Chaotic Scene Unfolds on Television
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 6:46 p.m. EDT
Courtesy of Associated Press
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By DAVID BAUDER AP Television Writer


NEW YORK (AP) - Television became a national gathering place on a terror-filled Tuesday, replaying unimaginable scenes of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center and its skyscrapers collapsing. Newspapers rushed out special editions. Many headlines said simply: ``TERROR.''

When the first of two planes hit the Manhattan landmark shortly before 9 a.m., it set in motion an extraordinary effort by the media to tell the story.

Catastrophes unfolded as fast as television could detail them: a plane plunging into the Pentagon, a crash in Pennsylvania, buildings evacuated across the country.

Commentators tried to keep calm. ``This is the most serious attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor,'' said NBC's Tom Brokaw.

Newspapers across the country put out extras. Ten newspapers in North Carolina alone prepared special editions - for The Morning Star of Wilmington, it was the first since the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Internet traffic slowed under the demand of people seeking information online. The Internet search engine Google directed news seekers to get off the computer and turn on radio or television.

With television cameras trained on a smoking tower of the World Trade Center after the first attack, viewers were able to see the chilling sight of the second plane crashing into the other tower and exploding in a fireball. Television also carried, live, the collapse of both towers into a pile of rubble.

As the morning progressed, networks showed footage of New Yorkers running from the scene, some bloodied or covered with ash. Streets looked white with ash and soot, a scene Brokaw likened to ``a nuclear winter.''

A victim was seen hurtling through the air from the World Trade Center in footage shown on CBS. The landing was obscured.

CNN showed a flight-path simulator that detailed how a plane headed west from Boston took a sudden, sharp turn south near Albany and headed down the Hudson Valley toward New York City.

Don Dahler, an ABC News correspondent, was in his apartment four blocks from the World Trade Center when he heard the first plane hit. He called ``Good Morning America'' and was immediately put on the air.

``It sounded a lot like a military missile,'' Dahler said. ``There was a high, shrieking sound followed by a roar then a huge explosion. I knew immediately something terrible had happened.''

The major television networks suspended competition, agreeing to share all footage gathered during the terrorist attacks and their aftermath, on suggestion of ``60 Minutes'' creator Don Hewitt.

A shaken Ashleigh Banfield on MSNBC described debris showering around her. CNBC correspondent Ron Insana, his suit smeared with gray ash, told how he ran for cover and hid in a parked car when a tower collapsed.

``I've never seen anything like this,'' a breathless and sobbing Banfield said. ``This whole place looks like a war zone. When the cloud came out I could feel the force of it.''

CBS News correspondent Carol Marin was a block away from the World Trade Center when the second tower collapsed. A nearby firefighter grabbed her and they ran away, Marin kicking off her heels. She was thrown against a wall, the firefighter protecting her with his body as smoke and debris blinded them.

``I am grateful to be alive and am awestruck at the people who are down there,'' Marin said.

A Fox News Channel producer who is trained as an emergency technician, Dan Cohen, said he rushed to the scene and twice had to run for his life as the towers collapsed. He was later stationed at a makeshift hospital at Chelsea Piers, on the television set where the NBC drama ``Law & Order'' is produced.

``It now looks like the show `M.A.S.H.,''' Cohen said.

One expert on terrorism suggested that the second plane to hit the World Trade Center was timed deliberately to be captured by television cameras already focused on the buildings after the initial attack.

``It was meant to be right before our eyes,'' said Joan Deppa, a Syracuse University professor and author of ``The Media and Disasers: Pan Am 103.'' ``This was staged like it was a TV show.''

Most local New York TV stations, except for WCBS, were knocked off the air when their transmitters atop the World Trade Center were destroyed. All the stations' signals, however, could be seen over cable systems in the New York area.

It was not immediately clear how many New Yorkers were blocked from television coverage of the events. Roughly two-thirds of the nation's television homes get cable or satellite.

CNN aired videophone pictures Tuesday evening of explosions in Kabul, Afghanistan. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. was not attacking and that the fighting appeared to be rocket attacks by Afghan rebels opposing the ruling Taliban.

With so many events happening at once, Fox News Channel ran a continous crawl of news bulletins summarizing the series of events.

C-SPAN took phone calls from shaken citizens. One caller from California said: ``This is a sign to America: We think we are the strongest country and they hit us; they knew where to hit us.''

Other networks suspended normal programming. The ESPN sports networks showed ABC News reports, VH1 showed CBS News programming, TNT and TBS showed CNN coverage. News networks dispensed with commercials for continuous coverage.

The shopping networks QVC and ShopNBC network went dark. ``We share with our customers and employees, our sadness as well as our thoughts and prayers,'' ShopNBC said in a message on the screen.

CNN lost its main transmitters. Aaron Brown anchored the network coverage from Penn Station, his back to where the World Trade Center had been.

MSNBC's Brian Williams took note of the city's tragically altered skyline: ``As it was more than 30 years ago, the Empire State Buildlng is once again the city's tallest structure.''


AP writers Frazier Moore, Douglas J. Rowe, Anick Jesdanun, William Kates and Seth Sutel contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.






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