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Businesses, news media rise to the occasion

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© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 28, 2001

Okay, it has been a shocking month all around.

I actually found myself speaking to the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce at the ungodly hour of 7:30 in the morning (meaning I had to get up at 5 and couldn't find my van because nobody had told me it is still dark at 5 a.m.) and quoting Calvin Coolidge, who said, "The business of America is business," and meaning it.

Blame it on the early hour and that I have been engaged to a Republican for more than a year and therefore suffer occasional attacks of such aberrant behavior.

And, even weirder, I meant it.

What happened to America Sept. 11 was not just an assault on human beings and steel and concrete. It was an assault on our sense of security, self-worth, trust in our neighbors and faith in our economy.

Joint blows to what was not only named but actually was the World Trade Center and to the airline industry at the same time rocked us at a different level but no less strongly than the carnage and human suffering.

My point was that business and industry have comported themselves well. Many larger insurers have said they will waive the terrorism and wartime exclusionary clauses in their policies and pay claims resulting from the disasters. Major corporations have made large cash and in-kind contributions to rescue and relief efforts, and there are hundreds of union workers out there at ground zero putting in 20-hour days without complaining.

Most media outlets have placed mission before profit in getting information out despite losses due to hours of broadcast time and pages of print unsupported by shrinking advertising revenues.

Gouging opportunities have, for the most part, been bypassed, and businesses from the mom-and-pop level on up are pitching in in a heartening way.

I also told the chamber about an exchange I had with a bright young student in a Pasco-Hernando Community College class to which I was speaking only a couple of days after the attacks.

Why, he wanted to know, did we report on those who criticize the president and U.S. policy?

My answer appeared flip on its surface, but after I thought about it awhile, I realized it was true and that it was instructive.

"Because," I said, in a paraphrase of a joke about why dogs do certain things and sometimes used sardonically by those who feel compelled to demonstrate that they have power, "we can."

Here's my point. We are a government and a society that functions on information. Sometimes we squabble about how much of it belongs in the public domain, but keep in mind, sometimes the Pentagon wants those pictures of loaded troop-carrying aircraft taking off and heading east to get out.

It's how we communicate with our government. A leader getting an overwhelming message of support still needs to hear other voices; ask the leaders from the Vietnam War who admit it would have been better if the New York Times had been able to publish the Pentagon Papers years before it did.

And it's how our government communicates with us; witness the daily parade of official and semi-official spokespersons before the cameras and poised pens of the press corps.

Because we have that basis of communication, we don't have to assassinate our leaders or have military coups to get rid of them, and they don't have to march innocent civilians into the street and massacre them to enlist our support.

Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said that whenever he went to a place that had only good news in the newspapers, he knew that a lot of good people probably were in jail.

And there is this. Once you get past the Palestinian issue, the avowed purpose of Osama bin Laden and others of his pseudo-religious extremist ilk is to remove the taint of westernism from not only the Middle East, but from the world.

Among the things they hate about us is that we "allow" our women to work, drive cars and go to school; we have a beer now and then, watch movies, listen to music and speak out when we disapprove of what those in power are doing.

They think that kind of freedom is dangerous.

I don't.

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