On the Screen
Continually played and replayed are the terror-scenes of death and destruction. There is a limited menu of such images, and they replay incessantly. They are inter-cut with various voices, who, in the early hours especially, are rarely on screen.
The images play behind the voices of Tom and Katie and a few other NBCers and behind a parade of analysts and experts, who, through the authority of the scenes of death and destruction that play continuously behind them, derive credibility for their abstract words. Many of these voices are by telephone; yet, even when video is available, the voice’s face is on full-screen but an instant, then it’s to split-screen with the imagery of destruction, then it’s just voice-over behind full-screen destruction. Establishing this terror imagery is the primary business of the day.
The smoking tower. The second plane’s fiery impact. In slow motion, the straight-down collapse of one tower, then the other. The white cloud-rush of smoke, dust, and debris through the downtown canyon. The fleeing hoards. This awesome hard-won movie-footage played again and again at every opportunity. The aircraft-impact scene especially is burned into the consciousness so that it becomes impossible thereafter for one to see a skyscraper without imagining a plane smashing into it, or visa-versa.
The sources of these clips are rarely disclosed. Amateur camcorder? Professional network? We are not told.
Audio is mixed in with a few of these scenes. It is played at a low level, so as not to interfere with voiceovers. The roar of the collapse is hushed, almost subliminal. But, unlike CBS, NBC has in its inventory no female screaming “Oh God, no!” That soundtrack is so terror-effective. Mostly it’s the rumble and roar of collapse, the shouts and screams of the retreating crowd.
The staple in the visual inventory is a downtown panorama, shot from Brooklyn Heights. The source may be a network pool camera. Across the water, a huge white plume envelops the financial district and slowly drifts east, the twin towers gone. This is the only destruction footage shown for more than just a few seconds. It becomes the standard backdrop for the anchors, lingering for long minutes. It is a comprehensive take on the situation. It is also a safe shot, providing no detail that could prove troublesome.
“Scenes of war…financial district of the world,” intones Brokaw lazily, behind him the smoking panorama. “But now the towers have collapsed onto the ground. There is untold loss of life…smoke and dust spreads out over that very densely populated area…epicenter of a great, great national tragedy and a great loss of life.” And on and on… Brokaw is as unperturbed, as laid back as on any routine news day, as behind him Manhattan burns. A central part of Brokaw seems always to be asleep, to be comatose, through all the blah-blah that he spins out through the long hours. Perhaps he wants some part of you to sleep, too. Maybe the part that wants to ask questions.