How The News Anchors Dealt With Events On 9/11


Marvin Kalb has done a remarkable interview with a roundtable of journalists who were front and center when the planes hit the World Trade Towers in New York City.  This is fascinating, and wonderful from start to finish.  I offer a snippet from Charles Gibson who was on ABC’s Good Morning America.   If you have an interest in the media, and journalism as I do then the entire event is worthy of your time.

CHARLES GIBSON, who recalled: “The first plane hit at 8:46, 8:46:54 to be exact. And we were in a commercial break. We had run over in the previous segment. We had to get ‘Good Morning America’ off the air at 8:55 and we had just a few minutes and we had to get in another commercial break. And Diane [Sawyer] and I were discussing what we would do. The stage manager had just yelled ‘One minute,’ and Stu Schwartz [Dana Bash’s dad], who was our producer in the control room, said in our ear, ‘Something has happened at the World Trade Center. There is fire coming out of the side of the building. We have a WABC traffic cam. You’re on the air. Go.’ And you, at that moment, have to acknowledge to yourself that you don’t know what the hell is happening. And I knew from the size of it that this was not some small plane that hit the World Trade Center as it occurred in the Empire State Building back in the forties, I guess. And we began to fill. And the pictures, obviously, went to the ABC traffic cam.

“We knew right away we were going to have to go to Special Report. So we broke for the rest of the nation to join us. And we said, ‘We don’t know what’s going on.’ And we were filling and talking to Don Dahler, who was one of our reporters, who lived in the shadow of the World Trade Center in an apartment. And he had called in. He’d heard a high whine before he heard something hit the building. And he was questioning whether it could be a shoulder fired missile. But it looked too big for that. … And madly we’re writing notes. When did the one-eyed Sheik, his group, you know, attack the building? How many people work in the World Trade Center? We got people running to try to get us information. The second plane hit at 9:02. And it is amazing how fast your brain works. I saw it come into frame. My first thought was, this is forest fire season in California. And I thought, maybe it is one of those planes with a fire retardant bucket hung underneath. And then I thought, ‘Where did he get that in New York?’ And my second thought was, ‘It’s a traffic copter.’ Those two thoughts went through my head.

“And then it hit. And you saw-you couldn’t see the building but you saw the fire come out the other side. And I will forever think to myself of my reaction on the air. Diane was the first to react. And she said, ‘Oh, my God!’ And I said, ‘Now we know what’s going on. We’re under attack.’ And were in the chair until Peter got in place in New York. … And Diane went to get as close to the buildings as she could. I was told to go up to 72nd Street on the Hudson River. And we had a boat there. And it was going to take us down to get a shot from the River. Of course, we got only as far as 50th-something Street and then the police stopped us. We couldn’t get there. But I remember going to the studio and David Westin, who was the president of ABC News, said, ‘Stand by. You are going to have to fill in for Peter because we are going to be on the air for six or eight hours straight. I think this is too big.’ And I remember saying to him, ‘David, we’re going to be on the air for six to eight days and maybe weeks.'”

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