Television

AMERICA UNDER ATTACK: THE VIEW FROM CNN

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The debate between the two CNN network heads lasted ten seconds. "Is it appropriate for us to use the phrase America Under Attack on the screen?" asked one. "Well what the hell else is this?" was the response. It was not a day for discussion on the finer points of journalism.

I have been in BBC newsrooms as the Challenger Shuttle blew up, as the Berlin wall fell, as the first searing pictures from Ethiopia and its famine were broadcast.

And of course, 10 years ago when the US and its allies started to bombard Baghdad. 

And then in 1997, I stood in a control room at CNN as confirmation came that the Princess of Wales had died in Paris. 

But none of this prepared me for the look of horror on my colleagues' faces and the stunned silence as that second aircraft slammed into the World Trade Center yesterday. And then came the news that a third aircraft had hit the Pentagon and a fourth Boeing 757 had come down somewhere near Pennsylvania. 

Even with the experience CNN has gained in 21 years, this unprecedented terrorist attack against the United States tested even our resources Here at CNN's Atlanta headquarters, the first airliner crashed into the World Trade Center during our morning editorial conference - when representatives from all CNN channels and services come together to plan their broadcast day. Within minutes the News Group's US and oversees services - 35 across television, internet, radio and mobile phones, in numerous languages, available to almost a billion people - were covering the tragedy. We decided that one single CNN channel should broadcast to all audiences around the world.

The descriptions used on and off air in those first few hours of coverage seemed somehow inadequate. The worst terrorist attack on America ever. The worst assault since Pearl Harbour? The largest modern day media operation since the coverage of the Gulf War?

Even with the experience CNN has gained in 21 years, this unprecedented terrorist attack against the United States tested even our resources. The logistics of getting staff to New York and Washington literally became a road race, as airports across America shut down. But we were able to fulfill our obligations, not just to the CNN family of networks who turned to us for help. This was not a day for the competitive edge. People take for granted that CNN was first in America and around the world with the story - and it was. They take for granted that the first live pictures and subsequent reportage was the best.

Our coverage was immediately made available to all news organizations, those under contract and those who were not.

CNN has undergone some painful - and necessary - restructuring in the past year. More than 400 colleagues, 10 per cent of the workforce, have been made redundant. Yet on Tuesday dozens of those laid off rang to offer their newsgathering services. Others just turned up.

Amidst the madness of yesterday's atrocity, many of us found that a very humbling experience.

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