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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

April 29, 2007

Tombers asks an essential question…

On a gray, rain splattered day in November, 1963 I was sent home from
my Catholic school in the middle of the afternoon because John F.
Kennedy, President of the United States, had been assassinated in
Dallas, TX .

I vividly remember standing in the living room of our house on Bryant
Avenue, looking out at the streets, wet, gray and empty; water
splattered against the window panes. I recall the exact brown of the
stain on the windows; the position of the chairs in the room, and that
my mother was standing behind me when I asked in a tense, loud,
strained voice: what kind of country are we?

My young mind was attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible and to
put it within a context of the world as I knew it then, that moment, on
November 22, 1963.

When I had heard there had been a shooting at Virginia Tech, in that
hour or so between the announcement of two deaths and the pronouncement
of slaughter, I remember distinctly thinking something along the lines
of: another school shooting, two dead, okay, sounds not bad. When the
full horror of that day was revealed, I found myself slipping into a
kind of shock and the question that came to mind was that one I asked
as a child when confronted with the death of a President: what kind of
country are we?

It is the question I have not been able to shake in the maelstrom of
media madness that has pummeled us since the gruesome number of
students killed was announced. It has been wall to wall, 24/7 coverage
of this sad event.

CBS described this as “a made for TV tragedy” and that it was. And
that was certainly in the mind of the 23 year old killer who
chillingly, coldly, planned and calculated both the event and the
legacy he would leave behind: he ensured he would not soon be
forgotten. He did that when, between murders, he mailed a
“multi-media” package to NBC News in New York.

After hours of internal angst, NBC went to air with elements of that
package. While I can understand the pressures that seem to demand they
do it, I also fully empathize with the parents of victims who cancelled
appearances on The Today Show as a rebuke.

In the hand wringing, in the frustrated conversations, in the soul
searching, I have heard views as disparate as some discussing enhanced
gun control and others advocating that we all arm ourselves. Listening
to one set of commentators, their point was that if all the students
had had guns, someone would have gunned down the gunman.

As I write this, the news cycle is wearing down; Virginia Tech is
beginning to recede in the wake of newer events, also mostly tragic.

And while we are doing our hand wringing and our commentating, we are
avoiding the essential question: what kind of country do we want to be?

What struck me was that when I heard of two deaths, my response was
that it was not too bad. I/we have become inured to the staccato
stories of school shootings; they seem to have become a part of the
fabric of American life and we have ceased to be surprised by low
levels of violence. It took a shattering tragedy to make us really

My concern is that the dialogue that has resulted is circular, framed
solely to the length of the news cycle and that we will do nothing to
address the severe and fundamental issues facing the country. Those
issues are reflected by a young man, clearly in deep distress, who
killed ruthlessly and used the media to make sure he was remembered and
they are reflected by the manner in which this tragedy has been
addressed by the country. We grieve, we commentate but there seems to
be no centered will to change the course of events. We grieve and we
mourn and we have, somewhere in the quiet of our souls seem to have
accepted that all this will happen again.

In the public dialogue, we are not addressing the question: what kind
of country do we want to be. And until we in public and private argue
out that question, we will continue to fail to move ourselves in a more
positive direction, to re-discover the America we all believe exists
but somehow we have not been able to find.