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Several years ago, for one of my son’s college film projects, I obtained (it was harder than one might think) from the New York Times a digital file of the newspaper’s front page on the morning of September 11, 2001. Due to demand, I suppose, they could not rustle up a print copy. For my son’s film we printed out a copy and I am studying it now. It’s a remarkable document of our world before everything changed, possibly forever, and for the worse, possibly forever.
The first time I read this front page was on the train that day, commuting to my office in New York, heading down the Hudson as one of the hijacked jets flying directly overhead aimed at the World Trade Center.
First, as we scan the page, the weather: Yes, they accurately forecast a “mostly sunny and noticeably less humid” day, high 79. Hence the dark blue skies in all the photos and video you see (or recall) from that day.
It’s startling to see a jet hijacking story on the front page, in the lower right corner — a New York teacher, a former “black power” revolutionary, finally charged with a 1971 skyjacking, when the plane ended up in Cuba. Also prescient, one might say, is an article headlined, “Mideast Still Roiling Despite Plans to Talk.”
One prominent story reminded me that this was primary election day in NYC. Ed Koch, Al Sharpton and Bill Bradley all were named in the first paragraphs. Other headlines: “Nuclear Booty: More Smugglers Use Asia Route” and “Scientists Urge Bigger Supply of Stem Cells.”
Then, as now (but not for many days after this day), the Times insisted on placing some fluff out front. So we got “School Dress Codes vs. Sea of Bare Flesh.”
But the top story, in the upper right, could have been written today: “Key Leaders Talk of Possible Deals to Revive Economy.” Top figures in both parties were said to be responding to “the darkening economic outlook” by exploring possible compromises on additional tax cuts, with the suggestion “that such a deal could involve the politically perilous step of tapping temporarily into the Social Security surplus.” Surplus! New numbers showed unemployment “had surged” and new polls found support for the GOP “eroding.” This reminds us that Bush’s presidency, at that early date, was already in trouble, until saved (for quite a spell) by what happened on this day. “Pressure mounted on President Bush,” we read, “to drop his cautious approach to dealing with the weakening economy, much of it from within his own party.”
Then there was this teaser at the bottom: “Afghan Rebel’s Fate Unclear: A day after a bombing aimed at the leader of the opposition to the Taliban, there were conflicting reports as to whether he survived.” We now know how that, and so much more, turned out.
Greg Mitchell’s latest book and e-book is Atomic Cover-Up.