By: David Bauder, AP Television Writer
(AP) Politicians, media, and the military all failed to pay enough attention to the terrorist threat prior to Sept. 11, retired U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey said Monday.
The nation had been warned specifically about threats, but “we heard the report and walked away from it,” said McCaffrey, former White House drug policy director.
“I think we all failed the country in many ways,” McCaffrey said. “There was an air of unreality to it. It was an out-of-body experience.”
McCaffrey was among political and journalism leaders speaking Monday night at a panel on the media’s response to Sept. 11 sponsored by the Museum of Television and Radio. A second seminar, about the war abroad, was scheduled for Tuesday.
The panel featured U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, who both complimented the media for post-Sept. 11 performances.
John Miller, an ABC News reporter and terrorism expert, said he had been something of a Chicken Little around ABC with his efforts to get the organization prepared for terrorism. Specifically, he warned that in a large-scale terrorist attack in New York, cell phones would be an unreliable form of communication.
Although clues to a blueprint for the Sept. 11 attacks may have been evident in various documents and reports, the scale of it was far beyond anyone’s experience, Miller said.
“Had all of that been connected would we have seen this coming?” Miller asked. “In a perfect world, yes. But not in the world we were living in.”
Ridge credited the media with pushing the government hard to get answers during the anthrax scare — which directly affected ABC, CBS, and NBC because anthrax contamination was found at each network headquarters.
Clarke, recalling how the Defense Department set up a makeshift briefing area at a gas station near the Pentagon after a plane crashed into the military headquarters, said “it was extraordinary what the media did in those early days.”
CBS News President Andrew Heyward said all journalists, particularly those in New York, had a hard time keeping the emotional distance from the story that in normal cases they try to. That was evident when CBS anchor Dan Rather broke down in tears talking about the events on David Letterman’s talk show.
But Heyward said he wasn’t sure whether the patriotic fever post-Sept. 11 may have softened some journalists’ instincts. “I’m not sure if there should have been more questions asked of government policy at the time,” he said.