NEW YORK — On the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Americans naturally will remember the firefighters, police officers and paramedics who made the supreme sacrifice that dreadful day. While saving or treating some 12,000 people who evacuated the burning towers, 343 FDNY members, 23 NYPD officers, and 49 other uniformed personnel were killed. At the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, emergency workers also jeopardized their safety to rescue and identify the victims of al Qaeda’s carnage.
While little equals these public servants’ valiance, the flames and smoke beckoned others as the assault unfolded. Among them, journalists showed considerable bravery and effort that day, too. Media professionals saved few lives, if any, on 9/11. Their courage and determination, however, instantly delivered images, facts, and perspectives to residents of a global village eager to comprehend what transpired right before their eyes.
The Arlington, Virginia-based Newseum has just published a book titled Running Toward Danger. Through the recollections and reportage of network anchormen, traffic-helicopter pilots, photo editors, and others, authors Cathy Trost and Alicia C. Shepard have crafted a riveting chronicle of the 9/11 atrocity and highlighted the risks journalists took to inform their audiences.
At 8:53 that morning, the Associated Press issued a simple, high-level NewsAlert: “New York — Plane crashes into World Trade Center.” As live pictures of Tower One’s mortal wounds filled TV screens, reporters sped into lower Manhattan, even as WTC employees fled in the opposite direction.
CBS correspondent Carol Marin was one such journalist. After enduring the second tower’s collapse at some distance, she later found herself racing in bare feet from the tumbling debris of One WTC. A nearby firefighter swiftly threw himself over her and pressed her against a cold, marble wall. “I could feel the pounding of his heart against my backbone,” she recalls. Swirling about them, she adds, were “the atomized parts of desks and sinks and people, I realized later.”
Though shaken, she persevered. On the DVD that accompanies What We Saw, a new Simon & Schuster/CBS News book, Marin wears a black suit coated with pulverized glass, concrete and asbestos as she recounts her near-death experience to a cool but shocked Dan Rather.
New York Post photographer Bolivar Arellano was knocked out cold in the World Financial Center after One WTC collapsed across West Street. “When I woke up, everything was dark. Two inches from my head was a piece of steel beam from the tower that had penetrated the building.” He soon realized he had been injured. “My own leg was bloody, and they tried to take me to the hospital but I said, ‘No. I can work.’” He kept shooting as his bandaged knee poked out of his shredded pants.
The cover of Running Toward Danger features a dramatic photo of Two WTC exploding just as United Airlines Flight 175 slams into it. William Biggart, an independent photojournalist, snapped this picture. Shortly afterward, the 54-year-old called his wife, Wendy Doremus, and said, “I’m O.K. I’m with the firemen.” At 10:28 A.M. he captured One WTC seconds before it cascaded back to Earth. Four days later, Biggart’s body was discovered beside those of several firefighters. Somehow, 290 of his film and digital images survived inside his battered cameras.
Six broadcast engineers who manned the antennae high atop Tower One also were murdered on 9/11. They were Gerard Coppola, WNET-TV; Donald DiFranco of WABC-TV, Steven Jacobson of WPIX-TV, Robert Pattison and Isaias Rivera of WCBS-TV, and William Steckman of WNBC-TV.
In the most twisted sense imaginable, Marwan al-Shehhi piloted history’s biggest press release into Two World Trade Center.
“The media were very much a part of the terrorists’ plan,” says Harold Dow of CBS News. “From the time the first plane went in, they gave the media time to get down there to record the second plane. These pictures were shown all over the world. That’s their trophy. That’s the sad part.”
Let’s hope these Islamofascist troglodytes have detonated their last fireball. But if not, journalists will get as close as possible to explain what happened. That’s purely instinctual. NRO’s Rod Dreher puts it well: “There are three kinds of people who run toward disaster, not away — cops, firemen, and reporters.”