The Luck Of Journalists
Few Photos, Few Deaths, Few Insights on 9/11
Sep 11, 2021
It is amazing how few journalists were killed on 9/11. Only one, actually, which is a blessing or good planning, considering the scale of the event.
Every network was all over the story, Bill Goodykoontz reports for Arizona Republic, and it continued for four days without a break. More than 80 million viewers tuned in to prime-time coverage on all networks, cable and broadcast, on Sept. 11. 
The television channels, newspapers and magazines threw everything they had at the story and that in an era when digital was new and electronic news gathering still labour intensive.
The news business did lose some of their own in the near-three thousand who died that day. Several of those listed as journalists were actually engineers, three of them were on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower attending to transmission equipment. WNBC has a touching report on the family’s recollections of Bill Steckman. 
One was a journalist-turned-police videographer who entered the towers with first responders. Another cameraman, from Fox, was reportedly on Flight 11 from Boston.
That leaves Bill Biggart, a freelance photographer as the only journalist killed while covering the worst terrorist attack of all time according to World Atlas.  
That strikes me as very odd. 9/11 was near enough war-time reporting which usually takes its toll on reporters and especially those with their eye wedged to the viewfinder.
In the days when we had a separate sound engineer it was common for him to watch the cameraman's back because even routine assignments can be hazardous.
In April this year, three European journalists, two Spanish, one Irish, were killed in Burkina Faso, west Africa, when their poaching patrol was ambushed. 
Some journalists have suffered poor health in the years since the event. In 2020 the Committee to Protect Journalists publicised efforts by lawyers such as Michael Barasch to help people sickened during the coverage. 
The lawyer’s firm represents 55 journalists, including 71-year-old Vincent Novak, a video journalist who covered 9/11 from Ground Zero for NBC News and has been treated for a cancer that his oncologist dates to around the time of the terror attack.
Two years ago The Atlantic felt necessary to remind us that ‘On 9/11, Luck Meant Everything.’ On this 20th anniversary the magazine Elle features MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski who uses the occasion to regale us with the clothes she was wearing. You get the feeling that amid the dissonance someone is trying to tell us something. [7 
No photos, please
Strange features of that day include the lack of any effort by city, state, or federal governments to document the disaster, apparently due to the sudden and catastrophic nature of the attack (Miles Orvell — After 9/11: Photography, the Destructive Sublime, and the Postmodern Archive, 2006).
That makes as much sense as Manhattan’s Office of Emergency Management being abandoned during precisely the kind of disaster for which it was intended.
In addition NY mayor Rudy Giuliani forbade by executive order any amateur photographs of the ruins as they were deemed a crime scene — though that didn’t stop him carting off all the evidence and shipping it to scrapyards in China.
The well-known images — in other words, those that actually captured anything clearly — are so few that Wikipedia can check them off in a short list. 
Many journalists nonetheless won awards that day: Peabody Awards went to ABC and NPR for broadcasting and Pulitzer Prizes were awarded to six publications, including two for photography.
Of course my statements thus far should lead to an in depth assessment of the quality and quantity of photographs. I do not have the resources to do that but I do comment with the experience of picture editor, as a former editor in chief of magazines and, unusually, someone who also has the perspective of an executive producer for international television news. My comments are, therefore, where I would begin rather than a firm conclusion.
Review the photographs of 9/11 and you soon meet the cliché, ‘iconic’. The problem with events like this is that any great photograph qualifies. And once it does, it becomes a reinforcement of what the event looked like.
Most of these iconic images help construct the narrative — when good journalism should challenge a narrative. Thus we see ranks of people staring into the sky; stressed, almost defeated people spewing from elevators and doors; firefighters choking and overwhelmed and then redemption: heroic, Iwo Jima-style rescuers resilient in the rubble.
An editor can counter that their job is to bring the people together in times of crisis. Yes. But you have had 20 years to reflect and to explore other narratives and you have not.
My brief critique is that there are too few photographs of the event itself. Not just the planes. The subsequent collapse of the buildings is very poorly documented. Technically imagery has improved leaps and bounds in the past two decades. But that does not excuse the paucity of forensic photography.
Look at the photography and film craft that came out of Vietnam and how that challenged the official narrative that the Nixon administration wanted the people to absorb.
An editor may say that the job on the day was to capture the momentous, the populous, the fatal attraction, the horror. It was also to be the first draft of history and that means to establish exactly what happened: who, what, when, where, how and why. The press failed as they did with JFK because we are still piecing together the puzzle.
The BBC coined the phrase ‘journalism of attachment’ during South Africa’s Apartheid era as an excuse for backing the ‘right side.’ That was dereliction of the journalist’s duty to investigate all perspectives fairly and accurately. It is not the job of journalists to make on-the-spot political decisions as to whose narrative they buy.
The most famous — and luckiest — footage of 9/11 was filmed by two documentary makers, the Naudet brothers.
The were filming firefighters investigating sewer gas when they heard the roar of engines and panned up to the north tower, zooming in on the upper floors (93-99) just as American Airlines Flight 11 hit the spot. It is the only clear footage of the plane’s impact and their camera is now displayed in National Museum of American History.
I have timed their reaction, pan and zoom by the second and had they made any error that cost half a second they would have missed the impact. Lucky is not the word.
Even though they are, by one account, responsible for the ‘greatest documentary ever filmed’ they have done little in the two decades since. A series of interviews with spiritual leaders, In God’s Name, broadcast in 2007, and a similar-format series of interviews with all twelve living (current and former) intelligence directors, The Spymasters: CIA In the Crosshairs, in 2015. And for Netflix in 2018, they released November 13 Attack on Paris, a documentary featuring interviews about the November 2015 Bataclan concert incident.
There is one other set of photographs that are in the FBI’s possession and have been released not piecemeal but literally in pieces and redacted. These are the ones taken by the group famously known as the ‘dancing Israelis’ a self-admitted team of ‘observers’ who positioned themselves in New Jersey to photograph the attacks. 
These images would add context, including the valuable perception of the event through the eyes of the Mossad. Unfortunately, as with the images of the plane that allegedly struck the Pentagon, the FBI’s images are so cropped, dodged and masked as to be of little practical use. 
The dancing Israelis’ images appear to have been copied on a 1980s photostat machine in order to give the inscrutable patina of age. That might seem appropriately retro to youngsters but anyone alive at the time knows the FBI is pulling a fast one. It has clear and conclusive versions of the images which it simply won’t release.
It would not be possible, it’s been said, to recreate a false flag event on the scale of 9/11 today because everyone has a camera in their phone and because much higher video quality is available to amateurs.
How appropriate that the threat this time around is invisible. Just like the planes on 9/11, no-one has a clear photograph of SARS-CoV.
 AZ Central, Sep 2021 — The 9/11 terrorist attacks changed TV news media. Here's why it didn't last
 WNBC, Sep 2021 — Remembering WNBC Engineer Bill Steckman
 World Atlas — Worst Terrorist Attacks In World History
 Euractive, Apr 2021 — ‘Terrorists’ kill three European journalists in Burkina Faso
 The Atlantic, Sep 2019 — On 9/11, Luck Meant Everything
 Elle, Sep 2021 — A Sacred Task
 Wikipedia — Media documentation of the September 11 attacks
 Israeli TV @00:06:00 YouTube — The Five Dancing Israelis on 9/11
 Whitney Webb, 2019 — The Dancing Israelis: FBI Docs Shed Light on Apparent Mossad Foreknowledge of 9/11 Attacks