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Jewish World Review August 16, 2002 / 8 Elul, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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9-11 overload has already begun | It's going to be Sept. 11 all over again.

Our brains already have been permanently scarred by the images of our national nightmare, which after 11 months has never completely gone away - literally or figuratively.

And now, in case your visions of 9-11 have mercifully blurred, the big anniversary packages are starting to show up in places such as Vanity Fair and Atlantic Monthly.

The next few weeks are going to be an inescapable drag for lots of folks, but don't blame the News Industrial Complex. It really can't help itself.

Its production line never sleeps. Its 24/7/365 pipeline to news consumers - 1,000 channels wide and Connie Chung deep - can never be allowed to run dry.

And the anniversary story is one the best gimmicks the journalism sector has developed to ensure it never runs out of "news."

Whether it's the New York Times, Newsweek or "Donahue," the anniversary story's time element is irrelevant. Elvis could have died one, two, five, 10, 15, 20 or even 13.5 years ago.

As long as the event was huge news to begin with, and there are plenty of visuals, its anniversary automatically also qualifies as real news.

Which is why it's going to be Sept. 11 in America all over again this Sept. 11 and every Sept. 11 for a very long time.

So don't blame Vanity Fair's editors for jumping the gun with "Two Towers: One Year Later," a powerful spread of never-before-seen photos and first-person stories from 9-11.

The pictures of 9-11 in September's Vanity Fair - some of which will appear in two forthcoming books - are horribly familiar and redundant, almost cliched.

Yet from their unique angles - from the water and 3,000 feet up - the frozen image of an airliner about to fly into an office building and a skyscraper full of people turning into a fountain of smoke pack fresh emotive power.

One of the most awfully beautiful shots, taken from the air after both towers fell, shows the silhouettes of buildings surrounding the World Trade Center rising into the thick smoke cloud like giant headstones.

Vanity Fair also offers Gail Sheehy's psychological piece on how a New Jersey suburb - particularly the widows of several go-go financial traders - dealt with the loss of 50 men and women on 9-11.

It's a good and touching story, but it can't compare to Part 2 of William Langewiesche's three-part "American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center" in the September Atlantic Monthly.

Langewiesche was given so much unparalleled access to the World Trade Center rubble pile that he's got a book's worth of amazing stuff to tell us about the men who mobilized the massive nine-month recovery and cleanup there.

The painstaking detail, the gruesome stats of death (only 293 nearly whole bodies were found) and the human and mechanical complications of removing the debris might overwhelm most people.

It bogs down at times, but Langewiesche delivers a primer of good journalism and storytelling.

His account of the aerial ballet performed by the two hijacked planes as they approached Manhattan is so gripping, as are the stories of the last two people recovered alive, you won't even notice it happened almost a year ago.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

08/13/02: Tell us what you really think, Ann Coulter
08/09/02: A funny take on a new kind of suburb
08/02/02: It's not the humidity, it's the (media) heat wave; the death of American cities
07/12/02: Colombia's drug lords are all business
07/09/02: If capitalism is 'soulless' then show me something better: 10 minutes with Alan Reynolds
06/25/02: Origins of a scandal: 10 minutes with Michael Rose
06/21/02: 9/11 report unearths good, bad and ugly
06/18/02: The FBI is rebounding 10 Minutes with Ronald Kessler
06/14/02: U.S. News opens closet of Secret Service
06/11/02: 10 minutes with William Lind: Can America survive in this 'fourth-generation' world?
06/07/02: America, warts and all
05/30/02: FBI saga gets more depressing
05/13/02: The magazine industry's annual exercise in self-puffery
04/30/02: 10 Minutes with ... The New York Sun's Seth Lipsky
04/26/02: Will the American Taliban go free?
04/23/02: 10 minutes with ... Dinesh D'Souza
04/19/02: Saddam starting to show his age
04/12/02: Newsweek puts suicide bombing in perspective
04/09/02: How polls distort the news, change the outcome of elections and encourage legislation that undermines the foundations of the republic
04/05/02: Looking into the state of American greatness
03/25/02: The American President and the Peruvian Shoeshine Boys
03/22/02: Troublemaking intellectual puts Churchill in spotlight
03/20/02: 10 minutes with ... Bill Bennett
03/18/02: Suddenly, it's cool again to be a man
03/12/02: 10 minutes with Ken Adelman
03/08/02: TIME asks the nation a scary question
03/05/02: 10 minutes with ... Rich Lowry
02/26/02: 10 minutes with ... Tony Snow
02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald