Media Outlets Recall Country's Unity After Sept. 11 Attacks

Television news networks offered wall-to-wall coverage of remembrances in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that were attended by four presidents

George W. Bush on television screen
AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez

Many of the media outlets that explore the country's differences, pausing Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, recalled almost wistfully the sense of common purpose that united Americans in the aftermath of that day.

Television news networks offered wall-to-wall coverage of remembrances in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that were attended by four presidents.

“One should savor these moments of unity this morning — feel how good that feels,” said Fox News Channel anchor Dana Perino, shortly after Bruce Springsteen sang “I'll See You in My Dreams” at New York's World Trade Center memorial.

Normally Fox, CNN and MSNBC spend hours on political warfare, most notably this week Fox's heated response to President Joe Biden's latest COVID-fighting plan.

Perino was one of two ex-press aides to former President George W. Bush to anchor news coverage Saturday; MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace was the other. The networks carried live their former boss' speech in Shanksville. Bush and Vice President Kamala Harris both called for that long-dissipated sprit of unity to return.

“On Sept. 11 we all gave up our labels. We all became Americans,” former Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card said in an MSNBC interview.

Shortly after, onetime first responder John Feal told MSNBC's Ali Velshi that “we label each other too much. It was great to be a human being” after the attacks.

Selfless acts of sacrifice are what CBS News anchor Norah O'Donnell said she was thinking about on Saturday. “We call them heroes, but they are everyday Americans ... that's what's great about this country, (that) terrorists tried to take and did not take away that day.”

Differences didn't melt completely away. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik tweeted he was “disgusted” that President Joe Biden was at the city's ceremony.

Wallace and her co-anchor, Brian Williams, twice talked about former President Donald Trump's absence from Sept. 11 remembrances Saturday — both times without saying his name.

Trump made appearances at a New York police station and firehouse, and the police visit was covered live by Fox. However, the network broke away, and anchor Arthel Neville said that “he did not miss any opportunities to air grievances, including claiming that the election was rigged, which it was not.”

Bush's speech, where he discussed the dangers of home-grown extremism, was seized upon by journalists. “I think a lot of people are going to be talking about that for days to come,” said CNN's Paula Reid.

The news networks carried the initial reading of World Trade Center victims' names by family members, beginning at 8:49 a.m. Eastern.

“They're still reading the names,” CNN's Laura Jarrett said shortly after noon, “almost a temporal reminder, if you will, of the loss of nearly 3,000 people.”

But after Springsteen sang, most of the networks drifted away. ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates in New York City, as is their tradition, didn't budge. They listened as each name was read, accompanying them with the names and pictures of victims onscreen, along with the often heartbreaking personal messages of lives that continued with voids in countless hearts.

It took four hours, until the ceremony ended with taps being played on trumpets.

“Twenty years is a nice round number,” said Jim Giaccone, who memorialized his lost brother, Joseph. “But for me and other family members, it's another day, it's another month, it's another year.”

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