(first published in print April 2002)
This is a review of NBC-TV News coverage of the September 11, 2001 event from about 10:30 AM EDT (when the video recorder, here in the Pacific time zone, finally got rolling) to 2:00 PM EDT, when officials began declaring a sort of All Clear. The choice to record NBC instead of one of the other networks was purely arbitrary and does not matter. With a few notable exceptions, they all put out the same story that momentous day, as is the case on any day. A tape of the earlier hours would be valuable. Also valuable would be a recording made from a local New York City channel. But one should be grateful for what one has. There is plenty here. One advantage in switching on a recorder for an event like 911 is that it may capture some spontaneous “on the ground” reportage later forgotten.
1. On the Ground
At 10:38 AM we are just ten minutes past the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower. Pat Dawson is one of the few NBC reporters filing from downtown.
Excited, almost breathless, Dawson reminds us that the towers are one hundred and ten stories each. “What I saw fall had to be forty or fifty stories of that building at first. The skeleton was left at, I’d say, the fiftieth or fortieth floor, after the shell fell down. The steel—was literally sheathed off, and it took probably another thirty seconds before the skeleton crashed into the street.”
This is an example of an on-the-ground report with some substance, some eye-witness detail. Unfortunately, as the day wears on, such reports become progressively more rare, and the challenge facing the NBC News to produce thirty-six hours of marathon non-stop, commercial-less airtime is met by airing selected voices of “analysts” and “experts” who are remote from the impact scene.
At 11:20 AM Dawson is back for less than a minute from downtown. He reports police are ordering an evacuation of the area due to a bomb scare at Stuyvesant High School. Dawson is told to move northward.
Then its not until 11:30 AM that we get another report from lower Manhattan, this time from an agitated and somewhat disoriented Ashleigh Banfield of MSNBC. Banfield guesses that she is “just about, uh, five to ten blocks north of the actual site of where those two towers have come down.” She admits, “We are obviously having a bit of trouble maintaining our location.”
“We just heard one more explosion,” continues Banfield, “That’s about the fifth one we’ve heard. Police are telling us they’re either car bombs or they’re simply cars that have overheated so much they are exploding.” Banfield reports how she and her producer narrowly escaped a suffocating cloud that roared down the street following the collapse. They broke a window and retreated into an apartment. “That is the dust cloud we were in,” she says, breathlessly, pointing behind her. Camera swings to view of clouded avenue, then back to Banfield, who’s bending down and picking something up off the cluttered street.
“I want to show you something, if I can. See if you can zero in on this. This is the kind of debris we’re seeing all over the ground.” (She holds up a piece of paper burnt around the edges.) “You can see the address,” continues Banfield, “One World Trade Center—trade center—trade center.” And five times this broken record. Then a beep, and audio ceases. Then video flashes off.
The next voice is that of the Today Show’s Katie Couric, “OK, we are obviously having technical problems with Ashleigh Banfield, who is on the ground at the World Trade Center,” says Katie, who is serving as a co-anchor at NBC News midtown studios this eventful morning.
Then anchor Tom Brokaw breaks in. He takes our attention far away to the Pennsylvania crash scene. Not to any on-the-ground, mind you, for there is no reportage from that mystery scene whatsoever, just a single view of burning wreckage from a great, great distance, and Brokaw’s voice-over.
The American viewing-public, riveted to NBC and panting with curiosity, is not availed of another on-the-ground until 11:36 AM, when the anchors turn their attention back downtown ever so briefly. Again its with Banfield. She is being pushed away by a Port Authority policeman in a white uniform wearing a breathing mask.
“We’re clearing the area for only emergency personnel, either law enforcement or medical,” he shouts at her through his mask.
He means “no press.”
But Banfield bravely persists. She is trying to interview the cop. “Do you know anything about those extra explosions we have heard?”
“No, I do not,” says the cop, trying to break away from the reporter while at the same time trying to push Banfield and her crew and all other media out of the area.
“Were they car bombs?” she insists.
“I have no idea, maam.”
“What about the sewers? Are they looking for bombs in the sewers?”
He ignores her. He walks away. She holds her turf. Then, suddenly, in an awkward transition, the audio switches back to Tom and Katie but with Banfield still on the screen talking earnestly into the camera. Her audio has been cut off. Now its back to the anchors.
Tom and Katie make no comment on Banfield’s explosives report. They take no issue with, and make no comment about, the banning of the press from the WTC area.
Soon after 911, NBC News will send Ashleigh Banfield off to Afghanistan.
Tom and Katie are now with MSNBC reporter Ron Ansana, who is in the studio with them. Ansana is just back from assignment downtown. He is a survivor, an escapee from the collapse. He wears a coat and tie but remains a bit disheveled, with “dirt and debris in his hair and on his jacket,” notes Katie.
Ansana was in the streets near the south tower when it collapsed. “We could see it disintegrate, and we looked up and could see elements of the building come down, and we ran. We ran through a quarantine zone, actually. And, honestly, it was like a scene out of Independence Day,” says Ansana. “Everything began to rain down around us. It was pitch black, as though the winds were ripping through the corridors in lower Manhattan. I ducked around a corner, got into a car. It was nighttime..”
Tom: “Was this the first tower that collapsed?”
“Yes, I do believe it was the first tower, the south tower, and (pause, takes a deep breath) as it was coming down”
Tom asks, “Once it began to clear, after the several minutes of pitch darkness, what did you see in the streets, then?”
“It was really deep gray smoke. It honestly looked a bit like nuclear winter, something you see in the movies, with ash all over the ground, on top of cars, on police cars, on windows.”
Katie wants Ansana to talk about injuries. “One policeman had a deep gash in his forehead—A young lady had shrapnel in her arm.” Katie asks about “peripheral damage.” Ansana says, “I imagine the collateral damage was enormous.”
The Ron Ansana interview is once-removed from being on-the-ground with the event. He is back home midtown at NBC in Rockefeller Center. “Independence Day,” “nuclear winter”, and “collateral damage” are interpolations, hardly the spontaneous grit of the reports from Dawson and Banfield.
Nuclear winter is in the same metaphorical domain as ground zero, yet to be introduced. Epicenter plays for a while at NBC today. There is, evidently, a commitment to atomic imagery. Why?
Ansana refers to his running through a quarantine zone, but the term is never defined.
It is nearly thirty minutes before the curious viewer is granted another on-the-ground WTC report. This comes from Pat Dawson and is notable for obvious reasons.
At 11:56 AM Dawson is reporting on an interview he had conducted “just moments ago” with Albert Perry, Chief of Fire Safety for the Fire Department of New York City.
Dawson: “Perry told me that shortly after nine o’clock he had ten alarms, roughly 200 men, in the building trying to effect a rescue of the civilians who were in there. And, basically, he received word of some kind of secondary device, that is, another bomb going off.
“He tried to get his men out quickly as he could, but he said there was an explosion that took place. And an hour after the first hit, the first crash [that] took place, there was another explosion in one of the towers here.
“According to his theory, he thinks there were actually devices that were planted in the building.
” One may have been in the plane. A second device, he speculates, was probably planted in the building.
“So that’s what we’ve been told by Albert Perry, who is chief of Safety for the New York City Fire Department, just moments ago,” reports Dawson.
Dawson goes on, “Now we are continuing to hear explosions here downtown.”
Dawson reports that “the whole area is cordoned off and that rescue workers are waiting to get in.”
“But the bottom line,” Dawson concludes, “is that he, Albert Perry, said that he probably lost a great many men in those secondary explosions, and he said that there were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people in those towers when the explosions took place.”
End Dawson, and its back to midtown and Brokaw. Tom has nothing to say about the Dawson-Perry report. Rather, he segues immediately to some video footage from far, far away: street scenes said to be of Palestinians celebrating the disaster.
Christian Martin, producer of NBC’s Dateline, is interviewed in the studio at 12:30 PM. He was caught near the collapse, like Banfield and Ansana. He talks of the “force of the blast coming down the canyon.” Martin managed to shoot a few seconds of video as he crawled under a car for protection. It shows sections of the tower facade breaking away and falling to the ground. The footage is shown and it is re-shown
At 12:42 PM, NBC’s Ann Thompson, another escapee, reports that she was at Broadway and Fullerton, trying to get to the burning WTC, when “we heard an explosion,” from the first tower, and a “wall of debris” came toward her. She said it took five minutes for the cloud to pass. She retreated into a building for safety.
At about 10:30 AM, Thompson says she had come back out into the street. “We walked down Broadway toward Canal and we heard the second explosion” A fireman told her to get out of the building “because, if there was a third explosion, the building they were in would become dangerous.”
Thompson, too, has her report interrupted by a cop in a breathing mask who motions forcibly to her to move away.
Dawson files one more downtown report in which he reiterates the Dawson-Perry report, and another unmemorable report about the Red Cross center, and then he is off for the day. There will be a few eyewitnesses interviewed by telephone. The Ansana studio interview is replayed. (Dawson’s and Banfield’s WTC reports are not.) Then reports of any substance regarding downtown taper off into almost nothing.
2. On the Screen
Continually played and replayed are the terror-scenes of death and destruction. There is a limited menu of such images, and they replay incessantly. They are inter-cut with various voices, who, in the early hours especially, are rarely on screen.
The images play behind the voices of Tom and Katie and behind the voices of a parade of analysts and experts, who, through the authority of the scenes of death and destruction that play continuously behind them, derive credibility for their abstract words. Many of these voices are by telephone; yet, even when video is available, the voice’s face is on full-screen but an instant, then the voice shares a split-screen with the imagery of destruction, then it’s just voice-over behind full-screen destruction. Establishing this terror imagery is the primary business of the day.
The smoking tower. The second plane’s fiery impact. In slow motion, the straight-down collapse of one tower, then the other. The white cloud-rush of smoke, dust, and debris through the downtown canyon. The fleeing hoards. This awesome hard-won movie-footage played again and again at every opportunity. The aircraft-impact scene especially is burned into the consciousness so that it becomes impossible for weeks thereafter for one to see a skyscraper without imagining a plane smashing into it.
The sources of these clips are rarely disclosed. Amateur camcorder? Professional network? We are not told.
Audio is mixed in with a few of these scenes. It is played at a low level, so as not to interfere with voice-overs. The roar of the collapse is hushed, almost subliminal. But, unlike CBS, NBC has in its inventory no female screaming “Oh God, no!” That soundtrack is so terror-effective. Mostly its the rumble and roar of collapse, the shouts and screams of the retreating crowd.
The staple in the visual inventory is a downtown panorama, shot from Brooklyn Heights. The source may be a network pool camera. Across the water, a huge white plume envelops the financial district and slowly drifts east, the twin towers gone. This is the only destruction footage shown for more than just a few seconds. It becomes the standard backdrop for the anchors, lingering for long minutes. It is a comprehensive take on the situation. It is also a safe shot, providing no detail that could prove troublesome.
“Scenes of war; financial district of the world,” intones Brokaw lazily, behind him the smoking panorama. “But now the towers have collapsed onto the ground. There is untold loss of life—smoke and dust spreads out over that very densely populated area—epicenter of a great, great national tragedy and a great loss of life.” And on and on— Brokaw is as unperturbed, as laid back as on any routine news day, as behind him Manhattan burns. A central part of Brokaw seems always to be asleep, to be comatose, through all the blah-blah that he spins out through the long hours. Perhaps he wants some part of you to sleep, too. Maybe the part that wants to ask questions.
3. Official Voices
“Just the beginning,” declares Brokaw at 10:50 AM. “The U.S. will change because of this,” Brokaw says with great certitude. “This is going to change this country completely.” He then introduces the voice of Brian Livingston, “an expert on terrorism.”
“How many groups could do this?” Tom wants to know.
“Very few,” says Livingston, who has already narrowed down the list of suspects. “We have to be cautious,” he adds circumspectly, “but we have to look to the Middle East—We have to look at Osama bin Laden”
At 11:01 AM Tom interrupts himself for breaking news: “We have a report here that Osama bin Laden, who is often identified as the world’s leading terrorist, warned three weeks ago that he and his followers would carry out an unprecedented attack on U.S. interests for its support of Israel, an Arab journalist with access said Tuesday in London.” Tom is evidently reading from his teleprompter.
“Abdul Bari Aswan, editor of the London-based El Arabi newspaper, said that Osama bin Laden was most certainly behind the attack on New York. Quote: ‘Its most likely the work of Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden warned three weeks ago that he would attack American interests, a very big one,’ Aswan told Reuters.”
Media watchers still speculating on where, in the global mass-media network, the bin Laden story might have originated will appreciate how this item points to the UK, to London, to Reuters.
“That’s the first we have had that Osama bin Laden may have been responsible,” says Tom, evidently appreciating the certification by Reuters.
Katie persists; its as if the news directors are holding a fire under both her and Tom so that they keep pushing: “Let’s talk a little bit more about Osama bin Laden,” continues Katie, “because he was associated with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.”
Taking the cue, Tom proceeds to profile the suspect: “He is a zealot of great, dark passion,” waxes Brokaw.
Katie: “Brian Livingston, our terrorist expert, is standing by on the phone. Brian, tell us more about bin Laden.”
“He has to be included in any very, very short list,” the expert states confidently. “But it is premature to say with any real confidence exactly who is responsible,” now demurs Livingston, who has already uttered the magic name.
At this moment, 11:07 AM, filling the screen in living color is the first photo-portrait of Osama bin Laden himself.
Continues Livingston, “From universes of like-minded fanatics, people have been able to put together these ad-hoc conspiracies.”
Tom then takes us to D.C. and Tim Russert, NBC News Washington Bureau Chief. He is on camera with Congressman Porter Goss, head of the House Intelligence Committee. Goss leads a parade of intelligence insiders. Mostly they are off-screen with the destruction playing over their words, which soon becomes the case with Congressman Goss.
the price of freedom
Russert asks vaguely, “How could something be this vulnerable?”
“Well,” says the Congressman, “we are a free and open democratic society. We take pride in that. But we pay a price for it.” He says, “Some kind of organization has orchestrated this.” He goes on to defend the intelligence establishment. “But we don’t get it all, and we’re just going to have to rethink how we do business in todays world.”
Pressing on in a familiar direction, Russert asks, “As an honored CIA agent and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, how many terrorist organizations in the world are capable of carrying out this kind of attack?”
“Only a handful,” says Goss. “More if you’re dealing with state-sponsored terrorism. But here we have a loose association of people who have the same goal, which is an anti-United States goal. They’ve found a way to get together and pull this thing off.”
But this is as far as Goss is willing to go, and he digresses into advising patience and good intelligence and finding the perpetrator. He also advises against “provocative acts.” Saying this, Congressman Goss is promptly excused.
national security event
We segue here to Ashley Banfield’s truncated bombs-in-the-sewers report and thence to Ron Ansana’s nuclear winter interview. On the screen the lofty towers fall, again and again.
Tom takes us from the “epicenter” to some of his own commentary, now with the downtown panorama as the backdrop: “Not just a national tragedy but a national security event,” intones Tom. “We are at war,” states Tom with presidential certitude. He adds ominously, “We are going to have to revisit a lot of our freedoms.”
Katie over footage showing no more than twenty in the streets. The report she introduces as “an upsetting wire that came in over the transom from the West Bank.” (Over the transom?)
Reading: “Thousands of Palestinians celebrated Tuesdays terrorist attacks, chanting “God is great and distributing candy to passersby.”
“We are so vulnerable because of all the things that make us so great, our freedoms and the sense of security we have,” declares Tom, “But America has been changed by all this,” he continues presidentially, in lieu of any real president being in view.
Reports come in from Washington at 11:20 AM that the State Department has been evacuated, for no particular threat, it is said, and all nonessential personnel have been evacuated from the CIA at Langley.
Later it will be learned, though not through NBC, that the CIA’s second largest installation after Langley had been located in the WTC complex and now is debris.
This type of material WTC news is being systematically filtered out at NBC. One wonders in vain: Who were the business tenants of note in those towers? What major brokerage houses? What is known about their loss? How about an aerial shot, or even a tourist map of the multi-building WTC complex, showing the distribution of the damage? (Later the 50-story WTC Building Seven will be reported to have collapsed. Why?) Are there not some New York TV channels and radio stations off the air due to the destruction of that antenna tower we see falling again and again? What about other telecommunication facilities and financial information networks? And on and on and on. One is just left wondering.
Senior CIA officials were still holding meetings at Langley, Katie reports. (They have plenty to talk about.)
Then at 11:45AM its on to the first of a series of appearances by NBCs chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell. A bona-fide insider, Andrea is married to Fed chairman Allen Greenspan, no less.
Says Andrea Mitchell, “The working theory is that there is only one terror organization in the world that could coordinate this kind of event, and that is operated by Osama bin Laden—He is in Afghanistan protected by the Taliban.”
This is the very first mention of Afghanistan.
The images of destruction on the screen once again give way to the full-screen visage of bin Laden.
Andrea: “As we all know, the United States has warned that if there were any attacks, Afghanistan would be held responsible.”
Andrea Mitchell, whether she likes it or not, has evidently been designated to serve as NBC’s in-house point person for the bin Laden theory..
Later in the day Andrea is still at it but getting a bit fatigued with the duty of maintaining this weighty theory on such tenuous foundations. She has found an old quote of CIA director George Tennet’s contention, before the Senate Intelligence Committee back on February 7, that “only one person was capable of sophisticated multiple attacks on us with no warning, and that was Osama bin Laden.”
She pushes on, “Now, obviously, there are other collateral groups, groups, such as al Fatah based in Egypt, that are clearly associated with him, and its very easy [falters here] to, uh … Warren Rudmen has, uh, warned us to [falters seriously here, trying to get it out] — speak — without, er, knowing — fully who-was-really-responsible [this last uttered very rapidly], but clearly he is at the top of the list of possible suspects — because of motives, because of means, because of opportunities, because of finances—”
She falters again here as she tries to identify Osama bin Laden with the WTC bombing back in 1993. Tom steps in here to rescue her, but she’s right back on in a moment, and now she’s free-associating strangely about how the president can safely travel to meetings in such times.
Andrea then, disjointedly, recalls what the situation has been with the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund when they try to meet. “We’ve seen that these meetings cannot be held as we envisioned, and cannot be held very effectively,” she laments.
Andrea, in her meandering, seems to be saying that the cure for this globalist headache is a national security event such as todays. Well, what’s a war for, anyway?
Hijacker. terrorist, suicidal, Arab, bin Laden. This is the vocabulary with which NBC News, spins for us an explanation, a story. Never mind the suspicious alacrity with which the story is cast in stone as the final official truth. NBC has seen to it, by so effectively projecting the terror-imagery, that it is spinning this story to a traumatized and grieving public. NBC knows, just as any funeral director knows, that, in this state of deep susceptibility, nobody is even going to think, much less ask, any embarrassing questions.
For the NBC masses, the cardboard bin Laden villain will do. For the PBS/NPR intelligentsia, more aware of U.S. military and covert adventures abroad, there will be the “blow-back” theory. For both, the media will direct the publics attention far away from the smoking tangle of unanswered questions here on the ground in the USA to the bombing of Afghanistan and the pursuit of the elusive Osama bin Laden.
In retrospect one can see how NBC and the rest had primed the collective consciousness for the event, how the nebulous word terrorist had already been well established in the daily vocabulary, and how the Arab Palestinian suicide-bomber model had been cranked up lately in Israel by deliberate provocations. NBC knew that it had already imprinted in the public memory, by endless repetition, the words and imagery that would enable this brainwash to go down.
And, lamentably, it seems to work. The mythology, the official story, the vocabulary, the spin, takes hold. The official language soon becomes so well embedded in the culture that even protesters against the government and its war, for lack of an alternative terminology, have difficulty not echoing the official vocabulary in their own rhetoric. Thus even they may inadvertently buttress the propaganda.
At 11:35 AM New York mayor Rudolf Guilianni makes his first appearance. Guilliani will enjoy a very special visibility around 911, an exalted status way out of proportion to anything he does in his role as mayor. The primary election for the mayor’s successor, scheduled to be the big event in New York today, has been canceled, leaving Guilianni still solidly the mayor, rather than a lame duck. There is talk from on high that, in this emergency, Guilianni might conceivably continue on as mayor, term limit law notwithstanding.
Guilianni will advocate no inquiry into the circumstances that killed 200 of his city’s firefighters this morning. Guilliani comes on camera to say only that “a tremendous number of lives have been lost.”
NBC and the rest will install the Mayor on the central pedestal in the pantheon of 911 heroes, flanked by his firemen and police, both the quick and the dead. Ultimately, the hero Mayor gets knighted by the Queen.
The hero spin gets laid on thick with stars and stripes. Considerable cosmetics will be needed to distract the public from the perception that thousands of lives were considered expendable in the execution of this stratagem called 911.
Tom and Katie interview New York’s former police commissioner, Ray Kelly, who presided at the time of the 1993 WTC bombing. Kelly makes the startling out-of-the-NBC-box revelation that “the Center for New York Emergency was in one of those towers (Building Seven), on the seventh or eighth floor—It was moved there just a few years ago,” he says. “It was a state-of-the-art facility designed to coordinate 40,000 police, fire, and emergency medical personnel.” Kelly says that police and fire are now trying “to get by with coordination from mobile units.”
This is yet another interesting on-the-ground item that slips out and never gets followed up on.
At 11:55 AM it’s reported from NBC in Washington that when all this came down the President had been in Florida, of all places. Replayed is the tape made by the President earlier at Barkdale Air Force Base (“Hunt down and find those folks who have committed this act.”). The President is elusive, for all practical purposes invisible.
Now at 12:06 PM it’s to Washington and NBC’s Campbell Brown. With the White House in the far background, she stands outside in the sunshine looking well groomed and very cute. Campbell announces that “no one knows where the president is.” She goes on to speculate whether Bush will be put on the “Doomsday Plane.” An aerial command center with the most sophisticated communications, the Doomsday Plane can be refueled aloft and fly around with the fugitive government indefinitely, if necessary.
At 12:08 PM, New York governor George Pataki is interviewed. Asked about the “economic impact,” the governor says he does not want to comment. NBC itself has no comment on this issue. Human resources up in smoke. Burned and shredded paperwork covering millions of transactions. Destroyed computer files. The loss of data at the WTC must be tremendous. Tons of gold bullion lie beneath the rubble. These are among the many issues considered unacceptable for discussion at NBC. The economic issues will be consistently dodged and ultimately be reduced to speculations on whether the stock market will reopen next Monday.
Today the rhetoric is united-we-stand-for-business-as- usual. But, subliminally, the World Trade Center implosion visuals, repeated again and again, burn into the public psyche the most powerful metaphor imaginable for catastrophic economic collapse.
buddy of Kissenger
The burning panorama behind him, Brokaw brings on the voice of General Norman Schwarzkopf, now an NBC News analyst, and raises the issue of “an airplane as a flying bomb.” Responds Schwarzkopf: “Yes, Tom Clancy wrote a book about it: plane into the Capitol.”
Scenes of collapse on screen, then back to the smoking panorama.
Schwarzkopf is put on hold as Tom introduces a very grim looking Paul Bremer, U.S. ambassador to and chairman of a supra-governmental entity called the International Commission on Terrorism. Prompted by Brokaw in the usual direction, Bremer begins “There are many possible candidates,” and then goes on to put You-Know-Who at the top of the list. Bremer is a national security insider and an associate of Henry Kissinger. Soon Bremer will become the chief administrator of post-war Iraq.
“How is this country going to change,” asks Tom pushing Bremer in another familiar direction. “Domestic Pearl Harbor,” says Bremer and he goes on to call for a massive military response. “Once the perpetrator is identified,” says Bremer (who has already identified the perpetrator), “we must retaliate with full force.”
Given his insidership, what with being a buddy of Kissinger and all, one wonders if the bin Laden memo everybody is reading from might have originated at Bremer’s own desk.
Both Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton’s former national-security advisor, and James DeWitt, who was Clinton’s man at FEMA, now get interviews. Unfortunately, both of these are interrupted by local news.
Over to Washington again and to NBC’s very grim looking Robert Hager, He notes that the Pentagon was struck on the face directly opposite to, and the maximum distance from, the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Views of the Pentagon on the screen are limited to one or two long shots from a distant freeway. There is not much visual detail. Again, there are no aerial views.
Hager has been talking with FAA and has learned that in a hijacking, because the pilot is assumed to be unable to radio, there is “a button that can be pushed that secretly sends a code alert to flight control indicating a hijacking.” Hager says that one could “assume that this happened in all four cases, but we just don’t know.”
Brokaw reiterates the standard “suicidal Arab terrorist hijacking” assumption. General Schwarzkopf, still on the phone, joins in with “obviously, somebody was at the controls to guide the plane there.”
This remark could be called disingenuous, for who would know better than the General that the technology of pilotless aircraft is all the rage in the military these days, and that the technology has been capable of the feat since the late 1970s? In today’s airliners, an anti-hijacking technology can take away a pilot’s control of the aircraft and pilot it remotely. To the alternative theorist, a robot-plane scenario is tempting because, automated, so few could carry out the deed. In the military, automation, the electronic battlefield, has been the big developmental focus since Vietnam.
The same goes for intelligence-gathering, evidently, for next we have Schwarzkopf expressing regret over how our agencies had dismantled their “human intelligence capability” for the technological. “We used to get people to infiltrate,” the General laments. Tom breaks away to introduce some new video clips of the “nuclear winter downtown,” but not before Schwarzkopf gets in his own comparison with “Pearl Harbor.”
Tom is saying about the nuclear-winter devastation that it is “as effective as if a bomb were dropped there. Airliners hitting buildings, which came down, we presume,” he qualifies, finally remembering the Dawson report, “because of the initial explosion. There may have been secondary explosions detonated in the building placed there by these terrorists.”
So admits Tom Brokaw here at 1:41 PM on September 11. But never again.
In a brief little on-the-ground, Tom phone-interviews a WTC worker named Robert Harper, who, arriving late, saw both planes hit. He saw people jumping from the building’s seventy-eighth floor. Harper says, “As the collapses occurred, people were afraid the buildings would topple into others, like the Woolworth tower.”
But, of course, this did not happen. Somehow, both imploded and dropped straight down, the way it would happen in a controlled demolition. When viewed running backwards on the VCR, the structures soar straight up, like footage made from a series of elapsed-time photographs taken during construction.
One clip shows the upper stories of the antenna-bearing north tower falling first in a tilt that, phenomenally, corrects itself into a straight-down collapse along with the rest of the structure. When the antenna hits the ground, it buries itself in a perfect vertical.
NBC calls in no engineers, architects, or demolition experts to explain the mysteries of the dual collapse. We are left to wonder how a fire, started by kerosene and maintained by office materials, can fuse structural steel members, when slow work with an oxy-acetylene torch is normally required.
Of course, NBC News has already inadvertently provided explosive on-the-ground evidence for a controlled-demolition explanation, but, apparently, this evidence is difficult to reconcile with today’s Operating Theory, which will soon be cast in stone as the immutable Official Truth.
The inconvenient evidence must be covered up. It must be shredded, so to speak. Doesn’t this say something about NBC’s own complicity, its culpability?
In place of any deliberation over some hard evidence already in its own hands, NBC repeats again and again the suicidal-Arab-terrorist-hijacker-bin-Laden story to the exclusion of any other possible scenarios. Thus the official truth is established by totalitarian force. Media critics commonly talk about “bias” and “distortion,” but what we are dealing with here is the proactive propaganda. NBC is spinning 911 out of whole cloth. Rigorous censorship is, of course, essential.
Tim Russert, is back at 1:45 PM. “The Social Security lock-box doesn’t seem so important,” says Russert, who evidently has a golden retirement plan there at NBC.
“Nothing will be the same after September 11,” Russert goes on. “Absolutely unified for striking back —everybody knew we could get a terrorist attack.” (Indeed, NBC interviews many experts who say they are “not surprised.”) Russert says the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was headed for either the Capitol or the White House. “Thats the operating theory,” says Russert. Operating theories dominate the day.
At 2:00 PM Brokaw introduces another Clintonite, former national security advisor Anthony Lake. (Suddenly, Bill Clinton, like Giulliani, is in good standing, and old Clinton administration people are coming out of the woodwork.) Lake has recently written a book of terrorist-attack scenarios.
Tom asks Lake, “If you were back in your old office in the White House, what would be your recommendation in terms of suppression of some of our normal liberties in this country?”
Lake doesn’t take this bate. After some circumlocutions, though, he gets his stride. “We need to recognize that there is only one group that is trying to kill Americans today, and that is these terrorists. We are at war with them. And it is not enough for us to attack simply on an American basis. We need to develop a global strategy for a global alliance for a global war,” says Lake, who himself would be making the declaration of war here had not Tom done that already.
At 2:05 PM NBC’s David Bloomer reconstructs the WTC destruction timeline:
8:47 AM First plane hits south tower.
9:03 Second plane hits north Tower.
9:40 Pentagon hit.
9:59 South tower collapses.
10:28 North tower collapses
This becomes the official timeline. It will be the timeline that will be entered into the Warren report on 911, if such an official investigation is ever ventured.
But independent investigators will protest. That which is at issue is in bold face above, for close scrutiny of this Zapruder-like footage, including the destruction clips on hand here on video tape, tell another story, one in which the north tower is hit first but mysteriously collapses second.
On Wednesday afternoon (according to the fifth cassette from the VCR, which was kept rolling for thirty hours), NBC plays, inadvertently, a rerun of some of its Tuesday morning footage (material aired live too early to make the first VCR cassette on which this work is based). Here the NBC voice has the south tower getting hit second. All the clips on NBC and the rest show the south tower hit second. And it is struck obliquely, near a corner, so that the bulk of the fuel either explodes outside or is spewed, not into the towers interior, but out the other side in a wide arc into the street, where firefighters will report it pooling “ankle deep.” So there was less igniter fuel, less fire, and less heat to contribute to the presumed meltdown.
So tell us Tom, Katie: Why did the wrong tower fall first?
But Bloomer moves right along here to more of the who-done-it. He follows the criminology standards now firmly established for the occasion at NBC. (Would you want to be investigated as a criminal suspect under these criteria?) Says Bloomer, “There is no claim of responsibility yet, but we certainly can tell you what senior intelligence, both in this administration and the Clinton administration are telling us, that the prime suspect is clearly Osama bin Laden.”
Brokaw: “It goes without saying, no matter who is responsible, this is an act of war on the United States—a Pearl Harbor” —and on and on.
And so it went at NBC in the marathon news special of September 11, 12, 13 …
At 2:00 PM on September 11, 2001, the basic situation on the ground nationally is this:
All air traffic is grounded, and will remain so for four days. Other transportation systems are at or near a halt. Authorities tell the public to stay home. Workplaces are emptied. The machinery of civilization grinds to a halt.
All normal mass communications are halted, usurped and focused as one exclusively on the national security event. It is a de-facto news blackout. All local radio and TV facilities surrender airtime to a few centralized network news departments like NBC’s. There is no independent news anywhere. Some local radio stations resort to carrying one or another major news networks TV audio. All media give the same official interpretations of the events. There is no news or commentary anywhere beyond the bandwidth of Tom and Katie.
(The Internet, of course, is the big exception. And it is the big unknown. Months later the web will continue to churn with views of the event that deviate from the official truth according to Brokaw. Parallel with the seamless propaganda of the conglomerated and controlled mass media, there is the anarchy of the web. How will this all play out?)
In New York, authorities ban all but emergency vehicles from entering the island of Manhattan, and traffic is down to a mere trickle. Skyscrapers are evacuated, even in midtown, including NBC’s (except, of course, for Tom and the rest of the marathon news staff). Downtown, the area of destruction is closed off river to river, and gradually the line of closure will be moved inexplicably northward up to Canal Street, then Houston, then, by nightfall, all the way up to Fourteenth. A martial law is in effect. Residents must pass through military checkpoints and show proper identification, just to get home.
The borders are closed.
All national monuments are closed.
Ports around the nation close.
Disney World is closed.
Many of these closures are inexplicable. Airports and skyscrapers close in cities not even vaguely threatened by the so-called “attack.” There is a unanimous official understanding coast to coast that a gigantic punctuation mark must be instigated, a manifest pause in the public flow, after which “everything will change.”
There is a great pause in the process of government.
Congress is dark.
The president is missing. Is he in Florida? In Louisiana? Orbiting in the Doomsday Plane? Heading back to Washington? No one is sure. Missing, too, is his entire cabinet: the vice-president in some bunker, the secretary of state out of the country, the secretary of defense in some other bunker.
None of the usual spokespersons for any government department is in evidence to help interpret the event. This job is left to obscure intelligence officials, to national security advisors, to retirees from former administrations, to Tom and Katie.
They all speak ominously of great change and hint darkly at the inevitability of more national security events like this and worse.
After the all clear, it is not the elusive president of the USA that NBC airs but the vigorous prime minister of the UK. Tony Blair has closed the skies over the UK, too. He speaks of “a New Evil” and how we “will not rest until this Evil is driven from the world.”
When the government of the USA finally does materialize, it will speak with a brand new voice, the voice of war and of military rule. It will announce, “we are facing a different enemy that hides in the shadows.” It will echo Blair and announce “a monumental struggle of good and evil.” It will declare, “you are either with us or against us.”
If you did’nt recognize that these faces closely resemble those of the same administration not quite duly elected less than a year ago, you might think the former government had been replaced by some new ruling military junta.
Tell us, Tom, is this some kind of coup détat, or what?
At 2:16 PM Brokaw announces that “It appears that the first wave of attacks is over.”
Then its to Washington and Robert Hager, who has been exhibiting a particularly grave and stricken visage through all this compared to most of his bland, composed co-workers at NBC.
Hager says, “There are no more threats in the air.” FAA reports that all domestic flights are now on the ground and all other flights have been accounted for.
Sighs Hager, “This is over as an attack.”
Copyright © 2002 by George B. Trinkaus.