September 11, 2023
By Arthur H. Gunther III
There is rhythm to our lives, and when it is seriously interrupted, the beat rarely returns to the same music. And, so it was with September 11, 2001.
When 9/11 hit in terroristic horror 22 years ago, I was at the former Rockland Journal-News offices in West Nyack, N.Y., just 20 miles from the World Trade Center. As Editorial Page Editor, I had been at my desk since 4 a.m., getting advance pages and copy ready. My day, like any of us then, quickly changed. So did thousands of lives – forever.
The newspaper, as all media, scrambled even as we shook our heads and kept glancing at the TV images of the Twin Towers ablaze, the tragedy at the Pentagon, the smoking field in Pennsylvania when United Flight 93 crashed after courageous passengers diverted the plane from its D.C. target.
Later that day, there would be much crying in Rockland County over the loss of area civilians, New York City firefighters and NYPD and Port Authority police officers who were among the dead in the attacks.
About 3,000 individuals of all race and creed, economic and immigrant background and political persuasion were killed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Funeral after funeral followed for those whose bodies could be found, and they continue today for the 9/11 responders who developed cancer from building debris.
Communities like Upper Nyack, N.Y., mourned hometown heroes, including Welles Remy Crowther, an equity trader and “The Man in the Red Bandana,” who selflessly rescued people in the Twin Towers and died as the volunteer firefighter he was.
Hatred brought on 9/11, and such crop is fertilized when democracies, too, encourage neglect of the people by supporting dictators, and when countries do not speak out for decency and act according to stated creed. Hate then grows among the people, with the hungry easily persuaded through false promise.
At my old newspaper on 9/11, we did what we were trained to do and what was natural intuition — present the who, what, when, where, why and how of the terrorist attacks. We wrote the stories, including the sad but uplifting human reports, presented graphic images and offered commentary on it all.
The Journal-News and other media had done this before, of course, covering world wars, natural disasters, death and destruction of the various decades. That is the beat of information delivery.
What we in the newsroom of my generation did not expect was that our heartbeats would change, our rhythm would be different after Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The newsroom of December 7, 1941, had its own blips on the oscilloscope, and now we understood, too, about the horror of sudden attack but also the reaffirming heroism of so many. This could only bolster our future search for truth, the reporting of it and the effects on humanity. Our newsroom saw the blood that day, and it underscored our mission, which is to make sure democracy never withers in darkness.
This essay is built on an earlier one. The writer is a retired newspaperman. firstname.lastname@example.org