On 9/11, Those in the Smoke and the Rubble Were the Heroes, Not the Media

AP Photo/Doug Mills

While the press may want to drape themselves in glory, they fall short of those covered in soot and debris.

It might seem remarkable that on this 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, any focus might be on anything other than those in New York’s Twin Towers, the Pentagon, Flight 93, or any of the responders to those events that day. What was faced and endured by thousands is gripping and deeply inspiring. But, there are some in the press wanting to place themselves in Category Hero.


CNN’s Brian Stelter could not help himself and saw a need to burnish his industry as being a heroic component on that fateful day.

This is as weak a form of attempted veneration of a vocation as you might see. Stelter comes off sounding like the equipment manager of a football team, looking up glowingly at those who are actually on the field and winning games. He counts himself as a vital team member, as he shouts “WE won the championship!” No, Brian. The leaders and heroes were the ones in the buildings and on the ground, saving lives while risking their own. A talking head under the klieg lights is nowhere close to an emergency worker under a collapsing edifice.

While it is true there was a reliance on newsmen that day, elevating them into a position of national leaders is just pure farce. President George Bush was not missing in action. After taking understandable safety precautions before the situation was realized, he addressed the nation from the Oval Office that same evening.


Let’s not pretend that those network anchors were no less bunkered. They were working in the safe confines of studios. They were wearing three-piece, tailored suits and silk ties, while the true leaders were in scratched helmets and cumbersome turnout gear.

What makes this appropriated heroism all the more grating is how a significant number of the press could not join in on the bonding we experienced as a nation. One of the positive results of the 9/11 attacks was how this country realized our petty differences were so easily shunted. Even in D.C. the usual internecine battles were seen as irrelevant in the face of these attacks. We went to war with near-unanimous Congressional support.

But, some in the press could not join in the unity.

Recall that George Bush had been coming under fire from a number of voices in the media. Michael Moore, and others, were critical of the president’s non-response when he was reading a storybook to a classroom full of children. To most, it was the president playing it straight and not delivering a panicked response. To some in the press, he was supposed to toss the book in the air and race out of the room, in front of dozens of elementary students. Then later, other criticisms were launched because President Bush was not immediately going to the White House, a decision that was made by the Secret Service.


One writer, in particular, was truculent about Bush’s travels those morning hours.

This displays a different era with a different attitude. Writers saying things of that nature about the president are now not only commonplace but encouraged by the management. For all of the drama surrounding the Capitol riot this past January, note how there is no such concern for events when protestors were assaulting the White House back in May of 2020. Despite a major assault, where over 60 Secret Service agents were injured, the press is not so overly concerned about that event. But Trump was mocked roundly in the media for being spirited to the safe bunker that Friday night. There were no firings as a result.

The media have elevated themselves in their own esteem, without an actual elevation taking place. Take another look over Stelter’s trio of heroes. Of those three he declares to be our leaders, two of them had to resign in shame for fabricating news items. Hardly the character needed to lead a nation.


Make no mistake, while the network anchors did important work keeping the public informed, raising that behavior into mythic status is laughable. The rescuers, the firefighters, and the police were the true leaders for all of us, running towards danger and covered in soot and debris. The network anchors did the same thing as the rest of the country that day — they watched the national leaders working in the crucible of unimagined carnage and destruction. Let us not pretend they did anything beyond just that.


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