Archive for September, 2008

My 911

September 13, 2008

I’ve never written about this before. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m not a person who keeps journals or records my personal feelings.

 

But there are days in our lives that we will always remember where we were.

 

I can tell you where I was when I heard JFK was shot.

 

I know exactly where I was when the Challenger blew up.

 

And I will always remember the moments and the aftermath of the planes hitting the towers. It had a significant personal impact on my life.

 

First, you should know I’m a New Yorker. A real New Yorker. I grew up in Manhattan.

 

But back to that day, that moment in time.

 

I was in my Philadelphia office. I was the ND at the NBC station. It was a gorgeous September day. I was at my desk with the Today Show on one of my monitors. Then I heard the hosts mention they had breaking news and I looked up.

 

There was a picture of smoke billowing from one of the buildings. The first plane had hit. We started sending a few crews to NY immediately to cover the story in case our sister station needed help. We also launched our news chopper to the city.

 

Minutes later we saw live the pictures of the second plane hitting. Now we knew it was something much bigger. The concept of us being under attack was foreign to me so it wasn’t my first thought. I honestly don’t remember thinking anything else other than this was bad and we had to get more crews there.

 

Within minutes we realized it was an attack. We sent additional crews and told them to take different ways into the city incase roads were blocked by traffic or police. Little did we think they would actually close the bridges in tunnel into the city.

 

Then we got a call from our chopper pilot. He was halfway to NY when he was ordered to land. Period. The FAA told all choppers to find their nearest airport and land. Period. (It was grounded at a small Jersey airport for days.)

 

I was so busy and consumed by work that I didn’t realize how this was affecting my family.

 

You see my son was a freshman at NYU. Ben has been there for just two weeks when the towers were hit and the sound of sirens and the smell and smoke started to cover parts of lower Manhattan.

 

My father-in-law called. It was very ill at the time. When I picked up the phone he was in tears. He was crying as he watched the pictures in his home near Cincinnati. He asked whether we had heard from Ben. I hadn’t. But worse was I never connected the tragedy with my son being less than a mile or so away and wondering was he safe. Now it was consuming me.

 

I tried calling him; you couldn’t get through to anyone in NY. The phones were overwhelmed.

 

Then I was thinking of my sister and her daughter. My sister is a single parent. She was living directly across the street from the towers. She was on the west side of West Street.  She passed the towers every day on the way to her daughter’s school and her workplace.

 

I hadn’t heard from here and couldn’t reach her.

 

So now I’m covering a major story, trying to coordinate our crews and worry about their safety and also worried and wondering about my family. It was horrible. It’s now mid morning, maybe closer to noon and the story was still developing. Someone from the assignment desk runs into my office.

 

Basically there was a rumor that some planes were unaccounted for and one of them was heading to Philadelphia with the Liberty Bell as the target. Could we be pulled into the middle of this disaster? I remember calling our contact at the FBI and telling her what we heard. It was one of those very direct, honest and human conversations. Basically, this is what we’re hearing just tell us what you’re hearing. No official statements, comments or spin. Just tell us. They got it. This was real.  Within minutes our FBI called back and told us that no one had any info on unaccounted plane. (Remember, the FAA grounded planes as soon as they got close to an airport big enough for them to land._

 

But could we be sure?  We just didn’t know. There was nothing we could report and we didn’t want to start a panic but we did advise our crews in the field and moved a couple closer to center city Philadelphia just in case. I know that sounds terrible but that’s what we do. And at the same time we kept telling our folks their safety was our highest priority.

 

Sometime later I got an email from Ben. I remember it was all in caps. I wished I had saved it. Basically he was talking about what it was like there and how what happened reminded of a scene from Tom Clancy’s book, Executive Action.

 

Later I heard from my sister. Her story is chilling.

 

Vicky had just dropped her daughter at the elementary school in the shadows of The Towers. As I recall her telling me, Vicky was walking into World Trade Center 7 when stuff started falling from the sky. She didn’t know what it was at the time parts of the first plane and debris from the building falling to the ground.

 

Vicky explained that as she left the building she saw the belly of the second plane as it headed and struck the second tower. She started running to the school to get her daughter. She grabbed he daughter and started heading north, running, walking uptown. As I recall she told me she asked her daughter not to look back. But it was too late. Her daughter asked her why people were jumping from the building. It was a chilling conversation. It brought very close to home the pictures we had been watching on TV all day.

 

Vicky and her daughter were safe but they had no place to live. Essentially her apartment was on the edge of ground zero. We offered to take Vicky and her daughter into our Philly home. Vicky needed to stay in NY but she wanted her daughter with us in Philly.

 

I asked Ben to come home and bring Vicky’s daughter. Honestly, I was using her daughter as an excuse to get Ben back home. I didn’t want him in NY. It was a very scary place, lower Manhattan was on fire and I feared the smell of smoke and death would overtake parts of the city.

 

Ben didn’t want to come home. He wanted to stay with his new friends. They were standing in line at the local hospital to donate blood. Unfortunately no donations were needed.

 

Ben did come home for a day. He brought my sister’s daughter.

 

After a day he said he had to go back to NY. He wanted to be with his friends at his new homes.

 

For thousands of people who lost friends and family when the Towers fell, Flt 93 crashed in Pennsylvania or when the Pentagon was hit my story is minor. Everyone in my family is fine now.

 

My sister and daughter were never able to return to their apartment. But they regrouped and now live in Nyack, NY, just north of Manhattan.

 

My son is now working in Burbank. He doesn’t miss New York.

 

911 will always be a top of my mind.

 

But again, for me my family is alive and well.

 

But almost every time I see pictures of the Towers or pictures of the pit I replay parts of that day in my mind

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Ok, let’s talk about politics

September 11, 2008

Sorry for the delayed post. I wrote it a few days ago but it got lost in websoace – honest.

 

It’s a rather exciting time in American Politics.

Think about it more people watched the acceptance speeches of the two presidential candidates than watched the Beijing Opening Ceremony.

That’s really wonderful. It means that our democracy is interested in how we shape the future of our government.

We in the media have a key role to play here. The interesting part is how the parties want to control our role or criticize us when we dig in the dark corners and try to shine a light on the candidates.

A classic example is Sarah Palin. I’m not going to share with you my political leanings here.

What is important is how a party criticizes us when we start asking questions. Tough questions. Honestly, I don’t believe there are stupid questions these days because you never know what may come to light or the surface.

When Palin was announced many of us looked at each other and said who? What? Huh? So the questions started to flow and the answers seemed to change on a daily basis. We saw that some of the biographical facts distributed by the party weren’t quite accurate or seemed “stretched.”

The party has tried to demonize the media.

Our goal is to ask all of the questions. We’re supposed to dig. Unfortunately in this web/cable news world you see the press conferences in real time or he reporters doing their job and being pushy. We’re watching sausage being made. It’s a dirty process and what really counts is what comes out in the end. We’re supposed to ask the questions of all sides, vet for the truth and dig.

You want us to do this of all candidates. We continue to do this with Obama and we will do this through the campaign with McCain, Biden and everyone else. 

It’s our job. Period.

It’s what the framers of the constitution demanded with the first amendment. You should be demanding this, even if the answers upset you, offend you or make you angry.

You may not like how we do it. It can be ugly and beautiful at the same time.

But without us digging, uncovering and discovering you’re making critical decisions about our future based on what candidates want you to hear. There’s spin, stretch and misinformation.

Sure, some may say some news organizations have a bias. Their bias honestly is a marketing ploy.

Regardless, you want us getting as much information as possible so you can make the decision in the booth.

 

Steve.Schwaid@CBS46.com