Tv: Lobbying For A Little Restraint

As the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks draws nearer, victims' families are quietly waging a letter-writing campaign asking TV networks to provide warnings before airing graphic footage of the attacks. Carie Lemack, a 27-year-old from Boston whose mother was on American Airlines Flight 11, says that when she sees the plane going into the North Tower, "it's like watching my mother being murdered over and over again." Other families say the same. "There'll be a news show on... and suddenly it'll go to a shot of the buildings falling," says Kathy Ashton, whose 21-year-old son started work in the WTC on Sept. 10. "Before I can look away, I've seen Tommy die again." Knowing that the coverage will only increase in the weeks to come, Lemack posted a form letter on the Families of September 11 Web site; so far, hundreds of letters have been sent to national cable networks and local news stations. While none of the major networks have agreed to cue viewers, most say they are trying to keep footage to a minimum. MSNBC (a NEWSWEEK partner) has no official policy but has hired a child psychiatrist to advise on its anniversary coverage; just after the attacks, ABC News president David Westin ordered that still photos be used whenever possible; NBC News's use will be "extremely limited"; Fox News Channel will use images "judiciously with sensitive warnings"; CBS News will use images "judiciously and in an appropriate context," and CNN vows to be "ever-mindful" of the coverage's painful nature. Last week NY1 (a New York City news station) began requiring staffers to get approval from a manager before using extreme footage. Says Caroline Duncan of Rutland, Mass.: "My brother left behind a young wife and three kids who are 7, 6 and 5. They have the right to put the footage on, but why not give us a chance to avoid it?"