10th Anniversary of 9/11: Two Memorable Media Moments

Here in New York City, this weekend will be filled with painful memories on the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

I was at work in downtown Washington, D.C. on 9/11. When I heard the reports of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, I thought it was a freak small plane accident and moved on. When I heard that a second plane hit, a colleague and I rushed downstairs to watch the television at the lobby coffee shop.

About 50 people had gathered around the television when the anchor broke in and said, “We’ve just received a report of a plane crossing the Potomac River, heading toward Washington, D.C.” About half of the people gasped. My knees went weak.

Photo Credit: jeffmock

I didn’t fully agree with our nation’s response to the attacks, and I’ve written critical stories about President Bush’s initial response on the morning 9/11. But this weekend, while things are so emotionally raw in my two hometowns of New York City and Washington, D.C., I’d rather focus on two positive moments from 9/11.

Moment One: President Bush “I Can Hear You”

On September 14, 2001, President Bush visited Ground Zero for the first time. As he climbed atop of pile of rubble, he tried addressing the assembled first responders. They couldn’t hear him speaking through a tiny megaphone – so one frustrated man kept shouting, “I can’t hear you!”

Fast forward to the 10:00 mark to see President Bush explain what came next:

He improvised the following, now iconic line:

“I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

That spontaneous line may seem bellicose today. But at the time, it was perfectly aligned with the emotions of the American public. His comment was genuine, raw, and emotional – and was exactly what many Americans wanted to hear from their President. Although Mr. Bush’s 90 percent approval rating in a September 21, 2001 Gallup poll can be attributed to many factors (primarily a predictable “Rally ‘Round the Flag” effect), that line arguably represented the single greatest moment of his presidency.

Moment Two: Mayor Rudy Giuliani Walking the Streets

Until writing this article, I never before noticed the moment when a police officer walking the streets of Manhattan with Mayor Giuliani within an hour of the attack shouted, “New York 1, NBC, come here.” She was beckoning the journalists to come closer so the Mayor could give the following instructions to the people of New York City:

“The very best thing to do now would be to remain home. If you’re outside of southern Manhattan, you should remain where you are…If you are in southern Manhattan below Canal Street, walk north and get out of southern Manhattan.”

Mayor Giuliani gave those orders several times in just three minutes, using clear and strong language that empowered the audience with specific instructions. It’s a good lesson to all communicators in crisis – when public safety is an issue, quickly arm your audience with straightforward, unambiguous, and actionable information.

Please share your memories of 9/11 in the comment section below. Also, which communications moments do you remember most from that day? Feel free to disagree with my perspective and with other commenters – but please keep your comments respectful (comment policy here).

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