Former CNN anchor recounts 9/11 coverage

Gordon (09-12-08)
Phoenix Fire Department Chaplain Father Carl Carlozzi, left, and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon lay a wreath of flowers on a fire bell in tribute to first responders at the September 11th attacks in New York City. The ceremony was held at the Phoenix Fire Administration Building in Phoenix Thursday.
Published On:
Friday, September 12, 2008
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As a reporter, covering the Sept. 11 attacks was both painful and exhilarating, former CNN anchor Aaron Brown said Thursday.

“You don’t wish for horrible things to happen,” said Brown, who is now an ASU journalism professor. “But if there’s going to be [something horrible] you want to be there.”

Brown talked to a crowd of nearly 100 students and faculty Thursday night at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication about his coverage of the terrorist attacks.

Brown gave the audience a detailed glimpse into the emotion involved in reporting a story that affected the lives of so many Americans, including his own friends and neighbors.

Often choking up, Brown said the role of the anchor covering such a tragedy is to be “the cathartic center around which we all gather.”

In a room full of aspiring journalists, Brown emphasized the importance of accuracy in reporting a story surrounded by chaos and hearsay.

“I could hear Peter’s voice in my head saying, ‘If you don’t know it, don't report it,’” Brown said, referring to his former colleague, ABC anchor Peter Jennings.

Students, who filled all three levels of the First Amendment Forum in the Cronkite building, were silent and visibly moved by Brown’s account of his emotions and his duty as a reporter.

But Brown said his work on 9/11 was nowhere near as important as the work of emergency personnel.

“Reporters don’t run into burning buildings and rescue people,” he said. “Firefighters do.”

Broadcast journalism freshman Priscilla Lopez said Brown’s passion and appreciation for journalism are inspiring.

“It’s not a job — it’s his life, and something he feels is important,” she said. “He made all of us realize that journalism is hard work, and to get that big break you have to work hard.”

Brown told the room of aspiring journalists many of them would also live conflicted lives.

“If you’re lucky, someday you will get to report a 9/11,” said Brown “If the country is lucky, you won’t.”