Images of Terror: Enduring the Scars of 9/11

Images of Terror: Enduring the Scars of 9/11

On April 27 of this year, Air Force One rattled windows and shocked New Yorkers when it did a low flyover above New York Harbor. The flyover was deliberate. Government officials thought that it was time to update the pictures they were using of Air Force One. They wanted to photograph the president’s plane with the Statue of Liberty in the background. But the officials forgot that for millions of Americans—particularly New Yorkers—such pictures and images are inseparable from those of 9/11.

What New Yorkers in Lower Manhattan saw on April 27 was not Air Force One, but a Boeing 747 flying like the planes that had struck the World Trade Center eight years earlier. The response of those on the ground who were frightened was deeply visceral, but it was also a reminder of how quickly the images of 9/11 became a political asset for a Bush administration eager to take the country into war with Iraq.

This Just In

The first televised footage of the 9/11 attacks came from WNYW-TV, the Fox 5 station in New York. Correspondent Dick Oliver had just completed an on-air segment about the unfolding primary elections from a polling center in Lower Manhattan for the local Good Day New York show when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. Although not yet aware that a terrorist attack was taking place, Oliver frantically called for the studio to put him back on air, and with smoke pouring out of the North Tower behind him, he broke the 9/11 story to New York.

Two minutes later CNN, the Cable News Network, delivered the 9/11 story to the country and shortly after that to the world. Using a stationary camera on New York’s Upper West Side, CNN broadcast pictures of the damaged North Tower while its anchor Carol Lin told viewers, “This just in. You are looking at a very disturbing shot here. That is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.”

The television race was now on to see which network could provide the best pictures of the burning North Tower. New York stations quickly turned to the citycams and weathercams they had in fixed positions at buildings, bridges, and airports. Then the television station helicopters and their camera crews became airborne. Before Tuesday was over, an estimated eighty million Americans households had watched 9/11 coverage, according to Nielsen Media Research. The worldwide figures were even greater. CNN’s domestic coverage was beamed beyond the United States to 170 million households in more than two hundred countries.

Pearl Harbor

The contrast with Pearl Harbor, the event with which 9/11 is most often compared, could not have been more striking. On December 7, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt learned that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor at 1:40 in the afternoon, approximately forty-five minute...