Reflections on the News
There's nothing like heading to work and getting a text from your son. But this morning there was something a little deeper in his words that, on the surface, may seem pretty simple.
"Good luck today with the Boston marathon coverage."
Being a child of a father who's worked in newsrooms his whole career, my son has seen history through my eyes and my work…and has heard the stories-behind-the-stories. From 9/11 to Senator Paul Wellstone's plane crash to Barack Obama getting elected, I'd like to think he's paid more attention to life-changing events, whether he was just 8 or coming into his own at 16. So at 21, he needed no reminder to reach out to me this morning. A year ago, he followed the marathon bombings, the manhunt and arrest days later. He knew I wasn't sleeping that week, that I was working the story, that I returned to the airwaves after decades of leading newsrooms behind the scenes. Tweets re-tweeted, texts to check in, and calls to family opened his world and helped him stay connected to those who love him.
What all these tragedies have in common is…that public confidence is shaken in our institutions that we trust to keep us safe.
"All systems go, Christa?"
The marathon bombings isn't the first national tragedy I covered. As a young reporter in 1986, I was inside Christa McAuliffe's classroom a few hours after the Challenger exploded with a crew and the first "teacher-in-space" onboard. I also covered what I believe to be her last New England news conference before she headed to Florida for her mission. I remember she was filled with excitement as only a teacher could exhibit. She had wonder in her eyes and in her voice and anticipated teaching lessons from space to her students here on Earth. As she walked out of the press conference, I slipped in my finale', "All systems go, Christa?" She smiled and gave me a thumbs up as she confidently strutted by. I'm sure we slo-mo'ed that lasting image in our newscasts.
"A bridge in America just shouldn't fall down." Senator Amy Klobuchar
Fast forward to the Minnesota bridge collapse in 2007, a tragedy so profound that it became a campaign issue on the state of our nation's decaying infrastructure. 50 vehicles plunged 65 feet into the Mississippi River. 13 dead, many more hurt, a school bus filled with injured kids teetering on the edge, kids who found safety 100 yards away at the Red Cross headquarters where I worked, panicked and I mean panicked parents racing down the hill to clutch their frightened and shattered children. That moment, the moments that followed, getting miked by one of my former TV reporters, me choking back emotions and pausing for what felt like a minute as I thought one of these kids could have easily been my son on that bus, the news conferences I was asked to be part of with the Governor, Mayor and Police Chief, 200 interviews including Larry King Live, The O'Reilly Factor, greeting the First Lady, meeting the President whose first words to us were either brilliant in its calmness or ridiculous in the absurd- "Who wants a picture? Anyone want a picture?", thinking 'does he say that when he visits every national emergency?', the family members I talked to who lost loved ones….all part of deeper stories I still haven't shared with many. There are DVDs within eyesight at home…everyday they face me on a desk. They've gone unwatched almost 7 years later.
Boston holds a place in me, it's where I went to college, transformed into young adulthood and launched my career in journalism. But it was during my first visit to Boston during a college visit that I fell for the city in large part because it was Patriots Weekend. As a runner getting to watch the race in person, I knew I not only was going to school here (man, would they accept me?) but I would run the marathon the following April. Other than the day my son was born, the Boston Marathon was the greatest 3 hours (2:59:01) of my life. And that life continued through highs and lows, city to city, job to job, promotions and firings, death and divorce. So when I returned to Boston, I knew many of the steps of the city and of the 26+ miles that lead to the finish line.
"We will never be the same but we're stronger than ever." Boston Mayor Marty Walsh
Like the bridge collapse, I haven't gone back to listen to the 20+ hours of radio news coverage I co-anchored that week. Not that the story has ever been far from me. Coordinating special coverage on key dates along the past year, the bombings and manhunt have both felt too fresh, like it just happened. Today I watch the anniversary tribute with public officials, first responders, victims and survivors. "Boston Strong is about the triumph of community itself," said Governor Deval Patrick.
Beyond the Spirit
What all these tragedies have in common is, of course, the human spirit but also a dark side you won't hear on the news, read in the papers or talk about with your friends. It is that public confidence is shaken in our institutions that we trust to keep us safe.
Today's marathon tribute will give way to the actual race in six days. Public officials say they have extras eyes and ears on the race, extra security in the final two miles- more uniformed and undercover cops, 100+ security cameras, 13 ambulances and 140 medical workers. But the 'trust us, enjoy the race, be Boston Strong, don't let the terrorists win' mentality is concerning. Sure, we all know "soft targets" like a 26+ mile marathon have no guarantees for safety. And of course, no one's going to encourage people to stay away from a public event, a Massachusetts tradition, a Boston celebration. But like other tragedies, the official line at the time of the disaster always gives way to warning signs that have too often, and tragically, been ignored.
Ted Canova is the Managing Director of News at WGBH