I'm sure you didn't miss Terrorist Attack, which ran at the nearest telly near you, 72 hours non-stop, last week. It had towering infernos, rogue airplanes, mind-blowing implosions. It also had a shadowy near-mythical villain, a wan, robocop President, and the usual cast of men behaving importantly. After mauling my remote for most of the past week and tracking reality television, I'm not so sure whether Terrorist Attack was the mother of all disaster movies—was it louder than Independence Day, or more campy than Godzilla?
Let me do a reality check. What was on show? Spectacular shots of planes hitting the twin towers at various angles and orange-hued explosions every 10 minutes, and Palestinian refugees celebrating the attacks at a Lebanon camp on the half hour (there is now a debate whether the networks dug up old incendiary footage). Then there was President Bush and New York's mayor Rudy Giuliani and governor George Pataki in an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine live telephone conversation which looked and sounded straight out of a crappy, low-budget Cold War Hollywood thriller. One network even had lachrymose studio interviews with victims' relatives—"It must have been painful," said a bleary-eyed coiffured interviewer, "to lose your husband, right?"
There were also the usual suspects, hardline former US officials—Madeleine Albright, Alexander Haig, Norman Schwarzkopf—pushing the retribution line. And Congressmen and Senators, Republican and Democrats, breaking out in chorus of 'God Bless America' on the Capitol (by the way, in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's state-run television was also playing the wtc collapse to a homegrown hate dirge, 'America is Falling').
What was, however, abundantly clear is that American television networks were in a quality free-fall, especially in the first 72 hours of uninterrupted airtime on the work of...