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The Gospel at Ground Zero
Image: Pat Carroll / NY Daily News / Getty

In America, we debate our wars not just with heated speeches but also with dueling banjos. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the radio dial seemed to lurch between the children of Woodstock and the heirs of the Grand Ole Opry. Besides visiting the expected themes of war and peace, post-9/11 popular music plucked at an issue we are now revisiting a decade later: whether television networks ought to broadcast the fiery images of the collapsing Twin Towers.

"You took all the footage off my TV, said it's too disturbing for you and me," country musician Darryl Worley sang. "It'll just breed anger, that's what the experts say; / if it was up to me I'd show it every day. / Some say this country's just out lookin' for a fight; / well after 9/11 man, I'd have to say that's right."

Down the radio dial, pop guitarist John Mayer sang about waiting for a world where neighbors were home from war, where "they would have never missed a Christmas, no more ribbons on their door." Like the hawks in the cowboy hats, Mayer blamed broadcast imagery: "When you trust your television, what you get is what you got, / 'cause when they own the information, oh they can bend it all they want."

On the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we see a revival of the debates over whether news programs should show footage from that day. Some argue that to do so is needlessly traumatizing and inflammatory, and will provoke vengeance and a sense of cowboy justice. Others respond that to censor the footage is to deny reality, a politically correct avoidance of the truth that we live in a dangerous world, where enemies wish to see us buried beneath the rubble of ...

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In the Magazine

September 2011

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