Laura Flanders: September 11: Live reports from Manhattan...

by Laura Flanders Thursday, Sep. 13, 2001 at 5:48 AM

September 11: Live reports from Manhattan...

Live reports from Manhattan

Laura Flanders -

09.11.01 - Filed 10:35 p.m. EST

President or Priest?

Some New Yorkers gathered around a television two hours ago, to hear words from the only president we've got. Around the set were three people who make movies who had a friend on the hijacked Boston-Los Angeles flight; a painter and a poet whose home, a few blocks from ground zero, has no electricity and no gas. Rumors of underground gas explosions swirl like the dust-clouds.

A civil rights attorney was on her morning bicycle ride when she saw the first plane hit the first Trade Tower. People have started calling them "our towers" now. "It was so huge, so low." Many of us saw "our towers" drop out of our sky before our eyes. A writer believes she saw a city school bus pass her, filled ceiling-to-floor with body bags.

So when the only president we have talked to us about "terrible sadness" New Yorkers weren't impressed. When he gave us cliches about the day's events many of us were furious. "We know what happened, we weren't in a bunker," one shouted at the set. As for the government functioning and the economy continuing... "Who's he kidding? Wall Street is under dust." He asked us to pray: "What is he," we said. "A president or a priest?"

In lower Manhattan at least, it's clear that this president has no idea what happened today. "That's the scariest part of all," some people said. There was no leadership coming from politicians tonight. Nor pundits, try as they might. And no light of freedom shining 'round here except the headlights of a thousand emergency vehicles and the reflective vests on several thousand workers, heading back into the smoke-filled streets.

Filed 5:30 p.m. EST

Where do we turn in a crisis? To public workers, the ones we have left. I just spoke to two dozen of them at an emergency staging area on Manhattan's Avenue of the Americas. Bused in from as far away as Far Rockaway, Queens they are massed here: the men and women of the New York City Housing Authority with their blue suits, hard hats, city-issue respirators and their 52 flatbed trucks lined up, awaiting the call to head downtown to start the ghastly clean up.

Usually these people -- almost exclusively Black and Latino, mostly men with a couple of women -- manage Manhattan's housing projects. Today, they're coming to the World Financial Center's aid. Where are the sanitation workers? Standard garbage crushers are poorly suited to the delicate clean-up operation downtown. That's part of the story. Besides, as one NYCHA worker put it, "The city's been getting out of the trash business." It's true. More and more city garbage is picked up these days by private contractors. These city workers, members of the Teamsters local 127, have been without a contract for a year.

"It's always police and hospital workers who get the credit, but we're here when you need us," said union member Ray Garcia. It's true. Dark skinned, blue collared, hot and waiting, these are emergency workers. Workers we depend on in an emergency. Cut public spending on social services? Think about it. Right now, chances are, I'd be looking at an empty street.

Filed 1:56 p.m. EST


It's the date. It is also the situation. At St. Vincent's hospital, where there are some 180 casualties and two at last count dead, about 500 people are waiting to give blood. Civilian cars are driving casualties to the door. New Yorkers are turning out to help. That's the good news.

The bad news: on televison, reporters are fanning flames with irresponsible reports. Just an hour ago, CBS Channel 2 in New York interview with a transit employee who, with no evidence and no data, was broadcast live, telling the already terrified public that biological agents might be entering people's lungs.

Tom Brokaw on NBC can't get enough of State Department officials. For hours this morning, NBC "reported" that the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine had "claimed responsibility" for the attack on the World Financial Center. Brokaw's source, it turns out, was an anonymous caller to Abu Dhabi television. By 9.58 EST, the Reuters newswire was reporting that a senior official from the Democratic Front had denied any connection to the attack:

``I emphasize that the story released on Abu Dhabi TV by an anonymous person is totally incorrect,'' Tayseer Khaled, a senior official from the DFLP politburo in the Palestinian territories, told Reuters.

``The DFLP is against hijacking planes and against endangering the lives of civilians who are not connected with the struggle of this region,'' he said.

Filed 12:27 p.m. EST

It looks like nuclear winter out there. Police are trying their best to close off all streets from my block south (Canal St.) I think of Baghdad, Belgrade. Speculation on tv runs rampant. I am going now to St. Vincent's hospital in Greenwich Village to give blood.

Filed 10:33 a.m. EST

The smoke is heading my way in lower Manhattan. I can see it. And I can no longer see either of the World Trade Towers that were clearly visible from my block as I walked home last night.

That's about all I can tell you about this morning's attack in New York. In CNN's News Center in Atlanta, they know even less, but that isn't stopping their talk.

Two hours after attacks on two U.S. cities, it's not clear how the coverage will develop. There's no question, however, that TV speakers will be filling the rest of the day with talk about an event that none of them can explain. As the hours progress, "experts" will no doubt be interviewed. Greta Van Sustern was already asked for her analysis. CNN's legal expert talked from her vantage point at Washington's National Airport.

We can't predict the coverage, but we can recall the past. Here, thanks to our friends at FAIR, from 1995:

"Seldom have so many been so wrong -- so quickly. In the wake of the explosion that destroyed the Murrah Federal Office Building, the media rushed -- almost en masse -- to the assumption that the bombing was the work of Muslim extremists. "The betting here is on Middle East terrorists," declared CBS News' Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95). "The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East," ABC's John McQuethy proclaimed the same day.

"`It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East,' wrote syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95). "Whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working," declared the New York Times' A.M. Rosenthal (4/21/95). The Geyer and Rosenthal columns were filed after the FBI released sketches of two suspects who looked more like Midwestern frat boys than mujahideen."

There's been a tragedy. May all of us in the media not add to it today.

Original: Laura Flanders: September 11: Live reports from Manhattan...