Panel of communications professors discuss political and social issues relating to Sept. 11 attacks

“I am tired of seeing students uninformed,” said Professor Bill McLaughlin. “This will be affecting your lives.” He also added that our generation is now faced with a new enemy and stressed that we need to be aware of what is happening in the world.
With all of the information stemming from the September 11 attack on America, the communications department held an open panel discussion on the news media and media’s role in the coverage of the tragedy. The discussion was held on Oct. 2 in Studio A of the mass communications center.
The panel was composed of Lou Adler, Grace Levine, Bill McLaughlin and Nancy Worthington who began with brief introductory statements. The floor was then opened to students for questions and comments concerning the coverage. Several topics were explored including how our rights will be challenged. McLaughlin discussed a recent incident where a White House affiliate punished late night television comedian, Bill Maher, for irresponsible remarks about the hijackers, which led to the show losing some sponsorship. The panel, although not agreeing with his remarks, defended his right to free speech. Adler said, “To criticize it is one thing, to punish is another.” He stressed his concern for our civil liberties and the ramification that we will see from these attacks.
Another issue dealt with the framing of the news we see. Worthington was particularly concerned with the elements of this story we don’t hear about. She said, “There is so much more that is worthy of coverage.” Many felt the coverage deals too much with emotions and it can overlook the facts. Levine said that we need to know the facts to have a sense of control and perspective. The emotional toll on our country is obvious in the news and many felt that sensationalism was a part of that.
The graphic images that were repeated on our screens were also discussed and the majority felt it was unnecessary. McLaughlin pointed out that the images could be seen repeated on the cable stations, particularly CNN. He calls this video pornography an “assault on spirit.” A divided topic circulating concerned journalists wearing the American pin during broadcast. Adler agrees wholeheartedly not to wear the pin.
He said, “It is not the posture a journalist should take.”
He added that a journalist’s role is to analyze and criticize and that simply can’t be done objectively while wearing the pin.
McLaughlin also asked the question, “Does this mean that those who chose not to wear the ribbon are not patriotic?”
He went on to point out that, “once war happens it becomes hard to draw those lines.” A student disagreed and felt that journalists are Americans too and feels they should show patriotism. Another student, Danielle Nardi, explained that she wears the ribbon as an acknowledgement of the event. “It’s a sign of mourning.” One student did agree with the professors that wearing the pins could be damaging to journalist’s credibility. The panel members also compared the tragedy to the television coverage of the JFK funeral. They remarked on the unity the country experienced when exposed to that first extended coverage that changed the nation. Student David Scales, said, “It is good to see so many people caring.”
He went on to say that he hasn’t witnessed unity like this since after Desert Storm. The yellow ribbons are now American flags and charities are being overwhelmed with donations. He said, “The effect was beyond exceptional.” McLaughlin pointed out that unity is not seen everywhere. Many people who look different from White, Euro-Americans are being attacked and discriminated against.
Nardi said that the ignorance has always been prevalent. “It’s not a new issue, it’s just now provoked,” she said.
An overall expression found at the discussion was it’s overall entertainment feel, with catchy titles and flashing images that are made into a hallmark for the events. One student felt it was too close to feeling like a new soap opera. Professor Worthington agreed that entertainment could be found easily in today’s news in general. She said, “I find it to be a disturbing trend.” The panel discussed this, because so much emphasis is now put on entertainment in the news, and Americans are getting less international coverage.
McLaughlin said, “We simply don’t have the sources.” He feels that because we have less knowledge about other parts of the world, we are now expected to trust others for our information. Worthington agreed that we are now paying for our lack of cultural awareness. At the conclusion of the discussion student, Scales agreed it was beneficial to the college community.
Nardi said, “I think it was interesting…it was good to see our professors point of view.”
When asked if the event was a success, Worthington said, “Yes, I do. I think there were a range of views and students were clearly already thinking about the events.”