A bit past noon yesterday, a Syracuse University scholar professor carried on an Associated Press program on WEAA-FM marveled bitterly about the spectacle pulled off yesterday by the unknown terrorists.
The first hijacked plane striking the World Trade Center, she said,
did so to capture the attention of the media in the media capital of the
world. Video cameras then were unwittingly in place to capture the second
ABC News' Peter Jennings and new CNN hire Aaron Brown steered their broadcasts ably through a wrenching time. After the second tower collapsed, a shaken Jennings said: "Wherever you are in the United States or the world today, the landscape of New York City has just changed."
CNN proved the mettle of its international coverage with exclusive footage from a
videophone last night of explosions in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan. Their source of the blasts was not immediately known.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell, a savvy reporter, provided a tough-minded
assessment: "This is obviously the largest intelligence failure since Pearl
CBS' primary anchor, Dan Rather, took pains to distinguish between
what he knew from what he did not know. Even so, all the networks were
forced to correct themselves on mistaken information throughout the day -
but that comes with the territory in reporting live on breaking news.
CBS also did well to interview Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese-born Johns
Hopkins scholar who studies Arab and Muslim culture and politics. It was a
smart move on a day when many jumped to indict terrorist mastermind Osama
bin Laden. His picture was shown repeatedly yesterday morning on several
networks, initially based on little more than circumstantial evidence. The
networks could have explained the basis of such references.
All in all, however, the grown-ups in broadcast journalism proved
themselves yesterday. There were, however, less glorious moments.
During the raw minutes following the crashes, a callow reporter for
the Fox News Station stopped someone just outside the what was then the
crippled but sole standing World Trade Center building. The man, who
appeared to be a New York City safety official, was confronted with the
stereotypical TV question: "How are you doing?"
"How does it look like I'm doing?" the man snapped back, as he
attempted to return to his frantic conversation on his walkie-talkie. Until
that moment, the reporter was simply doing his job. When he persisted,
however, the official said sharply: "We've got people in there. We've got
to go - we've got to get them out."
Television had to rely on reports from correspondents on telephones,
as camera shots from the ground near the terrorist sites in Washington and
New York initially were hard to come by.
Viewers routinely were asked to absorb three streams of information -
the video, voices, and captions all over the screen - that often were about
different aspects of the day. It was at once bewildering and informative.
That was scrambled further by the local stations, which often superimposed
their own captions over the network data.
Local morning show hosts stayed on the air well past the end of the
programs. Several Baltimore journalists headed down to report from the
Pentagon, which made sense given the close ties many Marylanders have with
government and military agencies.
Press conferences with city and state officials were broadcast,
information on school and office closings helpfully doled out - all in all,
a worthwhile performance.
And yet, at the same time, some folks just couldn't stop themselves.
At WJZ (Channel 13), anchors didn't simply read public statements or
bulletins from public figures - say, Cardinal William Keeler's statement of
mourning. Instead, it was always "Eyewitness News has learned."
Indeed, the words "Eyewitness News Live!" often appeared in giant
letters on the station's broadcast, almost eclipsing the CBS footage from
the sites of the terrorist attacks. While other stations promoted
themselves too, none descended to quite those depths during this time of
confusion and loss.
Although the shots of the planes striking the tower were almost too
astonishing to be believed, CBS News carried a picture a bit later of a
smaller scene that was perhaps even more telling. As the network's
correspondents spoke, a camera showed people milling about several blocks
from the base of the crippled second tower. As smoke and dust billowed,
someone, presumably a cameraman, leaned over and wiped clear the front of
And then people started running, then racing, frantically, whipping
by the lens as the ash enveloped the area. The camera was tipped over and,
for a second or two, the network broadcast only blackness. It was a
televised glimpse into the terror that must have been felt by thousands of
Chaotic scene unfolds on national television