Saturday, June 26, 2010

My General McChrystal moment


So eight years ago in the still dismal days running up to the first anniversary of 9/11, July 4 Parade Committee members joined forces with the American Legion to put on a one-year anniversary memorial service that would stand out anywhere in America. I of course was in charge of media relations.

My fellow Irish--equally family rooted in Amherst for 5 generation--friend Kevin Joy had fashioned a replica of the Twin Towers and Pentagon on a large flatbed. At first I thought/worried that somehow it would be kind of tacky turning a somber symbol into a parade float (it lead the July 4 Parade in 2002) but his artistic talent was such that it could not help but remind people of what we lost that day.

We actually initiated the ceremony on the eve of 9/11 when we held an "Irish wake" on the town common, parking the monument and illuminating it overnight with a powerful portable generator lighting system (the same ones used to illuminate Ground Zero at night for workers engaged in recovery operations) that the air wing commander of Barnes Air National Guard let us borrow.

People solemnly trudged in all night long to pay their respects.

At the break of dawn we ferried the float over to Northampton and had is slowly escorted on Rt. 9 at parade speed all the way from Sheldon Field back to Amherst town common escorted by Northampton, Hadley, Amherst and Umass public safety vehicles.

At around 8:40 AM the two hour ceremony started with speakers, but mainly I remember the ringing of church bells and brief moments of silence to mark those agonizing moments when the planes struck and those magnificent towers fell.

My main job was to get the word out so we could attract 3,000 people back to the Town Common that night to hold a candle (donated by Yankee Candle) where we had printed out all the names of the victims and gingerly attached them to each candle.

The media attention was impressive leading up to the day (considering every community in America was have a ceremony of some kind) The AP called me and said they were sending a reporter and photographer. The Boston Globe sent a reporter the day before for an extended interview and we gave her lots of our time.

Around 3:30 PM she asked if she could use my business office to finish up her story and tap the Internet to send it back to the newsroom, and I instantly agreed. Kevin and I were still busy making phone calls sending out faxes and desperately trying to make sure all the names were attached to the candles. In other words busy work, the kind that goes better with beer, but we did not have any beer.

The left leaning activist First Congregational Church in town center was also holding an event on the first anniversary having something to do with a labyrinth outlined in empty shoes with native American drummers, Buddhists and Muslims afterward sending the footware to Iraq.

Yeah, go figure. But it was still getting some media attention. I think their goal was to get 500 pairs donated on 9/11.

At one point while the reporter was still tap, tap, tapping away on her laptop in my small office and Kevin and I were bantering about that, while attaching stickers to candles, I said somewhat sarcastically, "Yeah, I'll see your 500 shoes and raise you 3,000 candles!"

Indeed nothing I EVER would have said on the record, and to this day it still sounds crass--but I was pretty wired and beyond tired at that moment.

The next morning that callous quote appears in the Boston Globe article front page Metro Section, ruining a heartfelt endeavor. I was crestfallen. Yes I said it, and no I did not tell the reporter that anything she hears in my office is "off the record." But she had stated the interviews were over and she was simply cranking out the copy.

But PT Barnum would have approved, because back then the Boston Globe was still considered the paper of record for the entire Northeast if not nation. And although the story was framed as a contest between our ceremony and the shoes-to-Iraq ceremony, the coldly efficient reporter still got everything else right.

That morning storm clouds and brisk winds dominated into the very late afternoon. A well known Amherst "peace activist" came up to me in the late morning and taunted me about the potential for high wind and rain (not great conditions for candlelight) saying we would be lucky to get "100 people to turn out" that night.

At the twilight's last gleaming, the skies cleared and the wind receded. We ended up with just over 2,000 somber citizens. Some took two candles to hold. I kept one that I will light next year on the 10th Anniversary of the saddest day for our country in my 55-old existence.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're less like McChrystal and more like Macarthur. Past your prime, living in the past, and nuts to boot.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, maybe I'll just "fade away."

Anonymous said...

Why not head up the Chinese Charter School? They could use good leadership and you would have a new challenge.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, maybe I'll just "fade away.""

We both know you love the limeight too much to do that. Just look at your recent post. Gen. McChrystal gets fired and somehow that relates to you. It's like Six Degrees of Separation to Larry. Everything relates to Larry except it's always just one degree.

LarryK4 said...

You should hear some of the stories I hold back on.

Ed said...

Larry, I can top that...

Back in the '80s, I testified to the Maine Legislature against raising the drinking age to 21 -- for basically all the reasons now being raised by the Amethyst Initiative, an association of university presidents and chancellors that supports a lower drinking age minimum to reduce binge-drinking related deaths and injury.

I predicted that college communities would be dealing with all the sorts of problems they now are 27 years later, although things like running out of ambulances and overwhelming emergency rooms seemed a bit far-fetched at the time.

I used all the stuff I had learned in my child development courses and spoke for about 10 minutes. I spoke about how adolescent rebellion is socially acceptable and that the then most popular television show was The Dukes of Hazard which essentially celebrated smashing up Dodge Chargers as two boys outran the police each week.

I then summed everything up by saying "if you tell young people not to do something, they are going to want to do it; if you tell young people that we aren't capable of being responsible, we aren't going to be."

Every television station in the state was covering this hearing, Maine is where the prohibitionist movement started with Neil Dow and the "Maine law", and at the time the state still had an active Women's Christian Temperance League.

They also had a real problem in the '70s and the drinking age had been raised from 18 to 20 to keep the beer out of the middle schools.

I was the only one testifying against this popular bill, and no one really quite knew how we had managed to kill it twice the year before. And not that the media was biased or anything, but care to guess which one sentence that they ran of me?

It got better. Back then, as now, the Bangor & Portland NBC-TV stations, (Channels 2 & 6) have a shared news operation where upwards of a third of a newscast will be the other station's people and sometimes even shot in the other station's studio.

Then, as now, I will explain something to a reporter -- I just am a little bit more careful about using terms like "deep background" and such. The Bangor station was covering this, and I knew the reporter. And I was asked why I was opposing this law with all the drunk driving carnage - if raising the age to 20 had been as effective as it was, why not go to 21 (and some were proposing 30).

The question was "won't this save lives" and I said "All this will accomplish is to make underaged drinking a hell of a lot more fun." I then went on to explain what I meant by that.

But no, at 6 & 11 PM, in Portland, Bangor and Calais, the broadcast was "saying that raising the drinking age would, quote, 'make underaged drinking a hell of a lot more fun'" and then cut to the tape of the irresponsible clip.

Larry, I understand....

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, back in the day those gatekeepers who controlled the presses controlled the news ("never mess with folks who buy ink by the barrel")

And even now you still you give an interview and rely on the reporter to edit/quote fairly.

In what is left of the mainstream media, they still get the last word...sort of.

Unless of course the misquoted, mistreated source happens to run a blog.

Ed said...

You're less like McChrystal and more like Macarthur. Past your prime, living in the past, and nuts to boot.

The MacArthur analogy is interesting because we forget how unpopular Truman was and that 19 months later Adlai Stevenson was soundly defeated by MacArthur's twin WWII General, Eisenhower.

History repeats itself and B. Hussain is going to be soundly defeated by, well, some say Petraeus -- which more than anything else may be why he was sent to Afganistan.

The simple fact is that one of Truman's incompetent schmucks neglected to list South Korea as a place where we would repel a commie invasion and they thus thought it OK to invade, and did.

I'll bash Democrats. Wilson got us into the mess that was WW-I, FDR was POTUS from 1933 onward as Hitler came to power, doing nothing "while Europe slept.", Truman got us into Korea, Kennedy got us into Vietnam and Johnson lost it for us.

That is not a good history. If you look at what is happening with Iran & Israel right now, if you look at Afganistan, these are scary times.

Anonymous said...

Ed, you are as bad on history as everything else. It was the Republicans that were the isolationists. They didn't want to join the war until Pearl Harbor woke them up.

Ed said...

Joe Kennedy (Sr) was a Republican???

Anonymous said...

William Edgar Borah (June 29, 1865 – January 19, 1940) was a prominent Republican attorney and longtime United States Senator from Idaho noted for isolationist views.

Ed said...

My Grandmother, who had FDR's picture framed with a toilet seat, used to love to quote his 1940 (3rd term) re-election campaign promise:

"I say time and time again, I will not send your boys off to a foreign war."

ed said...

Larry,

Reminder from planet earth:

You are little guy in the suburbs, practically in the middle of nowhere. Like Walter Mitty, you have a very active imagination in which you see yourself in heroic roles.

McChrystal is an international figure.

Not much similarity there.

If you had been in the reporter's shoes and had overheard something juicy, you would have slipped on your own drool trying to get that quote into a "story" somewhere. If it would have helped you tar and feather one of your adversaries, you would have tried to peddle your soul to get it some spotlight.