I’m having trouble putting into words just how valuable I think the The Television Archive‘s “Sept. 11 Collection” is. Just the other day I was thinking to myself how quickly America seemed to have recovered from, if not outright forgotten, that terrible morning. But one click and fifteen minutes of tiny digital video later, and the feeling in your stomach will prove just how deep and lasting the wound still is. Watching Peter Jennings (ABC) struggle to sort it all out is especially hard.

Simply put, like almost no other globe-rattling event in modern history, television was how the entire nation experienced those awful first hours — everywhere, live, at the same time. (I find myself thinking about the Challenger disaster, but while those images are similarly burnt into the public consciousness, I’m pretty sure almost everyone saw them later in the day in replay.) Television is at the same time a ubiquitous and ephemeral medium, taken for granted by most and seen as “disposable” (as did radio in its early days, to the great dismay of historians). Sept. 11 turned the world upside down in so many ways, but not the least of them was as an unprecedented test of TV — as an information channel, it came of age that day.

I’m glad this was done. So is the Library of Congress, the National Museum of American History, and the Smithsonian, which will use the collection in an exhibit. So are journalists and historians and everyday Americans. And I know I’ll be back. Even today it hurts too much to watch for very long.

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