Editorial: What to do on Sept. 11

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There will be advertising Sept. 11. Commercial life cannot stop in this around-the-clock, we-never-close society, where countless solemn days-from Memorial Day to Thanksgiving-are, for better or worse, encrusted in commercialism. Sept. 11 is different, of course. The wound is fresh, and the approach of this first anniversary is a healthy reminder that, especially at events of national significance, advertising is at best an uninvited guest: tolerated if it is respectful and discreet, resented if it is intrusive and insensitive.

That's not been lost on most advertisers, judging by the "should we or shouldn't we" debate under way about what to do Sept. 11. But not every page in every newspaper, or every minute on every radio or TV station, will be devoted to hushed coverage of the national tragedy. Nor will every American spend the week in sober contemplation. Where media provide normal fare, that fare rightly includes advertising. Some advertisers talk about ceasing all ads on Sept. 11. That is their call. But we doubt the public expects it.

However, where special programs or sections invite Americans in to remember 9/11, that is a different space. No sensible seller would be handing out product samples or flyers at a memorial service. Nor should they "sell" in the media coverage of that memorial.

But it should be OK for businesses, labor unions or any group with the desire to be a respectful part of this anniversary to do so. It's not a marketing opportunity. The public will be quick to detect a commercial motive. It may be underwriting credits, and little more, that are viewed as acceptable. It may just be getting a company or organization name out there-because it and its employees want the rest of us to know they, too, were frightened, moved, angered and inspired by what we learned from Sept. 11. If this "advertising" gives business a more positive human face, especially now when public regard for corporations is low, that's benefit enough.

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