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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2002 / 11 Tishrei, 5763

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

What will we be going through next Sept. 11? | Americans likely noticed something on Wednesday as they are watched, listened to and read reports about the nation's one-year commemoration of Sept. 11:

They were doing that watching, listening and reading on television channels and radio stations, in newspapers and magazines, that didn't contain much advertising. Some of the most compelling reporting and historical summing-up that the broadcast and print outlets of the United States had been working on were presented all but advertising-free.

The financial press reported that advertisers had elected to stay as far away as possible from the Sept. 11 broadcasting and publishing efforts -- in effect, many advertisers chose to take the day off. The weekly magazines that are on the stands did fine jobs in chronicling the heart of our country on the anniversary -- and they are skinny as can be. Even though Americans presumably are not only reading them with interest, but storing them away to keep for future generations, advertisers evidently wanted little to do with them.

This probably shouldn't be surprising -- but it says quite a bit about our divided attitude about how to respond to what we have been going through. On the one hand, Americans have been advised to look ourselves right in the eye as we rise to respond to the attacks, to not only go about our business but to do so with defiant enthusiasm. From the very beginning, from the White House on down, the official advice was: Go to work. Shop. Travel. Invest in America. Don't let the hit-and-run cowards weaken our way of life.

On the other hand, there has been the attitude on the part of corporate America that it does not want to be associated with Americans' thoughts about the terrible day last September. Certainly this made sense in the hours and days following the attacks -- for reasons of sensitivity, corporations did not want the news coverage to be interspersed with promotions for their products. But now, a year later….

It is difficult to believe that many Americans would accuse a corporation of not caring about the United States had that corporation placed a dignified commercial in a broadcast Wednesday. If a cornflakes company placed a straight ad -- an "our-cornflakes-are-delicious-for-breakfast" ad -- in a magazine or newspaper that carried editorial coverage of the anniversary of Sept. 11, it is doubtful that many citizens would feel anger or outrage. Indeed, it might have been a very good business decision by the cornflakes company -- advertisers want to be where the viewers and readers are, and on Wednesday the viewers and readers were watching and reading the anniversary coverage.

But a free marketplace works on free choice, and it appears that the choice by corporate America was to stay away. There will be another interesting marketplace temperature to take in coming weeks: how the public will respond to the deluge of Sept. 11- related books -- said to be more than 175 -- that publishers have brought out.

Some of the books are excellent, even brilliant; some are mundane; others border on tawdry. But the question here is not their editorial value, or even their immediate business success. The best-seller lists are already filled with some of those books.

The question is: Will those books suddenly tank now that Sept. 11 has passed? By the time October rolls around, will Americans have lost interest in buying and reading those books? In a dark, other-side-of-the-coin way, will the Sept. 11 books be the equivalent of holiday greeting cards -- in great demand right up until the date in question, then unmarketable as day-old bread?

No one knows the answer to that -- yet. But in that answer will reside a hint as to America's attitude toward Sept. 11. Move on? Linger and reflect? Avert eyes?

And come next Sept. 11 -- Sept. 11, 2003….

What will our attitude be then? Will advertisers still be staying away? Will viewers and readers still be watching and reading about something that happened two years before?

Or will we all be far too busy covering, watching and reading about a new world war?

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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