The Daily Gamecock

Four journalists, four stories: Sobering reflections on 9/11

Reporters share sobering memories of terrorist attacks.

But getting into the city was no problem for Susanne Schafer, a longtime correspondent for The Associated Press. Ten years later, Schafer remembers the ride as startlingly eerie. She hurriedly parked at a meter near the Washington bureau and asked a nearby police officer if she'd be OK without feeding coins.

"And he said, 'Lady, in an hour or two, you're going to be the only car parked in D.C.,'" Schafer said.

For Sid Bedingfield, it was the beginning of a week of wall-to-wall TV news coverage like the nation had never seen before. Bedingfield, the vice president for news at CNN, would face many sleepless nights, but he eventually would be lauded with a top national award for his work.

At USC, students grabbed every available person to tell a complicated, emotional story well beyond their years. The Gamecock's journalism would eventually be commemorated in a national collection of top front pages.

For Charles Bierbauer, a longtime CNN correspondent who had recently retired, the magnitude of this tragedy and its impact on America going forward made him quickly realize he couldn't stay away from the news.

The challenges of providing a reeling nation with much-needed answers tested thousands of journalists with sleep deprivation, ethical dilemmas and emotional struggles. Their raw recollections provide a sobering reminder of what the United States faced on Sept. 11 and in the years to come.

Susanne Schafer: The seasoned AP correspondent

Writing about war — and its resulting casualties — with a fair eye and detailed analysis has long defined Susanne Schafer, a seasoned Associated Press correspondent who covered the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

She rattles off the details of that fateful Tuesday with unmistakable clarity, using the back of an advertisement brochure to sketch the inner rings of the Pentagon.

Schafer remembers the pungent smell of jet fuel that permeated throughout the building. The ominous clouds of smoke that hovered in the air, reminding the Capitol it was no longer safe. The gaping hole that savaged the five-sided building charged with holding America's powerful military brass.

There is little emotion in this recounting. These are straight facts, the ones she told much of America in her dispatches for the wire service.

But ask her about the people killed and the tears flow.

Schafer didn't know their names — they were the secretaries and bureaucrats who worked near her press office inside the Pentagon and shared a restroom with her.

"You never thought secretaries at their desks were going to be gone in the blink of an eye," Schafer said.

Reporting in the upcoming days was difficult. Anthrax scares, bomb threats and rumors heightened fear. Tearful memorial services commemorated the dead. America was on the brink of war.

And living in the nation's hub was no longer as much fun for Schafer, who previously loved her job and vowed to never leave even as her husband, Charles Bierbauer, wanted to pursue jobs elsewhere.

"I thought it was entirely possible there would be another attack on the Pentagon, that Washington D.C. had become a target," Schafer said.

So Schafer and Bierbauer, now dean of USC's College of Journalism and Mass Communications and Information Studies, moved to Columbia in 2002. She now covers military affairs for The Associated Press here.

"It was very comforting to be able to come to a smaller community and to be able to connect on a closer level with people," Schafer said. " ... It doesn't have to be going out on Broadway to be happy."

Sid Bedingfield: The CNN news executive

Whether Michael Jordan would emerge from retirement and play for the Washington Wizards seemed to be the day's main headline inside CNN's towering Atlanta headquarters early on Sept. 11, 2001.

Executives huddled to chat about ideas. It was undoubtedly a slow news day for Sid Bedingfield, CNN's former executive vice president for news and now a visiting professor at USC.

Then, news came: A plane had collided with the World Trade Center tower in New York City.

"Like everyone else in that room, I thought, 'How does a small plane get off track and go over a city and hit a building?'" Bedingfield said. "And then I was thinking, 'That must be an interesting picture.'"

Bedingfield trotted down the steps into CNN's main Atlanta newsroom to catch a glimpse of the story on a live feed from New York. He then realized this was no small plane. And when a second plane hit the second tower, he understood the larger implications: This will affect our nation and our news coverage for months, if not forever.

CNN soon deployed all of its resources. There would be wall-to-wall coverage with no commercials for nearly a week. Every available expert would be booked; every photo would be shown. Correspondents moved across the globe. Networks took the unprecedented step of sharing live footage with each other. Sept. 11 had stopped even the fierce news competition.

Bedingfield didn't leave the CNN Center building for 48 hours after the attack. He caught a quick nap in an adjoining hotel.

"At CNN, you are used to doing big stories like this, but not with such an emotional wallop at home," Bedingfield said.

That wallop brought plenty of editorial challenges. Critics questioned the patriotism of reporters who tried to remain detached in covering the U.S. government's response to the attack. A faction of those critics was famously called the "patriotism police" by Walter Isaacson, a former CNN news executive.

Government officials challenged networks who showed tapes filmed by Osama bin Laden. Officials argued these tapes could provide covert assistance for follow-up attacks. Networks eventually chose to only air carefully selected clips, not the full bin Laden statements.

"On one hand, you are an American and you have people who lost family members during the Sept. 11 attacks and were deeply wounded by it," Bedingfield said. "But we would try to argue we are at our most patriotic when we are doing our best journalism, and that we do nobody any favors by becoming a cheerleader."

CNN's coverage eventually won the coveted Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association. After 20 years with the network, Bedingfield left CNN in 2006 over a disagreement with top executives. He is now teaching in the journalism school and pursing his doctorate in mass communications with an emphasis on media and politics.

Martha Wright Smith: The young Gamecock editor

The angered student came to The Gamecock newsroom early on the morning of Sept. 11, upset because his football game arrest was portrayed in the previous day's issue.

He wanted to vent.

Editor-in-Chief Martha Wright, now Smith, wanted pictures. The World Trade Center had just been bombed. Campus was crazed. And a newspaper had to be published.

So she asked the student, after briefly sympathizing with him, to snap pictures for The Gamecock. And sure enough, his photo of a police officer welding shut a manhole near the Statehouse was displayed inside the next day's issue.

Printing The Gamecock — which then only printed three times a week — was grueling for Smith's young staff, which hadn't even finished its recruitment efforts for the fall. Some students, including reporter Laura Moss, had assignments printed for the first time in the Sept. 12, 2001, issue.

"I kind of expected to go in there and start out small," Moss said.

The happenings in New York and Washington, D.C., were included, but Smith wanted more.

"We really wanted to be focused on the USC community and how people were reacting to it," Smith said. "We already had an eye out on the huge national news, and we wanted to make it all as relevant as possible to students."

The next day's issue included stories about counseling, local businesses, government and religious workers on campus among other things. Smith herself wrote a story on the Muslim student reaction to the attack.

"Everyone ran to the Red Cross and started donating blood," Smith said. "People felt scared but called to action."

Smith said the attack taught her to be more "businesslike" and not get caught up in the emotion of the day.

"The world is spiraling out of control, but here we have a handle on things," she said. "Knowing your paper is going to come out and there will be information in there you can use and things you need is a comfort in times like that."

Smith is now a designer at The Chicago Tribune. She previously worked for The Washington Post.

Charles Bierbauer: A journalist turned dean

Charles Bierbauer's 20 years at CNN wrapped up in June 2001, and for the summer, he'd lived the good life — traveling, writing and "fiddling around with some loose ends."

His son was scheduled for a medical visit, but on Sept. 11, 2001, the doctor called to reschedule, profusely apologizing for calling at such a horrible time.

"It's no problem at all," Bierbauer recalled telling the doctor. "I'm just sitting here drinking coffee and reading the paper."

The doctor told Bierbauer to turn on the television, and soon he was watching the horror unfold.

"I didn't want to be a journalist sitting at home and sipping coffee in an event of that scope," Bierbauer said. "My response was one of relief to be involved in the process in a journalistic way."

The Discovery Channel asked Bierbauer to host a three-hour live program that evening. He would later shoot a lengthy documentary on the attacks.

Culling information for the documentary was challenging. The public had "an insatiable desire to get as much information as it could," he said. That meant chasing stories that proved to be false, interviewing hundreds of experts and officials and always wondering what was next.

"As devastating as this was, we're thinking about what might be worse and is this just the beginning," Bierbauer said. "We wanted to know what else are we dealing with, what else do we have to contemplate?"

Some of that paranoia led to needed security reforms, but it also turned the United States into a more suspicious and regimented society, Bierbauer said.

Washington, D.C., buildings once open to the public are now blocked. Once familiar turns can't be made on certain streets. Large barriers block the public from getting even near many buildings.

"Do I mind taking my shoes off at the airport?" Bierbauer said. "No, it's not a major inconvenience, but it's an acknowledgment that we once let our guard down, and now in a hundred little ways we have to pay for it, and many of them are illogical."


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