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Indy at 15: Covering 9/11

Mike Burke Oct 8

I thought a bomb had gone off. It was 9:59 a.m. I was working in an office building on Nassau Street, blocks away from the burning Twin Towers. Our building shook. My colleagues and I could see a stream of people running on the sidewalk. Then the sky went black. Dust engulfed our building. The South Tower had collapsed, 56 minutes after being struck. Thirty minutes later the sky went black again.

The police soon ordered a full evacuation of lower Manhattan. Along with thousands of other stunned New Yorkers I walked home across the Williamsburg Bridge, occasionally looking back in horror at the plume of smoke hanging over where the World Trade Center had stood just hours before.

By the time I got home, the calls for war had already begun.

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger appeared on CNN saying, “There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them even if they are not immediately directly involved in this thing.”

The New York Post ran a column titled “Simply Kill the Bastards.” Steve Dunleavy wrote, “As for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts.”

I returned to Manhattan the next day, first stopping at a vigil in Union Square and then heading to the NYC Indymedia office, where The Indypendent was housed, for an emergency editorial meeting to begin work on a special issue.

I recently uncovered my notes from that meeting. Some of the topics raised: “civil liberties,” “anti-Arab,” “what kind of war,” “antiwar movement,” “airport security,” “history of Middle East conflict” and “right-wing nuts.”

Within 24 hours the paper was published. 

The special issue featured a photograph of downtown Manhattan after the towers collapsed. A box detailing ways to help ran down the left side. The lead article, “After Shocks,” described the city in the first 24 hours after the attack, when families were desperately searching for missing loved ones while others held impromptu vigils in Union and Washington Squares.

At the time we still didn’t know how many people had died or who was behind the attack.

Other articles in the issue included “Media Goes to War,” “We Need Real Security,” “Timeline of Lost Liberty” and “Rising Hatred,” about the backlash against Arab- and Muslim-American immigrant communities. The back page featured original first-person reports from Ground Zero.

My contribution to our special issue was headlined “How Should We Respond.” I interviewed leading peace activists, including Dave McReynolds of the War Resisters League and Carmen Trotta of the Catholic Worker Movement. The article’s message was a call for peace. After recounting the cries for revenge, I wrote, “But wouldn’t fighting terror with terror propel the nation, and indeed the world into a war where there may be no winners?”

In the months after the September 11 attacks I decided to quit my full-time job in order to focus full time on journalism. I joined the staff at Democracy Now! just in time to help produce a special on the first anniversary of the attacks. Today I am still at Democracy Now!, still covering many of the same issues we identified in that special issue of The Indypendent.

Mike Burke is a senior producer at Democracy Now! and a co-founder of The Indypendent.


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