By Lee Kamlet
Dean, School of Communications
The news of the death of Osama bin Laden has of course re-ignited memories of 9/11. I was at NBC News at the time. I was actually working out in the gym at Rockefeller Center, watching the TODAY show, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. The first report suggested it might have been an accident. By the time I got out of the locker room after quickly dressing, the worst became clear.
The fear of that morning was heightened when someone reported smelling gas in our building. We evacuated our offices immediately, and set up a temporary workspace across the street. Several of us ran to the nearest electronics store and bought every video camera and battery we could lay our hands on.
I didn’t go home for three days. I remember one night walking across Fifth Avenue, in the heart of Midtown. Suddenly, I stopped in the middle of the street, and realized there was absolutely no traffic. It was as if the city had been turned into a ghost town.
The news this past weekend caused me to recall something else, an odd anecdote that took the edge off the tension of those days.
At the time, I was working at DATELINE NBC. It was routine for producers to have transcripts made of their interviews, to make the writing and editing process easier. It was expensive, but worth the cost.
General Electric, which owned NBC, wanted to save money, and just before 9/11, invoked a rule that required producers to feed the audio of an interview over a phone line to a company in Asia. Not only would it be less expensive, we were told, but we could also get transcripts done while we slept!!
A colleague was working on a story about the attacks, and dutifully sent his audio half way around the world. To be sure, he got the transcript back the next morning.
But when he read the text, he saw that every reference in the interview to Osama bin Laden, had been transcribed as “Someone in the Basement.”
The international transcript process was eliminated soon thereafter.
Categories: School of Communications