WTC Photos Revisited

The subject line in the e-mail read “Apology Accepted.” It was a response from an employee at Guy Carpenter to my column of Feb. 23, in which I explained my editorial decision to run pictures of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center to illustrate a Feb. 9 story previewing the court battle over WTC insurance coverage.

A few readers had e-mailed to say I was guilty of insensitivity and sensationalism. While I stood by my decision journalistically, I did apologize to anyone who was offended by the graphic photos.

“I am sure that the notes you received concerning the WTC photos were representative of many more of us who just looked at the [Feb. 9] cover in horror,” wrote the e-mailer from Guy Carpenter, who had worked in the Twin Towers. “Thank you for caring about the readers’ feelings.”

However, to my surprise, I received a ton of e-mails about that same column from angry readers taking exactly the opposite stance. An edited selection follows:

“Bravofor the very timely cover and article on the WTC,” wrote an agency principal from Houston. “No single event in recent history has so affected the insurance industry. The cleanup of WTC goes beyond debris and grief. It affects individuals in this industry each and every dayThanks for doing what you are supposed to do–maintain awareness in this industry.”

An independent agent in Nebraska wrote to say: “We need to remember every day what can happen to our country and who is responsible. We need to remember what our men and women are fighting for. I personally thought it was a great reminder and a great pictureWe need to keep that day in our hearts and minds forever.”

An agency principal from Minneapolis e-mailed to say: “I was sorryyou felt the need to apologizeLike the death camps in WWII Germany, why shouldn’t we be reminded from time to time of the horrible acts of cowardice and inhumanity that have been played out against our fellow man?” He concluded by saying that “everyone needs to face the reality of life today–that we need to remain diligent to prevent further atrocities that would take even more lives.”

An agent from Indianapolis wrote that “as a nation we are losing our sense of outrage over this whole thing, resulting in an increased vulnerability to it happening again…As a society we need to be reminded from time to time exactly how we felt that day. Not thinking about the event won’t help prevent recurrences; remembering it might.”

An agent from Milwaukee e-mailed that “the fact that people wrote to complain about your selection of pictures for that issue is preposterous to me. The 9/11 tragedy is certainly a dark day in our historybut it is history, and is indeed relevant to the article in your magazine. To become overly sensitive and bury our heads in the sand and pretend that 9/11 didn’t happen is a sure way to have history repeat itself.”

A Southern insurance company senior vice president wrote: “Please quit apologizing for running pictures of the attacks on the WTC. America has an all-too-short memory for such issues, and it does us well to be reminded of what we, as a nation, are up against in the world todayAmericans had best get a grip on reality or sensitive feelings will be the least of our worriesShould we ban pictures of Pearl Harbor?We need to consistently remind ourselves of the sacrifices our people have made to make and keep us a free nationFreedom isn’t free and America needs to never forget it.”

I cannot say I will never use WTC photos again in NU, but the decision to do so won’t be made lightly, you can rest assured. My sincere thanks to the many impassioned readers representing both sides of this controversy who took the time to write. Your feedback is invaluable.

Sam Friedman

Reproduced from National Underwriter Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition, March 12, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.