A “9/11 Widow” on the Press & Park51

Back in May, when the words “Ground Zero mosque” began making headlines, CNN wanted to know: “As a family member of someone who was killed in the attacks on 9/11, what do you think about the decision to construct a mosque this close to Ground Zero?”

Today in a column at Salon, Alissa Torres, a “9/11 widow,” offers an answer (“of course it should be built there”) — and then some.

From Torres’s reflection on the press, Park51 and “9/11 victims” “being prodded for our outrage:”

E-mails poured in from newspapers and magazines and TV stations asking us to speak up, and we did: 9/11 victims came forward to argue for Park51, against Park51 — always referred to in that maddening, misleading shorthand “ground zero mosque.” Whether it was an evenhanded article (like Newsweek’s piece in which two mothers of firefighters shared their conflicting opinions) or any of the frustrating one-sided reports I’ve cringed over, it was hard to deny a whiff of Jerry Springer about this: All of us, in so much pain, duking it out in the public sphere. I felt saddened, confused. It used to be so meaningful to hear a victim’s voice. To listen to someone speak out. Nine years later, as I watched this spectacle unfold, 9/11 victim pitted against 9/11 victim, I had to wonder: Was it still?

But here is what’s been lost in this Park51 controversy: We are not experts, we are victims. We deserve to speak up, we need to speak up to acknowledge the pain and suffering, but we were never meant to be leaders in a national debate. Because the only thing we really know intimately is grief. The only thing we really know is what it feels like to lose a loved one in 9/11…

And I can’t shake the feeling that the media has duped us. In trying to create a controversy where there is none, in raking over wounds that — nine years later — still hurt.

Torres feels fortunate, she writes, to have had platforms since 9/11 — a book, Salon columns —“that allowed me to be more than a color quote in someone’s reported story.” How ‘bout the feature of “someone’s reported story?” Well, not this one (cringe):

In October 2001, journalists contacted my Lamaze teacher at Beth Israel Hospital, hoping she’d refer them to a pregnant 9/11 widow who would allow them to televise her fatherless child’s birth.

Torres ignored the request.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.