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On Nerves, Sensitivity and Timing

Eight years is too short a time to erase the memories of the attacks of September 11th, or at least it should be. Four months is too short a time to believe that peoples' nerves and sensitivities are any less frazzled than they were when a photo-op over Manhattan scared the daylights out of many people.

So, yesterday, on the morning of September 11th, while the Nation spent somber moments considering their emotions and memories, and while many listened to the reading of the names at the World Trade Center site, a "routine" Coast Guard exercise on the Potomac River set off a panic when CNN monitored an unencrypted radio transmission and reacted to what seemed at the time to be shots fired on the river.

Before officials understood what was happening, breathless reports on CNN and Fox News Channel sent F.B.I. agents and police officers to the riverbank and prompted a 20-minute halt to flights at nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport.

[Note that the Washington Post has a "slightly" different take on the events.]

On the one hand, the Coast Guard's position was that its "operations people saw no reason not to train" yesterday. On another hand, CNN claimed that it had an obligation to report what "they were seeing and hearing." On still another hand, the position of the White House was that the media reacted too quickly (Press Secretary Gibbs: "My only caution would be that before we report things like this, checking would be good."). The White House also rejected comparisons with the April 27th fly-over in the skies over Manhattan. And on the final hand, several Members of Congress questioned the "timing and location of the drill."

Probably the best summation of these events comes from Vice Admiral Currier of the Coast Guard when he said, "in retrospect, of course, we're going to look at the sensitivity" of conducting such an exercise on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

While this is not actually the same as the April 27th photo-op, ask the question if it was really necessary to perform a routine, "low profile" training mission on September 11th on the Potomac River between the Memorial Bridge and the 14th St. Bridge. It is doubtful that the passage of any amount of time will eliminate the frayed nerves and heightened sensitivity to things like this, especially on September 11th.

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