“Dateline NBC” news correspondent John Hockenberry’s twin daughters, Zoe and Olivia, took vastly different approaches to learning how to walk, in spite of growing up in virtually the exact same environment.

Paul Wong
Two-time Emmy winner and “Dateline NBC” news correspondent John Hockenberry discussed conclusions drawn by media in the aftermath of Sept. 11 in the Michigan Union yesterday. (LAURIE BRESCOLL/Daily)

While his daughter Olivia climbed up on furniture like a gymnast, “Zoe’s approach to walking was to remain on her stomach and flap like a manatee.”

When he eventually picked her up and put her on his wheelchair, “she proceeded to roll away in the chair.” Hockenberry realized that Zoe had been emulating her father in her attempt to gain mobility.

“They had adapted completely different pathways to figure out how they were going to do it,” he said. “There is no preordained script to the mind.”

Hockenberry, who suffered a spinal cord injury during college that left him dependent on a wheelchair to get around, said disabilities are a good indicator of how Americans react to the issue of diversity.

“There’s a story implied by a disability. We’re obsessed with ‘normal’ in American society,” he said.

Hockenberry related his story about his daughters and his experience with living with a disability to other serious subjects, such as the aftermath of Sept. 11, disabled individuals, diversity and Americans as media consumers at “An Evening With John Hockenberry,” yesterday at the Michigan Union Ballroom.

Hockenberry said during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia he interviewed the family of suspected hijackers and found “there was kind of a puzzlement and a shock” – similar to the reactions of the American victims of Sept. 11.

Hockenberry emphasized the importance of the American public becoming active consumers of media.

“Conclusions will be drawn, myths will be created, people will act on those myths. It is the responsibility of all of us to be context-providers. If there’s any lesson from Sept. 11, it is to keep that vigilance strong,” he said.

Hockenberry said the government is not doing anything substantial to alleviate the public’s fears. He used the recent color-coded alert system unveiled by Homeland Security as his evidence.

In the aftermath of Sept 11, he warned against paranoia and said, “This moment is much more important than the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. Americans should act with knowledge, not fear.”

Ann Arbor resident Brigit Macomber said Hockenberry was “like a breath of fresh air.”

“It’s nice to hear somebody speaking from a base of knowledge rather than the mainstream media syndrome that he was talking about,” she said.

Hockenberry is the author of “Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence,” a memoir about his life as a foreign correspondent. He signed copies of his recent work, “River Out of Eden” at the event. He began his career as a journalist with National Public Radio and joined “Dateline NBC” in 1996 where he has earned two Emmys.

Hockenberry, who grew up in western Michigan, chose to speak at the University because “this is an extraordinary community of thinkers.”

“Its hold continues on me,” he said. He was a frequent visitor to the University’s campus during college.

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