The day before our world changed: Sept. 10, 2001
Special to The Washington Post
On a Tuesday morning in September three years ago, four planes separated nearly 3,000 people from their loved ones. They also separated life into “before” and “after.” The “after” is a dangerous, delicate work in progress. But do you remember before?
Sept. 10, 2001. Cloudless skies welcome the sun to the East Coast at 6:32 a.m. This Monday looks to be a beautiful late summer day. Tuesday, however, might see some storms and clouds, as a hurricane is approaching. The worst of Hurricane Erin is out at sea and will remain there, but rough weather is still expected along the New Jersey coast later today or early tomorrow.
Not that people are all that focused on the weather.
The gossip around the water coolers this morning revolves around the latest about California congressman Gary Condit and missing intern Chandra Levy, the U.S. Open final match Saturday between sisters Venus and Serena Williams, Michael Jordan’s possible return–again–to the NBA, tomorrow’s release of Bob Dylan’s 43rd album, “Love and Theft,” and the summertime paranoia about shark attacks, “killer mold” and dangerous roller coaster rides.
There’s some buzz around today’s television premiere of “The Other Half,” a talk show hosted by former Partridge family son Danny Bonaduce, never-aging TV host Dick Clark and two other minor male celebrities that seeks to be the male counterpart to the popular, all-female “The View.” Kelly Ripa is appearing on “The Late Show With David Letterman” tonight, and Jay Leno has Keanu Reeves on “The Tonight Show.”
Singer Mandy Moore’s video “Crushed” remains atop MTV’s TRL Top 10 Countdown. Regis Philbin and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” top the Nielsen ratings, and “The Musketeer,” yet another Hollywood take on the Alexandre Dumas novel, leads the box office.
The morning’s headlines cover a variety of topics. The Washington Post and the New York Times both lead with congressional wrangling over a tight federal budget. The Wall Street Journal fronts comments by Vice President Dick Cheney suggesting the administration is seriously considering a capital gains tax cut and an increase in the minimum wage.
USA Today goes high with a National Academy of Sciences report suggesting President Bush’s recent decision to allow some stem cell research won’t make a serious dent in treating diseases. The New York Daily News features an article on the booming retail industry in the 75 below-ground stores at the World Trade Center.
It’s the day before the city’s primary election. But more New Yorkers are probably talking about Michael Jackson’s concert at Madison Square Garden tonight than about politics. At a campaign stop on Coney Island, City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Peter Vallone screams “Nine-one-one–September 11! … It may not be an emergency for you, but it’s an emergency for me!”
Outgoing Mayor Rudy Giuliani attends a sermon by Father Mychal Judge, who is addressing current and former firefighters, as well as Fire Department Chief Pete Ganci, at a Bronx firehouse. “You have no idea, when you get on that rig,” the priest says at the firehouse, “no matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea what God’s calling you to do…. Good days, bad days. Up days, down days. Sad days, happy days–but never a boring day on this job.”
President Bush’s approval rating stands at 51 percent. He spends the first part of his day meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, discussing a potential free-trade agreement between the two countries. Later he flies to Florida to promote his education bill, pursued throughout the day by questions about the slumping U.S. economy. Unemployment is 4.9 percent and rising. The surplus is disappearing. More than 1 million people have become unemployed since January.
“This has been an awful week for the stock markets,” Sam Donaldson declared yesterday morning on ABC’s “This Week.” He was being modest: It has been an awful year. The manufacturing and technology industries have been especially hard hit by the economic downturn, and corporate profits have dwindled. The Dow Jones is down 11 percent this year, the Nasdaq down 32 percent.
“Is the worst over?” Donaldson asked. “I mean, what’s ahead?”
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has called the struggling economy “the biggest problem I think the country is facing.” President Bush hopes he can assuage congressional concerns tomorrow when he hosts the congressional barbecue on the White House South Lawn.
On Capitol Hill, various House and Senate committees and news conferences address frauds in the herbal remedy industry, the minimum wage, federal bioterrorism preparedness, the Social Security “lock box” and contraceptive coverage.
The National Press Club features a luncheon program called “U.S. Foreign Policy in the 21st Century: Defining Our Interest in a Changing World.” The Capitol Hill Civil War Roundtable looks back at John Brown, who led a raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and is considered by many historians to be an American terrorist. The Congressional Research Service publishes a new report entitled, “Terrorism: Near Eastern Groups and State Sponsors.”
The House Rules Committee meets to discuss HR2586, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2002. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld takes to the airwaves to tout his plan to cut $18 billion a year in the defense budget through military reorganization. Skeptics fear budget cuts will ultimately fall on the shoulders of U.S. troops.
Then there’s the news that doesn’t garner mainstream attention.
During the president’s daily morning briefing by the CIA, the White House learns Ahmed Shah Massoud has been assassinated in Afghanistan. The death of this leader in the resistance to the ruling Taliban dampens U.S. hopes of ending fundamentalist Islamic rule in Kabul. All signs immediately point toward Osama bin Laden, the head of a shadowy Islamic terrorist group called al-Qaida, which claimed responsibility for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
Second-tier cabinet officials agree to a three-phase strategy, drafted over the summer, for dealing with the Taliban: talks first, then diplomatic pressure and covert funding, and as a last resort, “direct action” to overthrow the Taliban. Their report makes it to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s desk later today. Also on Rice’s desk are prepared remarks for a speech she is to deliver tomorrow. The speech will discuss “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday.” It does not talk about bin Laden, al-Qaida or radical Islam.
I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, informs Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had sent Cheney a copy of her legislation on counterterrorism and homeland defense in July, that the vice president will be unable to review her legislation for at least six months.
At the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft rejects the FBI’s request for $58 million to fund such counterterrorism initiatives as new field agents, intelligence analysts and translators.
U.S. intelligence agents tape al-Qaida members saying “the match begins tomorrow” and “tomorrow is Zero Day.” The tapes won’t be translated until tomorrow.
Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari drive to Portland, Maine, dine at a Pizza Hut and buy a pair of box cutters from Wal-Mart before spending the night at a Comfort Inn. Seventeen colleagues spend the night in hotels in Massachusetts and Virginia. Ziad S. Jarrah writes his girlfriend a farewell letter. “You should be very proud, because it is an honor and in the end you will see that everyone will be happy.”
As night falls, clouds roll in across the New York skyline and unleash a downpour. The Yankees-Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium is canceled. The 11 p.m. weather forecasts assure the New York region that the stormy weather will pass and make way for a gorgeous Tuesday.
“Monday Night Football” doesn’t end until well past midnight. The Denver Broncos are hosting the New York Giants. Perhaps some diehard Giants fans in New York, having opted to stay up to watch the Broncos win 31-20, opt to sleep in a little in the morning. They set their alarms for a later hour, and settle in for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Gavin, media relations officer for the Brookings Institution, is working on a book about the events of Sept. 10, 2001.