I woke up this morning and did something I hardly ever do – I turned on the morning news. For whatever reason, I flipped over to The Early Show on CBS just in time to catch co-anchor Harry Smith attempt (and fail) to wring out some extra tragedy from the bombing of the federal center in Oklahoma City, which happened ten years ago today. I couldn;t believe what I was watching.
There’s a particular iconic photograph taken on that day of a firefighter crading an infant who had perished in the bombing. Smith was interviewing the firefighter for the show. Smith started with a somber tone, asking the firefighter, Chris Fields, if today was a tragic day for him. Fields, to my slight astonishment, said he saw today as something more of a celebration of how far the city has come to rebuild and come together since the event. In other words, he was focusing on the positive rather than dwelling on the tragic negative of the past. Totally awesome, I thought.
But Smith would *not let the tragedy go*. “Take us back to that day,” Smith asked. Fields responded pretty much in the way I’d think anyone not particularly interested in milking human misery would – they were astonished and disturbed by what they found, but they got to work. “Does it haunt you at all? Is it something you’ve had to seek counselling for or anything?” Smith pressed. Fields responded by saying that, while he did rely on his support group composed of friends and fellow firefighters, the only thing that really haunts him is the prospect of such a bombing happening again, putting more people through the challenges Oklahoma City has faced.
Smith just did not seem satisfied. I’d like to transcribe exactly what he said next, but it looks like the good folks over at CBS realized how wildly inappropriate it was and excised it from their Internet replaying of the interview. So, I apologize if I get the quotes wrong, but the sentiment was the same – “Let’s go back to that photo of you holding the baby, Baylee Almon. When you held that baby in your arms, she was lifeless, is that right?” Fields seemed to hesitate a moment, but responded yes. “What was it like to lift that lifeless baby into your arms?” Fields discussed a bit about how the one-year-old had been killed by some debris from the building, but didn’t dwell. Smith then dug deeper, asking how the mother was doing now that her only child was gone. Fields, again, spoke of the strength of the mother, how she’s struggled but has come out strong – again, emphasizing the positive.
Most of the interview can be found on CBS’s Early Show web site, minus the part that makes Harry Smith look like a human misery loving douchebag plumbing the depths of a tragedy to make good TV. Major kudos to Battalion Chief Chris Fields, though, for not falling for it.
What can you say about the tragedy of thousands of live lost ten years after the fact that hasn’t already been said? The more we dwell on their deaths and how horrific it all was, the more we demean their sacrifice. Oklahoma City has risen from the ashes, as has New York following September 11. But every year the news media will continue to mark the anniversary as a time to reflect on the horrors created there, the lives lost, the blood and the gore and the sadness, all the while completely glossing over the lives rebuilt, the strong ties of a community brought together to support one another and the steps taken – both the good and the bad – to ensure such a tragedy doesn’t happen again. That fluffy crap just doesn’t sell like pictures of dead babies and bombed out buildings, does it Harry?