Another Problem at 9/11 Memorial: Restricting the Freedom of Press
The 9/11 memorial took years to construct, and only officially opened on May 21st of this year. The design, created by Michael Arad and Peter Walkner, was created as a place of solitude to drown out the noises of the city. Two large pools, where the footprints of the north and south tower once stood, fall into the largest man-made waterfalls constructed in the United States. Bronze plaques, bearing the names of those killed on the site, are emblazoned around the pools.
Like the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, this quiet and contemplative space is a place to mourn, where families of the victims and those touched by the tragedy could go and find solace.
Yet this hasn’t quite gone as planned, as numerous complaints have begun popping up, surrounding both the commercialization of the memorial and what is allowed within the space. For instance, the 9/11 gift shop at the end of the memorial has caused considerable ire, with trinkets and tchotchke sold at unbelievably high prices. It was also noticed almost immediately that while brochures were available in almost every language for visitors, Arabic was distinctly left out. Although officials at the memorial denied there was any ulterior motive, this was hardly the last issue.
During a dedication to donors, there was a cocktail party that included such guests as former mayor Bloomberg and members of the elite media. For many, and especially those with family lost, having a party so close to the remains of thousands was more than a little uncouth. One woman, who lost a family member in the towers, famously tweeted: “Did you enjoy having drinks on top of my brother’s grave last night?”
Now, it seems a new controversy has made itself known. When an accredited journalist who works for Gothamist went to the museum, she quickly found out what happens when you ask an unapproved question.
The journalist, Jen Chung, went as a normal patron and had decided beforehand she wasn’t going to conduct any interviews on the spot out of respect for the families. She remained quiet and observant throughout her trip. It wasn’t until she saw another patron criticize someone who was talking on their phone loudly and nonchalantly that she decided to ask what was going on.
She was stopped mid-question by a security guard who asked her if she was a reporter. She responded that yes she was, and he informed her that any media needed to go through the 9/11 Memorial Press Center first. She agreed, and dropped the issue, continuing through the memorial. It was then she was stopped and asked by another security guard if she was press. Chung answered again and went on her way. In her own words:
“I exited that exhibit and went to the bathroom. When I emerged, a third security guard—he appeared to be more senior-ranking because he was wearing a white shirt— pulled me aside. He inquired if I was the reporter. I said I was, and then he asked for my name and organization. I presented my NYPD-issued press credentials and he started to write down my name on a pad. Then he took a picture of my press card before saying, “I’m going to have to escort you out of the museum.”
As it turns out, all media must be cleared through one man’s office. That man is Michael Frazier, the Director of Communications at the memorial. He points to the fact that journalists can be considered ‘harassment’ to those who are there to grieve.
Chung admits that she broke the rules and thinks it was fair that she was escorted out. But also points to a bit of a strange twist. The woman who was talking happily and loudly on her cellphone was also breaking the rules. Yet she was not asked to leave, nor was she even reprimanded by staff.
It does seem a bit strange that a memorial dedicated to Americans and what America stood for would erase the freedom of the press so completely. Its one thing to try to mitigate harassment, and that is completely understandable, it’s quite another to kick someone out long after the fact on the basis of their career.
For journalists, they must receive prior written consent from the 9/11 Memorial communications president before they are allowed to head in to do their job. And even after that, their time and the spaces they’re allowed to enter can be limited by staff. As Frazier puts it, “It’s not personal.” But to those that stand firmly in the corner of freedom of press, it’s hard to imagine why a project, funded by tax dollars, would be so restrictive.