Internet Archive shows Sept. 11 TV coverage

That alone is interesting for the striking contrast it provides with the last seemingly carefree moments before several tough years.

On NBC’s “Today” show, Katie Couric talks brightly of “a beautiful fall morning in Manhattan,” and the camera pans to a cheering crowd. Charles Gibson mocks his “Good Morning America” colleague Diane Sawyer for writing notes on her hand, and ABC’s Claire Shipman said the biggest news in Washington was Michael Jordan giving hints he might return to the basketball court.

Out of a commercial late in the morning shows, even cutting one commercial short on CNN, suddenly came camera shots of a burning World Trade Center, ones that would dominate screens for several hours.

Newscasters were careful before the story became clear. Matt Lauer initially called it an “accident.” Morning shows effectively used phone calls from eyewitnesses adding details beyond the faraway camera shots. “It’s mind-boggling and it’s horrifying,” one witness, Jennifer Oberstein, told Lauer.

Then came one of many unthinkable moments: a second plane darting into pictures and crashing into the second tower, exploding in a fireball and falling debris.

“We just saw another plane coming in to the other side,” Gibson said. “This looks like there is some sort of concerted effort to attack the World Trade Center that is underway.”

Later, when the towers collapsed, one after the other, it seemed so inconceivable that anchors initially couldn’t grasp what viewers had seen on the screen. NBC’s Tom Brokaw talked of structural damage so severe that the buildings would probably have to be brought down—after one of them already came down on its own.

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