The Day of Infamy
By Daniel Klaidman
[Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from a longer essay commissioned by Tina Brown for the December 31, 2012 edition of Newsweek, the last print issue in the U.S. Klaidman’s full article is available at the link listed below.]
On Sept. 11, 2001, I arrived at Newsweek’s Washington bureau a little before 9 a.m. Flipping on the TV, I saw reports that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Moments later, the phone rang and it was Mark Miller, the magazine’s chief of correspondents, based in New York. While we conferred, the second plane struck.
About 45 minutes later, my colleague Evan Thomas burst into my office pointing out the window. “We’re under attack,” he said breathlessly. My office overlooked the White House and other iconic Washington landmarks. Way off in the distance, across the Potomac River, was a low-slung, oddly shaped building. In the nine months I’d been serving as Washington bureau chief, I’d never noticed it. But now I could see what had so stunned Evan: there was an enormous fireball sitting on top of the Pentagon, dark smoke billowing up from behind it.
Reacting as Americans and humans, we were horrified and scared—for the country and also for ourselves. But we also needed to react as journalists, which meant immediately figuring out how to cover the story. That morning, Don Graham, CEO of The Washington Post Co., which at the time owned Newsweek, reached Mark Whitaker, the magazine’s editor, in New York.
“What are you thinking?” Graham asked. The only thing Whitaker was sure of at that moment was that we couldn’t wait until Saturday, our normal print deadline, to publish. “We need to put out a special issue now,” he told Graham.
The Mission: As we plunged into reporting, I knew that 9/11 was going to be the biggest, most complicated story I’d ever covered…In their heyday, newsmagazines like Newsweek and Time had helped set the national agenda…By 2001, with the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of new media, that was no longer—or was very soon to be no longer—the case. But 9/11 revived, however fleetingly, the newsmagazine’s central relevance in the life of the nation. And it gave those of us who worked at Newsweek a renewed sense of mission.
The traditional strength of newsmagazines was group journalism. Far-flung correspondents from a vast network of bureaus around the world sent in rich, deeply reported “files’ to the writers in New York who spun them into finely crafted stories. In an age of celebrity journalism, where writers had cable TV contracts as pundits and carefully measured the type size of their bylines, that kind of ego submersion was already starting to feel old-fashioned. But 9/11 was such a complicated story that it was uniquely suited to this kind of team coverage.
Big Break: The man at the center of this unwieldy work was Thomas, a master of weaving the information provided by different correspondents into a single narrative. Our first reporting break—which ended up providing the lead anecdote for Thomas’s post-9/11 cover story—came from a talented and dedicated Newsweek researcher named Lucy Shackelford. Shackelford had a distant family connection to Lyz Glick, the widow of a passenger who’d gone down with United Flight 93 in a Pennsylvania
field. Shackelford persuaded Glick to describe to us the last conversation she’d had with her husband, who had been able to place a cell phone call from the plane.
As we huddled around the speaker phone in my office, Glick told us that her husband, Jeremy, had revealed t her that he and several other passengers had a last-ditch plan to “jump the hijackers” and regain control of the aircraft. The rebellion began while the call was still connected: there was silence, then screams, then silence, then screams, then nothing. As he listened to Glick’s account, Thomas began to choke up, realizing that a few brave passengers had very likely saved hundreds of lives by diverting Flight 93 away from its intended target, either the U.S. Capitol or the White House. It was the first moment we’d learned Americans weren’t just victims; some had fought back.
The story, written by Thomas and containing reporting from eight different correspondents, appeared on Sept. 13, under the headline “A New Date of Infamy.”
[To read the full essay, click on: http://thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/12/23/daniel-klaidman-on-newsweek-after-sept-11.html ]
Daniel Klaidman joined Newsweek as an investigative reporter and legal correspondent in 1996. He served as Middle East correspondent in Jerusalem from 1999 to 2000, rose to Washington bureau chief in 2001 to 2006 and became managing editor in New York from 2006 to 2011. He now serves as a special correspondent to Newsweek digital and The Daily Beast.