For many in New York and Washington, D.C., Sept. 11, 2001, was a personal experience, an attack on their cities. Most everywhere else in the world, it was a television event.
TV’s commemoration as the 10th anniversary approaches on Sunday puts that day in many different contexts. There is one place, however, for people to see the terrorist attacks and the week after as they unfolded, without any filters.
The Internet Archive, a California-based organization that collects audio, moving images and Web pages for historical purposes, has put together a television news archive of that day’s coverage.
More than 20 channels were recorded with more than 3,000 hours of television. Besides major U.S. networks like ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC, the Internet Archive has posted online TV recordings from Moscow, Paris, London, Baghdad, Tokyo, Ottawa and elsewhere.
The material is valuable to researchers, but the Internet Archive wanted to make it easy to use so the general public can go back and see what that day was like, says Brewster Kahle, the organization’s director.
“It is one of the top four or five events that have happened on television,” Kahle says. “You can think of putting a man on the moon, the Watergate hearings, the Kennedy assassination.
“I’m hopeful that people will come to this and make their own decisions about how they want to think about it, as opposed to politicians who have been pushing and pulling the event for years.”
The site is easy to navigate, with timelines that direct users to specific events of the morning, such as when the second plane hit the trade center and when each tower collapsed.
It can be frustrating to use, however, as the video is displayed in 30- or 40-second blocks instead of continuous streams. And there are occasional gaps; large portions of CBS’ coverage is missing, for example.
The archive begins at 8 a.m. ET, or 46 minutes before American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Out of a commercial late in the morning shows, suddenly came camera shots of a burning World Trade Center, ones that would dominate screens for several hours.
Newscasters were careful before the story became clear. Matt Lauer initially called it an “accident.”
Then came one of many unthinkable moments: a second plane darting into pictures and crashing into the second tower, exploding in a fireball and falling debris.
Later, when the towers collapsed, one after the other, it seemed so inconceivable that anchors initially couldn’t grasp what viewers had seen on the screen. NBC’s Tom Brokaw talked of structural damage so severe that the buildings would probably have to be brought down – after one of them already came down on its own.
Also interesting are the perspectives from overseas. The BBC in London, for example, showed video of people jumping or falling from the towers – images that American networks stayed away from.
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