Distant Replay

Expect the anniversary of 9/11 to bring out the media's worst.

Representatives of the Denver Post chose not to share their 9/11 plans with Editor & Publisher, using as an excuse competition with the News. But it's already obvious that such discretion was unnecessary, since the Denver dailies look to be driving toward the same destination: excess. The News initiated its coverage orgy on August 31 with a lengthy front-page column by Mike Littwin and plenty of related stories grouped under the "One Year Later" banner -- and each day since, more of the same has followed. Taken as a whole, the approach is reminiscent of a student who turns in a triple-length term paper under the theory that his busy professor won't take the time to peruse the damn thing, yet will give him an A based on its weight. The Post took longer to leap on this bandwagon, but on September 3, the paper ran an enormous house ad declaring that beginning the next day, "30 Denver Post reporters and photographers" would begin offloading special 9/11 coverage. Elsewhere in the issue, reporter William Porter wrote about "9/11 fatigue," ostensibly unaware that his paper would soon be making those suffering from the malady feel even worse.

This brand of irony is only enhanced by the knowledge that blanket coverage one year after a benchmark happening is a fairly new phenomenon at the Post and the News, as a prowl through their archives indicates. What follows are summaries of how the publications responded on the first anniversary of ten media events of notable national or local significance over the past century. Note how most of these dates were kept in context or largely overlooked -- until recently, that is.

• November 11, 1919: Armistice Day, a year after the conclusion of World War I. The Post devoted practically all of its front page to remembering the war to end all wars, including a cartoon, illustrated silhouettes of generic celebrants, and numerous articles. The Rocky took a subtler tack, running a small front-page story below the fold; elsewhere in the paper, President Woodrow Wilson's Armistice Day statement and a program of events were spotlighted. But otherwise, the News concentrated on actual news -- chiefly labor strife in some of Colorado's mines.

• December 7, 1942: one year after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. The News made the bigger splash, publishing a letter from President Franklin Roosevelt on page one and filling a sizable portion of the paper with politically incorrect bluster typical of the time: A banner over the section read, "We remember Pearl Harbor -- the Japs'll never forget." The Post limited itself to a front-page photo with a cutline reading "One Year After Pearl Harbor," as well as a chronology of events during World War II's first year. Other stories predominated.

• August 14, 1946: VJ Day, a year after the U.S. victory over Japan, which brought World War II to a finish. Neither paper took much notice of this date. The only acknowledgment in the Post was "A Day of Peace or Delusion?," a small editorial on page 10 that used the anniversary as an excuse to complain about the inequities of Yalta, a conference at which WWII's victors decided how to handle post-war Germany. The News made its only comments on the topic in a page 23 piece headlined "'Twas a Year Ago Today We Celebrated War's End." Its final sentence stated, "Tonight, apparently, will be a normal peacetime Wednesday night in Denver, with most of the wounds of war bound up, memories once again grown short and the public mind preoccupied with problems and pursuits of peace."

• November 1, 1956: a year after a bomb planted by John Gilbert Graham felled a United Airlines plane that departed from Denver, killing all 44 aboard, including Graham's mother. Graham, who was executed in January 1957, remains Colorado's worst mass murderer. Yet remarkably, neither the Post nor the News marked the anniversary of his act in any way. No update on the legal path that would lead Graham to the gas chamber. No profiles of his victims or interviews with family members. Nothing. Nada.

• November 22, 1964: a year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The News's front page didn't mention the anniversary. Inside, the coverage consisted of three smallish wire stories and one local report: "Denver Remembers the Sadness and Mourning." The Post, in contrast, put a bug about JFK on the front cover but devoted only one page, deep in the paper, to concise articles ripped off the wire. Its TV listings, meanwhile, divulged that NBC and ABC would be broadcasting separate two-hour specials about Kennedy, but nothing more. CBS, for its part, didn't let sentimentality get in the way of it beaming out The Ed Sullivan Show.

• January 28, 1987: a year after the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. Like 9/11, this calamity was witnessed on live TV by millions of Americans, and it had an area connection: Among the casualties was mission specialist Ellison Onizuka, a University of Colorado graduate. But the News's cover was dominated by President Ronald Reagan's State of the Union address. A shuttle illustration was relegated to the upper left-hand corner, with a total of four stories on the subject turning up inside the paper. The Post, too, led with Reagan, placing a shuttle story at the bottom of its front page. Also in the edition was a plug for an Onizuka tribute at CU; the item was so small it ran without a byline.

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