Aaron Brown, news anchor during most of CNN’s coverage on September 11, 2001, was interviewed on the 15th anniversary of the event. He said in that interview that he had felt “profoundly stupid” when he was reporting the destruction of the first Tower (the South Tower) on that morning.
I…I will tell you…that a million things had been running through my mind about what might happen. About the effect of a jet plane hitting people above where the impact was, what might be going on in those buildings. And it just never occurred to me that they’d come down. And I thought…it’s the only time I thought, maybe you just don’t have what it takes to do a story like this. Because it just had never occurred to me.” (CNN, Sept. 11, 2016, interviewer Brian Stelter)
Is it not remarkable that Brown was made to feel stupid, and to feel inadequate as a news anchor, during the precise moments of his coverage of that day when his senses and his mind were fully engaged and on the right track?
Shortly after 9:59 a.m. Brown had been standing on a roof in New York City about 30 blocks from the World Trade Center. He was looking directly at the South Tower as it was destroyed. He was not just a journalist and not just a news anchor: he was an eyewitness.
He immediately interrupted a journalist who was reporting live about the Pentagon:
Wow! Jamie. Jamie, I need you to stop for a second. There has just been a huge explosion…we can see a billowing smoke rising…and I can’t…I’ll tell you that I can’t see that second Tower. But there was a cascade of sparks and fire and now this…it looks almost like a mushroom cloud, explosion, this huge, billowing smoke in the second Tower…” (9:59:07 a.m.)
Having reported honestly what he saw with his own eyes, Brown next did exactly what he should have done as a responsible news anchor. He let his audience know that while he did not know what had happened it was clear that there were two hypotheses in play, the explosion hypothesis and the structural failure hypothesis. And then he went to his reporters on the scene,