I devoted this space last week to an unequivocal praise of our national media for their handling of the Sept. 11 tragedy. I got a lot of feedback from my fellow conservatives. Most were in agreement, but there were some who disagreed; some, in fact, disagreed furiously.
Well, this conservative is going to say it again: The work done by our national press corps in the wake of the horror has been, overall, magnificent.
Much has been said and written about Peter Jennings -- how he questioned President Bush's leadership and how he was defending anti-American revelers overseas. There's only one problem. Mr. Jennings simply did not say or do these things. I've reviewed the transcripts, including his 17-hour marathon appearance on the day of the attack. It's not there, period.
Conservatives have pointed the finger at the snipings of David Broder and Mary McGrory in the Washington Post; at the New York Times; at others here and there. That's all fine and good, but these journalists made themselves indescribably small in a nanosecond, so small in stature that I have no interest in commentary.
They weren't reflective of our national media in the days following Sept. 11. This was.
It was NBC's John Palmer, frizzled old veteran that he is, who has probably seen all there is to see for 30 years of more -- and suddenly he couldn't find the words to describe to his audience what, exactly, had transpired during the memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral last Friday.
It was Fox's Tony Snow, the happy warrior who relishes political combat with his biting Sunday television commentaries, putting politics aside to deliver an impassioned declaration of affection for his country, only to stop abruptly midway as the tears began to flow.
It was seemingly the entire on-air staff at Fox proudly wearing American flags on their lapels on Sunday, Tim Russert adorned with the red, white and blue ribbons on "Meet the Press," CNN continuously running graphics of a waving American flag in its broadcasts.
It was Russert commenting on the death of Father Michael Judge, the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, and a personal friend: "New York's bravest physically carried Father Mike away ... They asked his fellow Franciscans to cross the street and join them. Together -- firemen, priests, and brothers -- wept and sang the prayer of St. Francis, 'May the Lord bless and keep you and show his face to you and have mercy on you.' That is the way of New York. That is the spirit of America."
It was Fox's Shepard Smith on Saturday night, casting journalism rules to the wind
as he reported on the pending re-opening of the stock market only to launch into a national pep talk about the patriotic duty to buy, not sell, on Monday morning. It was Tom Brokaw putting his reporter's instincts aside when he tenderly invited Solicitor General Ted Olson (SET ITAL) not (END ITAL) to answer questions that might be too difficult concerning his wife's murder.
It was the San Francisco Examiner raging with the headline Wednesday morning: "Bastards!" It was Time magazine defiantly proclaiming on its cover, "One Nation, Indivisible." It was Newsweek stating with wondrous simplicity, "God Bless America."
It was Dan Rather on the Letterman show twice breaking down, the second time unable to control his sobbing. It was Rather saying, "George Bush is the president. He makes the decisions, and, you know, it's just one American, (but) wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where." It was Rather asking, "Who can sing now, with the same meaning we had before, one stanza of ("America the Beautiful") that goes, 'So beautiful, for patriot's dream, that sees beyond the years/Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears'? We can never say that song again, that way ..."
Will the sentiment last? Assuredly not. There will be -- there are already -- cracks developing as some in the media revert to the tired ways of partisan politics. But make no mistake about what you're seeing. The emotion is deep, the passion is fierce, and the patriotism is there. And so is a renewed appreciation for the important things. On Sunday evening, Fox was airing live coverage to the Mass of Supplication at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Communion had been distributed, and the choir's hymns filled the air. The camera focused on a group of nuns, perhaps a dozen or so, kneeling in silent prayer. "Look," intoned commentator Rita Cosby, "at those beautiful nuns." On this day, in this time, they were no longer just nuns. They were -- are -- (SET ITAL) beautiful (END ITAL) nuns.
These journalists aren't just doing their job. They're doing their job beautifully.