By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
The Day They Canceled
Sept. 11, 2001)
not good at this.
just witnessed the greatest tragedy in our nation’s history.
a little after noon as I sit down to try to put my thoughts and the
morning’s experiences in perspective.
arrived at the office at 8:35 a.m. and chatted with Tamara. We reviewed
Primary Day coverage and she shared with me her experiences and choices
while voting earlier in the morning.
continued our morning ritual as she gave me the campaign literature that
arrived at her house the previous day.
8:50 a.m. Lianne, our art director, called us from the Verrazano Bridge.
Hers was the first eerie description of something gone wrong. She
explained that she could see smoke coming out of the top of one of the
towers of the World Trade Center. TV and radios went on as I prepared to
pack up for my 10 a.m. meeting in midtown Manhattan.
photo from our column a year ago, taken by Bruce Eisenberg.
all heard the early news accounts — nothing was clear — an airplane
hit one of the Towers of the Trade Center. And terrorism wasn’t clear
back at 9 in the morning.
as I left the office for my Manhattan meeting and the staff was in the
parking lot surrounding the coffee truck, someone mentioned a second
plane crashing into the other Tower. I shrugged in disbelief and headed
as I got onto the L.I.E., I put on the radio and the chaos became
clearer. There were two planes and both towers were hit and although the
radio had not said it yet, terrorism was clearly responsible. Our City,
our country, was under attack.
the reports continued of hijacked planes elsewhere — the number
wasn’t clear — from several airports and at some point on my trip
came the then unconfirmed report of a third plane hitting the Pentagon
at this point, my timetable becomes uncertain...I wasn’t reporting on
a story; I was trying to get to a meeting.
I came through Forest Hills on the L.I.E., I saw it. There was the World
Trade Center, the dominant force on our skyline, billowing out a trail
of smoke all the way to Queens and Brooklyn. The sky was filled with a
solid cloud across Manhattan. That view, at that moment, moved it for me
out of the arena of film, tape and news into real cold hard shivers. It
was awful and awesome. The effect of the impact and the flames and
damage were clear all the way to Forest Hills.
was immediately hit with thoughts of turning around and canceling my
meeting. There were emergency vehicles dominating the left hand lane of
the expressway and traffic was moving very slowly. I tried to use my
cell phone — couldn’t get service.
was back at the office before 10 a.m. and was briefed by Tamara
concerning staff assignments in the field. We reviewed story ideas and
silently attempted to comfort each other.
called. My niece Debbie works at Goldman Sachs near the World Trade
Center and Lil couldn’t get in touch with her.
after hanging up with Lil, Debbie called. She was fine. I told her to
keep in touch.
TV was on and my office filled with concerned watchers.
first tower collapsed.
staff members were on the phone trying to track down loved ones.
called and canceled — no surprise.
our sales manager, left to be with his wife. Their son, who was in the
Trade Center, had called from the hospital. He was given oxygen, but
appeared to be fine.
after story of friend or family member at the building was shared.
were coming and going from my office. Reporters were going out on
assignment while photographers were downloading their digital images
before going back out.
called again to reassure me, after the second tower collapsed, that she
was still okay.
tracked down her dad and called my mom to inform the family that Deb was
safe. I imagined the thousands of other families engaged in similar
activities. Remembering the figure of 20,000 people per tower — I
don’t know from where — I envisioned the mass communication
nightmare made more frightening by the lack of cell phone service.
there were the thousands who could not locate their loved ones.
office was our small command center. The TV was being watched by a
constantly changing group of staff members. Images reminiscent of
“Independence Day” and “Godzilla” were run and rerun,
continuously. Those with loved ones missing or, better yet, found, came
to give us updates. Tamara and I continued to review story options.
seems to get hazy. Lil, who never calls, called again — perhaps for
the third time. I stopped writing my column; I guess I took some more
calls, ate lunch and found myself still in my office watching TV and
reviewing the story.
historical references flew around the office: Was this the greatest
number of Americans killed in a day?
quest for information continued: Define Arab? How can we comfortably,
easily get into a Queens mosque to talk?
TV drones on.
calls, the tears, the worried faces invaded my life as it did yours.
this column, which had been previously written, was to change.
so will our lives from this moment forward.
night Sept. 12, 2001)
Tribune just went to press.
exhilaration of covering the news of the City’s and Nation’s tragedy
has given way to the stark reality of that news.
Tuesday morning, the staff has been humming full speed to provide the
Queens angle to this horrendous attack of terrorism. Our fallen rescue
workers, our devoted medical personnel, our courageous police and
firefighters, and friends and family of the missing and slain – all
from Queens – were the subject of our devoted attention. The Queens
stories were our focus: the long and weary walk across the Queensborough
Bridge for many on Tuesday as the only egress from Manhattan; the fear
that permeated the Islamic community in Astoria; the brave offers of aid
and assistance by professionals and ordinary people from our borough;
the stories of loss, suffering, sorrow and fear; the airports, our
borough’s largest employers; the streets and roads through Queens
which provided us access to our jobs and routes to touch friends and
was at the center of our coverage, sharing command with Trib
Editor Tamara Hartman. My office also houses our only television set and
therefore I played gatekeeper to the visuals that are worth thousands of
words. We dealt with the changing paper: advertisers uncertain of their
weekly message and an ever-changing and growing news story demanding
more and more space.
we reshaped the weekly edition and I rewrote my column, we were
cognizant of our responsibility made oh so much more awesome due to the
terrorist acts of Tuesday and the fears and hate that are likely to be
inflamed as opinions differ and losses become known.
wanted to make sure the Tribune viewed and told the story not as
a declaration of hate and war but as a chapter for humanity — a tragic
and sorrowful chapter for humanity, but filled with page after page of
heroism and compassion by our neighbors. We wanted to make sure that out
of the rubble piled high, our suffering readers could find some pebbles
upon which they could build for tomorrow. We wanted to offer
consolation, we wanted to write with compassion, we wanted to find in
the devasted City a reason to spread hope and love. We wanted to guide
our news operation to look for life before counting the dead. We wanted
to be part of the journalistic battle for hope and not join the battle
cries of war and revenge were being written all around us. Emotions
other than anger were calling out deep from within us. We don’t deny
the need to deal with terrorism swiftly, forcefully and decisively. We
just would be happier to offer to our readers coverage of the soul of
our City as everywhere around them they dealt with the ugliest of
knew we could find no real meaningful message of peace. My personal
encounters with religion, for the first time, saddened me, since it
presented an obstacle to me invoking solutions and comfort involving the
the grace of God.
never a part of my vocabulary naturally seemed to fit and belong in my
were changing and may never be the same.
as my small role in the coverage of this larger-than-life-and-death
story was coming to a close — at least for its first week — the
sorrow and depression seemed to take hold. I felt sullen and not
exhilarated. I was sad, not inquisitive. I wasn’t me. But the world
wasn’t the same. And that stark, cold reality was quietly hitting me.
hung this statement she made on the outside of our house.
daughter is afraid. I understand.
wants to foolishly go to downtown Manhattan tonight. I understand.
wants to vent his anger at Palenstinian leaders. I understand.
wants to call for American flags. I understand.
after email expressing hate. I guess I understand.
the moment, there are an awful lot of things I understand, but an awful
lot more that I don’t.
makes them hate so much?
and why are young Palestinian children taught to celebrate such awful
destruction of humanity?
type of religious movement can call for or tolerate suicide and killing?
haven’t I cried?
is no comfort in understanding.
is no comfort in not understanding.
is comfort in taking your neighbor’s hand and holding it.
is comfort in putting your arm around your neighbor and saying together
we shall be okay.
is comfort in community.
is comfort in people.
is comfort in love.
is comfort in the stories of heroism and compassion of our great City.
is comfort in our neighbors.
as I went to kiss my 12-year-old daughter good night, I saw that she had
boldly written on her marker board, “God Bless America!”
by Dom Nunziato