Reflections on 9/11

By The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Bob Schieffer, Gwen Ifill, Dan Rather, Connie Chung, Sam Donaldson, Beth McCarthy-Miller, Lewis Bernstein, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Doris Roberts discuss the events of September 11, 2001

By Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection


Since 1997, the Television Academy Foundation’s The Interviews: An Oral History of Television (formerly the Archive of American Television) has been conducting in-depth, videotaped oral history interviews with television professionals, including actors, writers, editors, and journalists. These interviews explore the lives and careers of the interviewees, and often touch on important historical moments.

Gathered here are stories from interviewees about their personal and professional experiences on September 11, and reflections on the tragedy of that day.

Bob Schieffer on 9/11The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

News anchor/correspondent Bob Schieffer tells of his experiences on September 11, as well as the challenges of covering such a horrific event as a reporter. He shares the fact that reporters instinctively jump into action and may take some time after the fact to truly process what they have been reporting on:

“David Martin, our Pentagon correspondent, he was driving to the Pentagon… He got there, parked his car, and realized something was going on on the other side of the Pentagon, there was all this smoke, and then he began to see bodies all strewn out. And David said, ‘My reporter instincts kicked in and I just basically started counting.’ Well, that's what reporters do, you know, and it comes from our training. It happened to David that day, it happened to me. It took me a long, long time to get past it. I still think about it every day.”

Watch Bob Schieffer’s full interview, where he discusses his career from reporting on the assassination of President Kennedy to hosting Face the Nation.

Gwen Ifill on 9/11The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Journalist Gwen Ifill talks about her experiences on September 11, both personally and as a journalist, and she details PBS’s reaction to the tragedy:

“Two things happened at PBS. One is we knew that people were desperate for information. So the NewsHour and Washington Week and Frontline were on 24/7. But we also knew that for children there needed to be a place to go where they weren't horrified. And so PBS kept its regularly scheduled children's programming up all day… So we had kind of a dual role during all of that and I think we rose to the occasion. Like everybody did.”

Watch Gwen Ifill's full interview where she talks about her journey from The Baltimore Evening Sun to PBS NewsHour.

Dan Rather on 9/11The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

News anchor/reporter Dan Rather reflects on the significance of September 11:

“The first ever such attack on American soil. I think it changed us as a country, changed us as a people. I think in the long haul we’ve changed for the better, but nonetheless, we changed.”

Watch Dan Rather's full interview where he details his storied career at CBS News.

Connie Chung on 9/11The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Journalist Connie Chung shares the particular angle of her 9/11 coverage, focusing on the financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald, the offices of which had been located at the World Trade Center. The story took a surprising turn after the head of the company stopped payroll payments to the survivors’ families:

“I went and interviewed the head of Cantor Fitzgerald, who cried on camera the most incredible, real tears… because of the loss of his employees. …The craziest thing is, just [a few days later] the head of Cantor Fitzgerald took all the families off health benefits … It was horrible. So then the story continued. And I interviewed families. And they were incredulous. They accused him of false crocodile tears and all of that. It was just an incredible story because I ended up concentrating on that microcosm of a story. Not the huge impact of 9/11. There were others doing that.”

Watch Connie Chung’s full interview to hear her tell the stories behind her groundbreaking career.

Sam Donaldson on 9/11The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

News correspondent Sam Donaldson gives his perspective on the events of September 11, as well as the United States’ reaction in its aftermath:

“Have you ever inadvertently poked a hornet's nest? I mean, those hornets come flying out, they don't care who they sting, they don't care what they do, they just know that they are just angry as can be. Well, after 9/11, that's the way our country was. … This led to the invasion of Iraq, which the consequences are still unknown in the final analysis. And it's led to things that we've done to try to keep ourselves safer: take off your shoes, we're going to pat you down at the airport… we've given up some, I don't think at the moment, a tragic amount of our personal liberties in the name of those hornets trying to find out who poked us.”

Watch Sam Donaldson’s full interview to hear him tell the stories behind his legendary career.

Beth McCarthy-Miller on the first Saturday Night Live episode after 9/11The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Director Beth McCarthy-Miller shares her desire to contribute in some way following 9/11, and her satisfaction at directing America: A Tribute to Heroes. She also tells the story behind the first episode of Saturday Night Live following the attacks, which she directed:

“Lorne [Michaels] definitely had a vision of what he could do to pay tribute to everyone … [to tell] everybody, ‘We’re in this with you. We feel your pain and we feel the same way, and we want to try to just give you a few minutes to not think about it.’ And I think that’s what it achieved.”

Watch Beth McCarthy-Miller’s full interview, which chronicles her career directing iconic pop cultural moments from Nirvana on MTV’s Unplugged to live episodes of 30 Rock.

Lewis Bernstein on how Sesame Street dealt with 9/11The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Sesame Street producer Lewis Bernstein shares the goals of the show as it aimed to help children in the wake of September 11:

“We immediately had a meeting and said, what can we do that will somehow resonate with children? … children are not oblivious to what's just happened. We need to find a legitimate way to deal with it. So we said, let's do two shows that deal with children's fears and deal with the trauma.”

Watch Lewis Bernstein’s full interview, where he discusses his over thirty-years working on Sesame Street.

S. Epatha Merkerson on 9/11 and Law & OrderThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Actress S. Epatha Merkerson shares her experience of starring on Law & Order at the time of 9/11, expressing great emotion as she describes the delicate balance of respecting such a horrific event that happened in the city she loved:

“It’s not something you can really write about. I think you just have to be respectful because people are still, you know, how many years later, they’re still trying to figure out what that was, and…the city is still wounded from that."

Watch S. Epatha Merkerson’s full interview, which spans her career from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse to Law & Order.

Doris Roberts on meeting 9/11 first respondersThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Actress Doris Roberts tells the story of a meeting she had with 9/11 first responders, and their explanation for why she and Everybody Loves Raymond meant so much to them:

“They said, we were here since the first day, and we’re looking for pieces of our friends. We go home at night and turn on the telly and you’re there and you make us laugh and you bring us back into life.”

Watch Doris Roberts’ full interview, which spans her career from her time on Broadway to her role as “Marie Barone” on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Credits: Story

The Television Academy Foundation's The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Jenni Matz, Director
Adrienne Faillace, Producer
Jenna Hymes, Manager & Exhibit curator
Nora Bates, Production Coordinator
John Dalton, Cataloguer

Video editing by the Pop Culture Passionistas, sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, who have made a career based on their love of pop culture.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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