cannot claim that I was “downtown that day,” as the New York Times editorial board writes, and no I “did not have to flee uptown or across a bridge,” and no, I “did not have (my) memory seared by the smoke, the dust, the smell…”
But the “incomprehension?”
Yes, that I can understand, because when I woke up on September 11, 2001, and saw the footage of the planes crashing into the World Trade Towers and watched those burning buildings collapse, I felt the old 20th century world changing just as if I had been within range of the heat, the smoke, the dust and the smell.
I was living uptown in New Orleans at the time, just starting my second year of teaching as a full time, tenure track journalism professor at Loyola University. As I wrote in my recently published memoir, about seven hours before the first plane crashed into the towers, I hit send on an email message I wish I could take back. It was a message to my doctoral committee at the University of Tennessee with a very large attachment, a draft of my dissertation documenting press framing of global warming and public opinion on the subject.
Just imagine the stress levels of the four professors in Tennessee when they woke up and saw what was happening on “The Today Show,” or “Good Morning America” or CNN. And then imagine what they thought when they turned on their computers and found a 300 plus page attachment in the early days of the Internet and email.
After the first shock of the dramatic attacks began to sink in and CNN just kept running the footage over and over again and I walked away from the TV and went back into the kitchen for my second cup of coffee, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and knew life would never be the same — for the country or for me.
I was right. Members of my committee were so pissed off at simply receiving such a large attachment, while stressed out about the attacks, that before the day was out I was admonished to send print copies of my dissertation book to all the individual professors. In spite of the cost, by the end of the day I had paid to have four 300 page books printed and bound and mailed to Knoxville. But that would not be enough.
I needed to go back to Knoxville to defend the dissertation by Thanksgiving to live up to a letter of agreement I had with Loyola, but the new chair of my committee was a conservative dean asshole who thought the whole Internet was a fad and he could not get over what happened on 9/11. A conservative dean at Loyola was not willing to consider another extension, so my contract was not going to be renewed at Loyola for the 2002-2003 academic year.
In spite of the pain of all that, I was not that concerned in the end that it didn’t work out. As I wrote in my book, teaching journalism was not my life ambition. Being a college professor was a backup plan. In my exit interview in May 2002 with the department chair in communications, who really liked me, voted for an extension, pulled for me and offered to write a great recommendation for me to try getting a contract to teach somewhere else, I said: “No thanks. I think I’m going to practice a little journalism for awhile instead of teaching it.”
So that’s what I did. I was already free-lancing for the Dallas Morning News, the Christian Science Monitor, Gambit Weekly and People magazine anyway. By August I was working for the national desk of the New York Times.
By September, I got a piece of the national 9/11 story when I ended up being the only reporter in the room with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at the Southern Governor’s Association conference in New Orleans: Giuliani reveals thoughts on WTC site.
While my life basically took a turn for the better just a few short months after 9/11, and I was making good money and having a blast as a journalist, the fate of the country was not going so well.
President George W. Bush was supposed to have an easy time in the White House after being handed the keys by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court. But 9/11 changed all that. In one highly successful terrorist attack, Bush was forced to change his focus from the domestic economy to the “war on terror.” Everybody knows what happened next. He became “the decider” in a bad war in Iraq based on false intelligence about Weapons of Mass Destruction, and now it looks like a never ending war of Christian capitalists in the West vs. Muslims who want us back in the Middle Ages who want to bring down the modern world and start all over in the desert with only Allah, a camel, a birka and a bomb to sustain us – and the hope of virgin slaves in a false vision of an afterlife.
Even after Bush and Cheney, Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld and Condi vacated the White House, and we all had hope that President Barack Obama would change things, we are still bogged down in a drone war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has now spread to Syria and Northern Africa and there is no end in site.
We even appear to be back in a Cold War with Russia over what’s going on in Syria. This is not good. I doubt either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump have it in them to get us out of this mess even in eight more years without making matters worse, especially with this do nothing Congress.
My tenure with the Times came to an end a while after Howell Raines and Rick Bragg left the paper in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, but I’ve managed to continue a career in journalism by freelancing some and then going independent on the web. I even managed to make it to New York to see the World Trade Center site a few years ago while a fellow at the Nation Institute’s investigative journalism program.
There is nothing I can say to take the world back to before that horrible day that changed us all. The only thing I know to do is to wake up every day and try to find stories to tell that can propel us forward into what could become a brighter day and a more productive, prosperous, sustainable future.
Hey, we went to Montgomery a few months back and changed the subject from the Alabama governor’s sex scandal to the need to fix the Medicaid crisis, with the first stories pointing out that 1,200 people a year were dying due to lack of health care coverage because the governor and legislators were playing politics with people’s lives. It took much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, but the politicians in Montgomery finally found the money to save Medicaid.
Of course it took another disaster and a lot of prayer for that to come about.
While hope often seems waning, I still have a dream from time to time that we can somehow make democracy work again. If only we could just stop the damn bombing and the killing. That would be a start.
But of course that would defy human nature and make way too much sense.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.