Tuned In

"We've Just Had Another Explosion"

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It didn’t take long after that cloudless Tuesday on the Eastern seaboard for the Sept. 11 attacks to become video wallpaper–the crashes, the fireballs, the towers collapsing, over and over and over. Six years later, plenty of people are still bothered by how often and how casually TV news replays what are, after all, the images of thousands of innocent people dying horribly. And I don’t blame them.

That said, I think it’s worth going back now and then to see how the attacks unfolded on TV, before the spin, the reactions, the analysis, the politicization. Easier said than done, though–it’s hard to go online and find raw video of the attacks without embellishment or commentary (whether it’s added soundtracks or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories).

I did find this snippet, which is personally chilling for me. It’s from the WNBC broadcast I was watching when the second plane hit the South Tower. I remember it: Tuned In Jr. was six weeks old, and I was holding him on the couch before leaving for the office. In this chopper footage, unlike some of the shots that were later popularized and replayed, you don’t see the plane strike the tower, because it was on the other side of the building. I do recall seeing a plane in the background approaching the building, a few seconds earlier, and thinking–ridiculously, it seems now–that I was surprised they’d allow a plane fly so close to a burning building. (Because there were no nearby objects to give the plane perspective, I thought it was a smaller plane close up, not a passenger jet approaching at high speed.) And then the fireball burst, and for a second I thought, equally ridiculously, “How could a fire in one building set off an explosion in the other one?”

It’s embarrassing now to admit that, but my reaction sums up, for me, what that morning changed: the willingness to believe that there must be a non-nefarious explanation for even the worst tragedy. You can see that naivete go up, literally, in flames here. (You can hear it, too, in the anchorwoman’s voice–the touch of horror on “Is that what I’m witnessing?” as she tries to maintain professional detachment.)

If you don’t need or want to see it, move along, and good for you.