This time last war, I wandered down to Pitt Street Mall. In front of the large multiscreen TV installation there (now extant*) scores of people were standing, neatly in rows, all facing the giant screen, like extras in a DEVO video, while CNN's best and brightest created news out of rumour and speculation. Earlier that day, before the bombing started, we'd been working at our desks with a transistor radio on, so we could hear the war start. A security guard from the foyer would come in every ten minutes to check for updates. When the air raid started, he rang his wife. I heard the conversation: "Hi darlin'. Yeah, love, they've commenced bombing. Yeah. No, I should be home by six."
I was reminded of this guy while watching the developing carnage of the 9/11 atrocity. We seem to have acquired this touching belief that because we can get round-the-clock video footage of history "as it happens" this somehow puts us in the loop. I don't think so - I think it just underlines our impotence.
A timely reminder of the vacuity of TV reportage, particularly in the early stages of war, can be found in Douglas Kellner's comprehensive media critique The Persian Gulf TV War
. This book is out of print but the full text is accessible online, for free, here.
* Here I use extant in its "complete opposite of what the word actually means" sense. Perhaps I was trying to type "extinct".