Bruce Shapiro, the executive director of the Dart Center, called 9/11 “a wake-up call for a lot of news organizations.” But with economic gloom hanging over the news industry now, adding the costs of trauma training isn’t a priority.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last four years interviewing survivors of 9/11, many sick and most full of fear. They told me how the worst thing of all has been dealing with the unending doubt. They feel betrayed whenever insurers or the compensation system or their own bosses question how dust could make anyone sick. Science, medicine, and the courts are searching for certainty before making a definitive link between the dust and disease. But I’ve learned that absolute certainty can be an elusive goal, and that it has different meanings in the laboratory, in the courtroom, and perhaps in the unspoken ethos of the newsroom.
New York State’s decision to allow uniformed responders to register for future claims can be seen as a tacit acknowledgement of the bleak future that possibly awaits those who inhaled the dust. Excluding journalists and photographers from those provisions challenges concepts of fairness and justice. For ground-zero journalists it’s painful, but no surprise. “No one wants to say that yes, this existed, because that opens up the door for anyone who was down there to ask for help,” says Gary Fabiano, the freelance photographer who took refuge at the loading dock on 9/11. He says he feels helpless to change things for himself, or for others. And he knows that no matter what happened before, the next time there’s a catastrophe and the air is poisoned, he’ll be expected to rush in, no questions asked.
And he says he probably will.