My 9/11

We can never forget how the world changed that day, the lessons learned and challenges still ahead.

By JEREMY RUDEN
September 11, 2011 03:48
Jeremy Ruden

Jeremy Ruden 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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A decade ago today. Today will be different, and so is this column. I’m not going go into a timeline, debate the lessons of 9/11 or try to put the defining moment of my generation into historical perspective. I’m just going write about some of the moments I remember about that horrific day and its aftermath.

On September 11, 2001, I was working as a writer at the Fox News Channel in New York. I had been doing the job for barely a month and was still learning the ropes of production.

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When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, no TV cameras were on the scene. Initially we got word that a plane had hit one of the towers. I can’t say that I knew anyone was thinking about a large jet. Most people, myself included, had in their minds an image of a small plane. When we started getting a video feed into the station, it was just a static shot of the Towers, one of which was already burning.

Then the second plane hit. It happened very fast, but I remember the feeling I had at that moment.

It was a rush back to the 1990s, when I resided in Tel Aviv. Like thousands of others, I lived through the seemingly endless string of suicide bombings in my city and the entire country. Lord knows how many were killed and wounded. Every time there was a deadly explosion killing my fellow Israelis, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. My reaction on 9/11 was unmistakably familiar, a combination of anger, despair and hopelessness.

Everyone I knew wanted to do something to help. Many people went to donate blood for the victims we thought would be pulled from the wreckage. Anyone in New York who saw the West Side Drive in the evening would surely remember the huge line of ambulances waiting to aid the victims. It was all for naught, as there were really no survivors from inside the Towers once they collapsed.

WHEN THE story broke, everyone at Fox went into a different mode.



There were no prime time shows.

There were no other stories. Everyone pulled together to cover the story that changed the world. We worked almost every day and at all hours.

I particularly remember the night shifts. In a step I have never seen on American TV, Fox opened the phone lines to people who wanted to get information about loved ones, tell a story about a victim or just share their anguish over what had happened. Individuals from all over the country poured their hearts out to us. It was one of the most emotional experiences I ever had working in media.

There was the editorial decision not to show the video of people jumping out of the towers as the flames and fumes engulfed them. It was a smart judgment on Fox’s part. There would be plenty of time later on to show the viewers the graphic horror. When the tragedy was just hours old, watching people plunge to their deaths would have been gut-wrenching.

New York City itself was wounded.

You would get onto the subway and everyone was quiet, just going about their business shocked and subdued. Unheard of. You also couldn’t avoid the stench that caught you in so many parts of the city. It was one of those strange smells you’d never encountered before. I can’t describe it, but would be able to recognize it if exposed to it again. Perhaps it was a combination of all the things that were burning at Ground Zero. I would shudder when I thought that among the many things burning in Lower Manhattan was human flesh. It took months for the authorities to extinguish the fires at Ground Zero.

I went down to Ground Zero about a week later. They wouldn’t let anyone get too close to the rubble of the World Trade Center, even if you had a media badge, but let me tell you, they called it Ground Zero for a reason. There are certain things that will forever be etched in my mind, and that scene is one of them. I had watched all of the events from our various cameras and video feeds, but when I saw the scope of the destruction with my own eyes, it left a permanent scar. I can only imagine how it must have been for the survivors and the crews who were there when it happened or those who worked on site in the weeks and months that followed.

At the time, I was working on my master’s degree. I went to school twice a week after work for a few years to get my diploma.

After 9/11, I believe the universities were closed down for a week and then resumed studies. I remember sitting in class and understanding that while people had to carry on with their lives, it was impossible to put aside what had happened. Almost 3,000 people were dead. There were still hundreds of emergency teams working around the clock at Ground Zero. So many things seemed trivial for a very long time.

ABOUT ONE year after 9/11, everyone who worked on that fateful day and the weeks that followed got a nondescript envelope placed on their desks from Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the organization that bestows the Emmys each year. It was a certificate of commendation for our contribution to the coverage of 9/11, not just at Fox, but for American TV news in general. There was no pomp and circumstance, just the envelope. For years it sat filed away. I didn’t want to be reminded.

The whole world witnessed the moments when thousands lost their lives. The death and destruction at the Pentagon. The crash site of United Airlines 93 in Shanksville. These tragedies were caused by other human beings. At times, the overwhelming feelings of grief, senselessness and disgust were almost too much to handle.

We’ve experienced these emotions here in Israel, but not on that scale.

In the unique case of 9/11, I believe that the media in the US played an important role, not just in the initial coverage of the terror attacks and the aftermath, but also in the process that people go through after a trauma; dealing with the loss, understanding the implications, offering a channel for expressing both sympathy for the victims and anger toward the perpetrators; and eventually, slowly moving on to discuss other important issues.

Once, I didn’t want to be reminded of all of the images, which I still recall as if it were yesterday.


Now, I believe the tragic events of 9/11 must be retold regularly.

We can never forget how the world changed that day, the lessons learned and challenges still ahead. But most of all, we must remember all of the innocents who were randomly and pointlessly murdered in the name of a cause that goes against everything we believe in.

It took me a long time to figure out the big picture, and eventually I became proud of my small contribution on 9/11 at Fox. Six years later, I found that commendation and had it framed. Today, it’s sitting on a bookshelf side-by-side with my photo albums. That’s exactly where it belongs.

The writer is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.

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