An Editor Looks Back: The 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

All nine of RFA’s language services – Burmese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, Tibetan, Uyghur and Vietnamese – participated in 9/11 coverage.
A commentary by Dan Southerland
2021-09-11
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An Editor Looks Back: The 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks The twin towers of the World Trade Center billow smoke after hijacked airliners crashed into them.
AFP

The 20th anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City causes me to recall with considerable respect the journalists sent to New York to cover the attacks’ impact.

As the executive editor of Radio Free Asia, I had to approve who would go from Washington, D.C. up to New York to cover the event’s immediate aftermath.

Given the dangers that journalists might encounter in and around the still-smoking towers, I decided to send only those reporters who volunteered to go.

Those who went were instructed to get as close to the World Trade Center as they could.

But under our guidelines, if at any point they encountered obvious dangers they would pull back. They were also advised to consult with the police and firefighters whom they met along the way.

At one point, I got a call from a reporter who had taken a taxi part of the way up to New York City. But the taxi had been stopped at a police roadblock on its way into the city.

I told the reporter to tell the police that he was a journalist and to show them his credentials.

Then I told him to tell them that it was his job to get as close to the scene as he could, even if he had to walk several miles to get there.

As I recall, all nine of RFA’s language services – Burmese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, Tibetan, Uyghur and Vietnamese – participated in the coverage of an issue of interest to audiences in those countries and regions without free and independent media.

A total of 2,977 people were killed in the deadliest terrorist attack in American history when the two planes piloted by Islamic jihadists struck the World Trade Center.

Terrorists then flew a third plane into the Pentagon outside Washington D.C., killing all on board the plane, as well as 125 military and civilian employees at the Department of Defense.

A fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, was flying to California but was diverted by four Al Queda hijackers to head toward Washington, D.C. It crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, following valorous attempts by the crew and passengers to regain control of the plane.

All 44 people on board were killed, including the four hijackers. 

The death toll included 28 South Koreans, and 21 Korean-Americans were reported to have died in the attacks, and RFA’s Korean Language Service has sent reporters to New York over the years since to prepare reports marking anniversary dates.

One Korean reporter, Si Chun, was assigned to cover Ground Zero about a week after the attacks on the twin towers.

“I remember people showing me photos of missing loved ones as well as the names and occupations of the people they were looking for,” Si Chun said.

One of the heroes involved in the attacks was a cleaning woman working in one of the towers who left the tower following the attack but then went back to rescue others trapped inside.

Having saved so many others, Gavkharoy Kamardinova, 26, did not survive.

Her family had fled Xinjiang for Uzbekistan in the 1950s and she later emigrated to New York. 
Dan Southerland is RFA's founding Executive Editor.
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