Of all the nauseating trends in media, few are so grotesque as the one where the press attempts to make itself the hero of the story.
It’s not only narcissistic, but it is also a violation of that journalism principle that says, “Never become the story.”
On. Sept. 7, just a few days before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the Associated Press published a preposterous bit of historical fiction claiming the “big three” network news anchors “guided” America through the first 24 hours of 9/11. This unusual responsibility fell to these newsmen, the report asserts, because government officials had gone into hiding or were otherwise unavailable.
None of this is true.
“Most Americans were guided through the unimaginable by one of three anchors: Tom Brokaw of NBC News, Peter Jennings of ABC and Dan Rather of CBS,” the Associated Press reports, crediting the three anchors with keeping the country informed throughout the day of the status and scope of the attacks.
“Those are usually duties handled by politicians who take to the airwaves at the first sign of a wildfire, hurricane, pandemic or some other disaster,” the story adds. “Yet government leaders were kept out of sight for much of Sept. 11 until it was clear the attack was over.”
It continues, quoting former Washingtonian magazine editor-in-chief Garrett Graff, who said, “They were the closest thing that America had to national leaders on 9/11. They were the moral authority for the country on that first day, fulfilling a very historical role of basically counseling the country through this tragedy at a moment its political leadership was largely silent and largely absent from the conversation.”
Yes, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when first responders were crushed to death as they scrambled to rescue survivors and the passengers of flight United 93 sacrificed their lives thwarting an attack, let us remember the real heroes: three overpaid network anchors who shed neither blood nor sweat that day.
It’d be a funny sentiment were it not in such poor taste.
Though the media landscape has changed considerably since the day Islamic terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the U.S. public at the time “had three newsmen at the peak of their powers,” the Associated Press claims.
CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter shared the article later on social media, adding some additional commentary of his own.
“Network TV anchors were ‘the closest thing that America had to national leaders on 9/11. They were the moral authority for the country on that first day,’” he said, “especially with political leaders in bunkers or otherwise out of sight.”
This is utter nonsense.
The idea that leadership disappeared on 9/11, leaving the role of “moral authority” to Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather, is a total fiction. It’s a fabrication of the press’s own making.
Then-President George W. Bush was informed at 8:55 a.m. on Sept. 11 that a commercial plane had struck the World Trade Center’s North Tower. At 9:05 a.m., the president was told a second plane had hit the South Tower.
Twenty-five minutes later, Bush, who at the time was visiting an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida, delivered a public statement, saying the country had suffered an “apparent terrorist attack.”
“Today we’ve had a national tragedy,” the president told students and his traveling press pool. “Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country. I have spoken to the vice president, to the governor of New York, to the director of the FBI, and I’ve ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families and to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.”
He added, “Terrorism against our nation will not stand.”
Meanwhile, in New York, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then-Gov. George Pataki were busy organizing rescue and relief efforts while also keeping the press and the public updated.
Exactly 47 minutes after the second tower was hit, Giuliani participated in a live on-the-street interview with a local news station in downtown New York City.
At 10:57 a.m., Pataki announced in a phone interview that all government offices have been closed.
Later, at 11:02 a.m., Giuliani urged New York residents to shelter in place. He also ordered an evacuation of the area south of Canal Street.
Then, at 1:04 p.m., Bush delivered a national address from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where he had relocated with his staff and the press after departing Florida.
“Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward,” said Bush. “And freedom will be defended.”
He added, “I want to reassure the American people that the full resources of the federal government are working to assist local authorities to save lives and to help the victims of these attacks. Make no mistake: The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.”
Giuliani then joined Fox News at 1:45 p.m. for an on-the-ground phone interview, offering updates regarding the attack and rescue efforts. He would go on to stay in close contact with local media throughout the day.
At 2:38 p.m., Giuliani and Pataki held a joint press conference answering questions about rescue and relief efforts. At 3:55 p.m., the mayor reported there had been at least 200 fatalities. He also said there were roughly 2,100 injuries.
At 6:10 p.m., Giuliani reiterated New Yorkers should stay in their homes.
At 8:30 p.m. that evening, Bush delivered an address from the Oval Office, promising justice for the attacks.
“Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature,” he said. “And we responded with the best of America – with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.”
Bush added, “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
At 10:00 p.m., Giuliani held another press conference, announcing schools would be closed on Sept. 12. He also ticked through the names of the first responders who had gone missing.
These statements all came within 14 hours of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
The only reason the “big three” anchors had anything worthwhile to say on 9/11 is because men such as Giuliani, who ended the day covered in blood and dust, committed every effort to keeping the nation informed. The credit for “guiding” America on Sept. 11 certainly doesn’t go to the network desk jockeys who spent that first day caked in TV makeup. New Yorkers certainly don’t remember it the way the Associated Press and Stelter tell it.
Insofar as “guiding” America on 9/11 is concerned, recalls National Review’s Dan McLaughlin, who was spared a gruesome death in the World Trade Center only because he was running late that crisp autumn day, “we had the president and the mayor. In NYC, we couldn’t even get two of the three networks because their broadcast antennae were atop Tower One.”
Say what you will about Bush, Giuliani, and Pataki, but that day – the day America changed forever – they were the ones who provided “moral authority” and guidance. And they did it all while coordinating wide-scale rescue efforts and intelligence gathering operations. Meanwhile, Jennings, Rather, and Brokaw, situated comfortably in air-conditioned television studios, spent 9/11 ad-libbing, speculating, and reading scripts prepared by production staff.
And most New Yorkers didn’t even see it.