"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
Robert Stone

June 2007 Archives

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June 23, 2007


An e-mail from a reader, C., in Maryland . . .

“I was out of work on 9/11. Not just laid off. Assassinated. Shot in the back. . . I tangled with the CEO of a richly-funded start-up and got whacked. It was a brutal event . . . He burnt through $60M or so and wanted to pin it all on me, his VP, Sales. He got shown the door shortly thereafter and has never done anything of merit since.

“My former sales guys who I hired for New York had to scramble out of the sales office I opened up for them in the shadows of the WTC and run two or three miles home. My feeling staring at that TV on that morning was one of complete and total loss. How would the world ever return to normal? How would I ever provide for my kids again? I had ruined my career, I thought. And now this.

“Yours was a hard book to look through for me because it brought all that back. My home crumbled with those towers. . . . I am not done with your book, simply owing to my schedule as of late, but watching The News Get Made, and learning what went on on the other side of the lens during the attack is just incredible -- the story of the two brother's in the firehouse is heart-pounding to read -- like the drowning sequence in A Perfect Storm."


Photographer Susan Watts, who was shooting for the New York Daily News on September 11 (see page 22 of Watching the World Change) has a new exhibition opening in New York’s Battery Park on June 28, courtesy of the Alliance For Downtown New York. The show, called “Milestones to Recovery,” is touted a “celebration of the rebirth and revitalizaton of Lower Manhattan," and it will be on view all summer.


Television producer Tom Flynn covered the events of September 11 for CBS (see pages 30-31 and page 134 of the book). Struggling to find a proper voice and an appropirate medium through which to process his strongest experiences and emotions, he settled on an unconventional format: the epic poem. Flynn will recite portions of his riveting “BIKEMAN: This Forever September Morning” as part of a literary showcase on Monday, June 25, at 7 p.m., at the Players Stage in Manhattan’s fabled Players Club at 16 Gramercy Park South, on 20th Street.

On September 11, 2001, Nikki Stern, a communications consultant, lost her husband James Portorti, a geologist and business analyst who was working for the insurance firm Marsh & McLennan. Stern's activism as former executive director of the advocacy group Families of September 11 (see pages 69-73 of the book), along with her accomplishments as a burgeoning writer, have led to her new role as a blogger. She recently launched 1 Womans Vu and I encourage readers to pay a visit.

From Regis LeSommier, New York correspondent for the French newsweekly, Paris Match, responding to the June 16 posting (below), “PARIS’S PADDY-WAGON SNAPS”…

“I agree with most of your comment. ‘They are as reliable in the trenches as they are on the rope line’ sums up the essence of good photographers.

“When my friend [Getty photographer] Spencer Platt got his World Press [Photo Award] this year, he made a point of saying he refuses to be qualified as a war photographer. I do believe there's no such thing for journalists either. We should be able to cover with the same degree of professionalism all sort of stories. If only 2 to 5 per cent of the pictures shown [at the annual Visa pour l’Image photojournalism festival each September in] Perpignan are actually published, it has to do with what people want to see in magazines and not only because photo editors suddenly have turned into celebrity zealots.

“[For the upcoming issue of Paris Match], the angle I chose to write about [concerning] the two [photos of the] crying girls is that they tell a lot about our preoccupations. I focused on the link [that] Nick Ut's images made between a time where the war made the headlines and another where there's a war going on but people are more interested in seeing what is happening to an heiress who, a porn video apart, has done absolutely nothing in her life. I don't think there should be any judgment made about it. It is the reality of our time. On the other hand, if celebrities were not interested in Darfur and other causes, we'd probably never hear about them.”


ABC and NBC have both been accused of having been party to tacky negotiations for the first post-jailhouse interview with Paris Hilton, reportedly offering six and seven figures, respectively -- supposedly intended to enhance the coffers of the Hiltons, a family of dizzying means.

One of the first questions that sprang to mind upon hearing the news of the network duel was: How far has CBS News risen in stature to have kept out of this sordid money game? My second question, milliseconds later, was: How far has CBS fallen from favor in celebrities’ and publicists’ eyes that the network can’t even place or show in this horse race -- er, rather, car wreck?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that an interview with Paris Hilton (and possibly with her parents) about the prison ordeal, the media siege, her Spiritual Transformation, as it's being touted -- if procured without conditions and without an offer of recompense – is journalistically valid, a huge "get," and perfect made-for-television theater-of-the-absurdity. Indeed, the Web site TMZ.com has just reported that CNN’s Larry King, natch, has been granted the honors. (He’ll have his night with Paris this coming Wednesday.) And I’m looking forward to tomorrow's tabloid pile-on: Paris Sing Sings To Larry, Not Ba-Ba…Paris Won't Sell Her Cell Story...

But why did the networks drop out?

Yesterday, the New York Post wrote that ABC’s offer of a reportedly paltry $100,000 was spurned by the family. The subtext was that ABC, having been bested (or having feared it had been bested) by NBC, supposedly chose to deftly spin its spurn, allegedly leaking the story line that at least the Disney team hadn’t gone NBC’s low road, which had reportedly put a cool million in play to secure the air rights to Her Heirness. Inevitably, an NBC spokesperson late yesterday issued what seemed like a non-denial denial, seeming to pirouette on the head of a pin: “We have informed [the Hiltons’] representatives that we are not interested in this interview. . . .We never had a deal for an interview. We are not canceling the interview. No interview was ever booked.”

My reaction, of course, was: Whatever happened to backbone?! ABC and NBC should have stuck to the straight and narrow, and let Larry King eat their dust. They should have muscled and wined and wooed the desperate Hiltons anyway. Why walk away from a catch like this just because the envious print press is jumpy about the fees? The Hiltons cannot NOT do an interview. They covet air time like the rest of us do oxygen. Everyone knows that if there's one constant in all this, it is that The Hiltons Always Do It For Free.

And so it goes. In the latest Battle of Paris, this time the Big Boys caved. (CLICK HERE for a previous post on how CBS did the same, with Don Imus.)

June 16, 2007


Much has been made of the fact that last weekend, when the beehive of L.A. paparazzi swarmed around the vehicle carrying a furloughed Paris Hilton back to the slammer, there was one well-known photographer who emerged with one of the two most revealing images, showing a cowering Hilton, sans make-up, convulsed in tears. (The New York Daily News headline, playing off (or, rather, contorting) Hilton’s courtroom plea that afternoon: “I Want My Mommy!”)

The man who nabbed one of the most widely published pictures, it turned out, was none other than Nick Ut, the award-winning AP photographer who had taken another famous photo of a young girl in tears: Kim Phuc, the Vietnamese war victim running down with a road, her naked body strafed with napalm burns moments after an American aerial assault. The 1972 picture, like a handful of others published at critical junctures in the war in Southeast Asia, helped alter U.S. attitudes toward the war and assisted in bringing about the conflict’s end, three years later.

The other prime picture appeared courtesy of Carl Larson, of the INF photo agency.

When Ut was revealed to be the man with one of the money shots, there was much moaning, much hand-wringing, much talk of bitter irony. How low have we have descended as a culture, came the chorus, when our war photographers are reduced to ambulance chasers stalking latter-day White Broncos, gathering in mangy packs and firing off cruel snaps of celebutantes!

And yet, I was quite proud of Nick Ut and Carl Larson. Their pictures were just what the mayhem demanded. They caught what so often escapes the attention of the cameras: the Celebrity Perp Bawl, one that is as much about Paris Hilton’s self-inflicted condition (she did bring both her imprisonment and her re-imprisonment upon herself) as it is about her victimization at the hands of a ravaging Camera Pack. Amid the media circus--in which the L.A. justice system, as usual, had utterly mishandled the internment of a celebrity and had made a mockery not only of itself but of the terms of her extended incarceration--here were steady-handed shooters who jockeyed into position and came away with the goods. Which is what paparazzi do, yes. But which is also what good journalists do as well.

There was no hand-wringing necessary. Ut and Larson, like many of the best photographers have done for decades, cover events. They are newsmen and chroniclers. They are as reliable in the trenches as they are on the rope line.

I was reminded of great photojournalists over the years who covered the high and the low, the mean streets and the palm-lined boulevards. I’m thinking of Robert Capa, certainly, and David Seymour (whose images of the human victims of war, now on view at New York’s International Center of Photography, seem to somehow counterbalance his studies of Audrey Hepburn, the pictures all dating as they do to a time when general-interest magazines like Life and Look and The Saturday Evening Post provided the American public with needed doses of reality and fantasy, hardship and Hollywood. I’m thinking of virtually every photographer who ever shot for Life magazine, in fact, from Alfred Eisenstaedt and Margaret Bourke-White to Mary Ellen Mark and Harry Benson to Gordon Parks (who will be honored on Monday with a lavish awards dinner to jump start his Gordon Parks Foundation).

Although Paris, certainly, is a lesser light than virtually any of her Hollywood forbears, who are we to judge Ut and Larson any less as photojournalists? It’s the culture’s fault that it pays less attention to Haditha than to Hilton (a woman so conscious of how her image is consumed that she wore eye-liner and lip gloss for her mugshot session).


"The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves..." William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

June 13, 2007


We know the routine by now. GI's are abducted in Iraq by insurgents. There is a concerted search for the missing. The abductors release a video showing the captured, or their forced confessions. The Pentagon and various experts claim the footage to be authentic. The outrage follows. The hostages are quietly exchanged or released or, as is too often the case, they are killed, sometimes by beheading. In rare cases, they are freed or they escape. Then the cycle begins anew.

This time, however, the tape was of a less brutal and yet equally ominous nature.


The video, made available last week, revolved around three Americans adbucted in May, all of whom are now dead, according to a communique issued yesterday by the militants. But unlike the previous clips, which are often quite gruesome, and full of stolen, crude, and disjointed moments, this one has a propagandist's touch.

Perhaps the best examination of this new style of insurgent video comes from Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post (whose sage words--about Osama bin Laden's use of videography--I cite in Watching the World Change, page 178). In last week's Post, Kennicott observed:

"Like another video that is circulating (showing a series of brash attacks on American vehicles by men throwing devastating grenades), the new piece focuses on what might be called fighters in repose. Recurring throughout both videos are scenes of insurgent forces underneath a canopy of trees. In the newest, there is a man standing over a handful of fighters crouched beneath a tree. With the antenna of his satellite phone or walkie-talkie, he points to a detailed map that seems to be hanging in the branches that surround him.

"The scene throws into confusion the deeply ingrained, unconscious sense that terrorism is an urban phenomenon. By moving some of the most lengthy passages of the video into the outdoors -- a particularly inviting, peaceful place -- the video attempts to undermine the notion that what is happening is a terrorist attack. These fighters look more like what we would call partisans, part of a long tradition of men who have taken to the hills, or the forests, or the jungles, to fight an alien enemy.

"Partisans, in the literature of war, are connected with the land, which gives them authenticity. They may be on the run, but their lives have been refined to a more simple existence, apart from the comforts and corruption of the organized enemy. Hemingway's vision of the Spanish Civil War was in part an idyll of resistance, as were many Soviet novels of the Russian Revolution and the Second World War, which became patriotic pastorals, celebrating the close-to-the-land status and integrity of Bolshevik heroes….

"And then [comes] a stunning bit of montage: President Bush is seen directing an orchestra, waving his arms a bit awkwardly, more like a drum major than a conductor (images taken from a presidential visit to Jamestown last month). The intercutting is a devastating bit of message tailoring...

"After scenes of occupation and Bush as bandleader, after the fighters in the forest poring over plans, comes the attack, a crudely shot nocturnal scene in which the death and devastation happen in an almost abstract play of grainy black-and-white images. The pure terror of beheading videos or the nauseating voyeurism of sniper videos that have littered the Internet is replaced by attack footage that follows the same, almost prim code of decorum that the U.S. media use when showing war imagery.

"Perhaps if they had more gruesome video, they would have used it. But the effect is to dilute the moral outrage of violence and focus the attention on the more palatable before-and-after scenes. It is a canny bit of editing."


"The final images," Kennicott concludes, "the ones that will haunt Americans because they show two young men who are at best in grave peril, and quite possibly dead, play more than a forensic or trophy function in the context of the whole video. American soldiers are identified by money, credit cards and a cross. The bar codes -- so objectifying and so industrial -- on their military identification cards stand in stark contrast to the masked fighters seen earlier. This is the final iteration of the attacker as corrupt (materialist, living on credit) or alien (Christian)."

The "forest idyll" aspect of the footage brings to mind of one of the tapes released by bin Laden, who, as a man on the lam cannot show his face in public and has literally become his video and audio manifestations. Here is how I describe that 2003 tape in the book, with an ample assist from Kennicott:



"Bin Laden and his acolytes continued to disseminate dollops of video and audio during the five years after 9/11. On the attacks' second anniversary, al-Jazeera showed a clip depicting bin Laden [on] a mountainside, prophetlike, walking stick [at his side]. Wrote Philip Kennicott in The Washington Post, '...Mountains aren't just a place one retreats to, but a place of refuge, a place closer to God.... Perhaps that's the intention. He is not on the run, he's out for a walk. He's not in a cave, but on top of the world.

" 'It's as if someone on his video production team...has channeled the spirit of the old Nazi propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl...straight from the annals of German romanticism: Show the old warrior looking like a young poet communing with nature.... The tape shows not just that he's alive, but that he's alive and in a better place. If you were carefully controlling your own mythology, this is precisely the kind of tape that would be inspiring right now. Osama in the clouds."

June 9, 2007


Bloggers continue to blog about Watching the World Change, so, herewith: a quick blog post about recent blog posts. . . .

New York “graphic designer, writer, and dreamer” Marco Acevedo, says on his Hokum blog: “9/11 was the first event to traumatize the world in real time. As David Friend writes in his excellent Watching the World Change, “[W]e were one world taking in the same scene and connected by the same horrifying picture story.”

Wileycat writes about the book -- purchased at her local Salvation Army -- on her Live Journal: “I can't put it down…. Having a degree in Digital Media Studies, I am finding it to be very stimulating and accessible…. It's been a while since I've felt intellectually stimulated and engaged.”

The book is also referenced on places as diverse as a MySpace page in Arkansas to an entry on one of the countless 9/11 conspiracy-theorist blogs, "Humint Events Online: Slowly But Surely Going Over 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ With a Fine-Tooth Comb.”

Blog On!

June 8, 2007


If a blogger posts a blog post in the Vast Electronic Forest, and nobody reads it, do the posting and the blogger actually exist?

At times, I wonder about the usefulness of this book blog. Though I'm often approached by friends or colleagues, or by attendees at lectures and book-signings, who say they're readers of the blog, I'm sometimes overtaken by the loneliness of the long-distance ruminator.

And then along comes an upbeat article that seems to put it all in perspective. In these Days of Woe for the print medium (as death knells are sounded for newspapers, for newsweeklies, even for books), journalist Dan Gillmor, who monitors grassroots aspects of both old and new media, has an altogether upbeat piece in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle (and on SFGate). Gillmor, whom I quote in Watching the World Change (page 288), writes about the overall opportunities created when journalists ply their trade on-line:

"[On the subject of] the future of journalism -- as opposed to corporate business models -- there's at least as much reason for optimism as paranoia. The same technologies that are disrupting the news industry are offering unprecedented opportunities for creating a more diverse, and ultimately more vibrant, journalistic ecosystem. . . .

"Deriding 'basement bloggers' and citizen media creators of all kinds, with no recognition of the enormous variety in the genre, betrays insufficient knowledge, if not willful blindness. No, most blogging and other citizen media aren't journalism. So what? Neither is most writing on paper, most photography, most video or most anything else. . . .

"I can name more than a few bloggers whose work I rely on more than the output from traditional journalists covering the same subjects. Some community Web sites are beating local newspapers and TV to big stories. And citizen journalists of all stripes are looking deeply into niche topics that big media ignore or cover shallowly."

That's a breath of fresh air to this isolated blogger, lonely as a logger with a hacksaw at the base of a redwood.

June 4, 2007


This week New York Times writer Jim Dwyer, co-author of the classic September 11 chronicle, 102 Minutes, wrote one of the most clear-eyed essays in recent memory to effectively refute one of the predominant 9/11 conspiracy theories--the "mystery" surrounding the collapse of Building 7 in the late afternoon on September 11.


DWYER & FLYNN'S 102 MINUTES (now out in paperback)

Wrote Dwyer, in his "About New York" column in the Times: “[T]he collapse of No. 7 became a focal point for people who suspected that the federal government had a malevolent hand in the Sept. 11 attack, particularly since the building’s tenants included the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense and the Secret Service, along with the city’s Office of Emergency Management."

Yet as Dwyer points out, many eyewitnesses, including firefighters he interviewed for the Times and for his book, had ample evidence to counter opinions from detractors such as ex-gabshow-host Rosie O'Donnell, who argued that the building, in her words, "got hit by nothing--47 floors and dropped, 5:30 [p.m.] into itself.... I do believe that it's the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel....[I]t is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved."

According to Dwyer: “First, in oral histories, firefighters and commanders described retreating from No. 7 because of the expected collapse. Second, photographs taken from a police helicopter show that a large chunk of the bottom of the building had been destroyed by debris from the north tower; a comprehensive study by Popular Mechanics magazine concluded that along the bottom 10 floors, a quarter of the south face was knocked away.

"The pictures make clear that 7 World Trade Center was hit not, as Ms. O’Donnell said, 'by nothing,' but by tons of falling debris. And although steel does not melt until it reaches 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, federal investigators say that it loses most of its strength at around 1,800 degrees — a temperature reached in ordinary building fires. A federal scientific investigation into the collapse of No. 7 is scheduled to be released this fall.”

[For a related post, Click HERE.]


Also this week, Helen Schulman published her new novel, A Day at the Beach, which focuses on a 24-hour period on "that day of the planes," as DeLillo would say. Sarah Towers praised it mightily in Sunday's NYTBR:

"Nearly 3,000 people died on Sept. 11. Schulman’s triumph here is that she breaks our hearts with three who lived…. Schulman desacralizes 9/11, turning it into a literary device and using it to infiltrate the inner lives of Gerhard and Suzannah."

Finally, this week marks the 25th Anniversary of the opening of Vancouver's PhotoTherapy Centre. (The use of all kinds of imagery to help therapists help trauma victims is described on pages 267-270 of Watching the World Change; The PhotoTherapy Centre, founded by Judy Weiser, is described on page 392.)

As Weiser writes in a recent e-mail: "The PhotoTherapy Centre educates and provides training and consulting about the many uses of ordinary snapshots and family photos to assist in both therapy process and personal healing work….. The [Centre is also the] publisher for the book PhotoTherapy Techniques: Exploring the Secrets of Personal Snapshots and Family Albums."


[For interested parties: a year from now there will be a conclave addressing this very subject. THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PHOTOTHERAPY AND THERAPEUTIC PHOTOGRAPHY is scheduled for June 16 to 18, 2008, in, of all places--Turku, Finland, natch.]