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By JOHN ARTHUR, Californian executive editor
READER: Does September 11 have no meaning for you? What made you decide to completely omit it from the front page on Wednesday, Sept. 11? At least we got a "Kern's Past" on page 8. Good decision....
I guess the deaths of 3,000 Americans only 12 years ago can be COMPLETELY forgotten on your front page, editorial page, special memorial pages. But our dithering president's quandary and quasi-caring for 1,400 chemically-gassed Syrians should take up two full pages, while our nation's mention got the lower 1/6 of page 22.
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Don't get me wrong: I am upset about Syria. My mother-in-law is from Damascus. She has family there, my children have cousins and relatives scattered all over Jordan and Turkey now. I have called your editors numerous times since March 2011 to keep the death tolls correct over there.
Please rectify this omission or give your reasoning....
ARTHUR: Thanks for your letter. We also received two phones calls making more or less the same point, although perhaps with not as much passion as you, Leanne!
We did mention the 9-11 anniversary on Wednesday and Thursday's front pages and had coverage inside.
In Wednesday's newspaper we had the small headline on Page 1, an editorial cartoon and a wire story, out of New York, inside the paper. Online, we had an Associated Press roundup of all the day's national remembrances prominently displayed on our website for most of the day.
Thursday's coverage was more complete: a touching Page 1 photo from Ground Zero, a local article with pictures on page 6 and a full page of national coverage on page 44, with more pictures. Online coverage was also appropriate.
Your letter got me thinking about the importance of anniversaries, about how all of us feel about these tragedies and about how the participants would feel. We still get calls before and on every Dec. 7 reminding or chastising us about Pearl Harbor anniversary coverage. Bakersfield is heavily invested in support for vets, and we cover these events regularly. We sent reporter Steve Mayer and a photographer back to Washington on one of the first Honor Flights. Steve has a regular "beat" covering local vets.
Tom Brokaw has called World War II vets part of "the greatest generation." But would not today's generation respond similarly to a similar threat? I think it would. In fact the events of 9-11 prompted a big wave of enlistments to all branches of the armed forces.
Then there are the vets like my late father. He cheated on an eye exam to get into the Navy, he served with honor in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during World War II, he won a medal for a rescue--and he wouldn't talk about any of it unless you tried to drag it out of him.
Would he be calling the paper to harangue us about Pearl Harbor coverage? No way. He did his job and that was that.
Your letter (which, as you know, was a lot longer than the edited version above) also prompted me to look around the country and see how other newspapers looked on Sept. 11, the day of the anniversary of the terror attacks.
I went to the newseum.org site and randomly looked at the front pages of 31 newspapers. I looked at several in California, at the national newspapers and at large metropolitan dailies all over the country.
In general there were three ways newspapers handled the anniversary day (remember, we are talking about Wednesday Sept, 11, not Thursday, Sept. 12):
* Papers had no mention of 9-11 on their front pages.
* Papers, as we did, had a small blurb, sometimes with a very small photo.
* Or papers had a larger front page photo, often the centerpiece of the page.
Here's what my survey showed, just for your information.
No mention of the 9-11 anniversary on the front page:
The New York Times
Los Angeles Times
The Washington Post
The Modesto Bee
The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise
San Francisco Chronicle
The Miami Herald
The Indianapolis Star
The Detroit News
Small blurb or photo:
The Bakersfield Californian
The Fresno Bee
(Long Beach) Press-Telegram
The Denver Post
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Detroit Free Press
Las Vegas Review-Journal
The Dallas Morning News
The Seattle Times
Large photo or similar display:
The Sacramento Bee
The Arizona Republic
The Des Moines Register
The Baltimore Sun
The Boston Globe
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Wall Street Journal
The Philadelphia Inquirer
What does this all prove? Not much, really. But I'm not sure we need to be castigated for choosing the approach we did. Plenty of other papers did the same thing. I don't feel that any of these approaches were disrespectful. As the lists show, there were lots of different ways to mark the anniversary.