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I spend a great deal of my life – the majority of my waking hours, and quite a few of my sleeping ones – fastidiously attempting to control language. I (infamously) employ words like “absquatulate” when nothing else will do. This is what pays my mortgage, and it’s also my calling, so I lucked out. Even on deadline, I endeavor to perfect my writing. But recently I had occasion to look back on the stream of emails that circulated just in my little world, for just a day or two after 9/11—and this taught me a powerful lesson about why we write.

This (long, I grant) blog comprises a selection of real e-mails I sent or received on Sept. 12, 2001 and the following days, with no editing on my part except for tiny emendations for ease of reading, noted in brackets. Note that in my haste to get the word out about my brother, Mitch, I inaccurately stated he was “on the 61st floor of the North Tower (the second one hit).” Bad journalism, Ian. He was in the South Tower. Chalk this up to fog of war.

Yes, some of these emailers are fellow journalists, some teachers, but none typed his or her words to impress a reader: We find here the raw convection of emotion and meaning. No one concerned themselves with the artificial constraints of communication as their fussy grammar school pedants taught them, i.e. spelling and syntax, etc. (note the passive voice in my subhead, in honor of this notion). Instead, for a few days there, 14 years ago, in the sweet spot ten-odd years after the advent of widespread electronic communication, but well before the death-knell of texting, we all found ourselves around a fire, telling each other stories that needed to be told.

If you want to know how to write—and why we write, please read these. Then, if you were prescient enough to save the streams of e-mails in your own world from that day and the following days, go back and read them, too.

Subject: Good News for One Faculty Member—I hope there are more.
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 10:19:35
From: Ian Newman <>
To: All

Hi. Just wanted to thank everyone for their kind support yesterday. It’s all good news. My brother Mitchell survived yesterday’s attack. We finally spoke last night when he shared some harrowing details.

Mitch, a broker for Morgan Stanley, was training on the 61st floor of the North Tower (the second one hit). His team was on a break until 9 a.m. They were in the corner farthest away from the first attack, of which they heard and saw nothing. But Mitch was getting coffee when he saw out the window a stream of papers falling from the direction of the South Tower. Then he saw burning papers falling.

Having trained as a fire marshal for another job, his instinct kicked in. “I put down my coffee and said, ‘Guys, this is bad. We have to get out,’” he said. Some of his co-workers stayed to watch as heavier debris fell and others argued that it was safer to stay in the building. I hope they had time to get out.

Mitch persisted in urging his team to get out, and many people started heading down the stairwell. Within a few flights down, the evacuation alarm went off, and people began to fear for the worst. My brother tried to keep people calm, but moving. They had to [s]top frequently while evacuees from other floors streamed into the stairwell. He said assuming it was an “internal explosion in the other building.” Mitch was worried about a “chain reaction” in case the explosion was gas-related.

They had reached only the 31st Floor when the second airliner hit their building around the 65th Floor. “We stopped. The whole building shook so we had to hold on to the railings hard,” he said. They still thought it was internal explosions. “We weren’t actually afraid for our lives at that point,” he said.

But as they got closer to the bottom, the stress showed in his co-workers, he said. He told some women to take their high heels off so they could move faster and safer. He watched a number of people exit the stairwell onto other floors, presumably in search of friends. By the time he got to the Plaza level, rescue workers were climbing up, covered in soot and ash, looking as though they were in high gear. Part of him wanted to stay and keep helping, “but by the Fifth Floor my legs were buckling and my eyes were burning from the smoke,” he said. “People were panicking now because the smoke was coming up the stairs from down below. There were briefcases and ties and bloody towels and shoes everywhere, and I just wanted to get out.”

By this point there was shoving and weeping, he said. Mitch was thinking about a co-worker who’d gone to the bathroom during their break. “He was probably 15 Floors behind us,” he said.

“They let us out on Liberty Street. I could tell, just from people’s faces, that something really serious had happened,” he said. It was only out of the corner of his eye that he saw both buildings burning.

People were stopping to gawk and even take pictures. “I told them the buildings were a quarter-mile high, and we should get farther away,” he said.

“I didn’t want to look. I didn’t want to see anybody dead or hurt. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous,” he said.

He never turned back to look.

The North Tower collapsed fewer than five minutes after my brother got out. When he heard the sound of it, it only strengthened his resolve to keep going uptown. He didn’t stop until Second Street, where he called his wife from a payphone with a fairly short line (cell phones weren’t working).

His wife, Beth, called my partner, David, who works closest to my mother’s office. David works for KPMG, so their staff were [r]eeling yesterday, trying to account to spouses and partners in the financial district. David went to my mother’s office to tell her her son was alive.

I found out at 3 p.m.

It was 8 last night when I finally spoke to Mitch myself. I told him that it seemed unbelievable that he got out. When you look at the tape of that plane slamming into the center of the North Tower, when you watch the whole thing crumble, it just seems impossible. He couldn’t say. He hadn’t watched TV yet. Meeting at the hotel rendezvous point for Morgan Stanley people, he sat in the lobby, thinking about his four-year-old daughter, Hannah, and his wife, Beth. “And I sat with my back to the TV,” he said.

I pray that everyone else received similar miraculous news about their loved ones yesterday.


Subject: Re: Ian’s Brother Alive and Well!
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 10:25:49

Well, that happened.


Subject: Re: Good News for One Faculty Member—I hope there are more.
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 10:34:20
From: Elaine Sacher <>
To: Ian Newman <>

Hi, Ian.

I just wanted to say how glad I am that your brother got out safely. My brother wasn’t in nearly as much danger, but he was on the subway at 9:15 a.m. and had a harrowing experience getting out (at Fulton Street) and making his way east toward Chinatown and then uptown. He usually takes the train to Chambers Street (the World Trade Center stop), but he got word at the 59th Street that that line was slow, so he switched to another train that took him a little further away. And even that wasn’t wonderful—but we’re not complaining. He inhaled a lot of soot and smoke, but he seems to be all right.

Anyway, again, I’m glad your brother is safe, and my heart goes out both to the families of those who didn’t make it and to those who are still waiting to hear.


Subject: Another family story
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 10:44:21
From: Brenda Greenberg <>

My son Jonathan who works for Lehman Brothers was in the Financial Center Building connected to the World Trade Center by an overhead foot bridge. He was on the 19th floor of that building. After the first plane hit the tower, he and his colleagues were told it was safe to stay in the building. Then the second plane hit the second tower and they were ordered out. Fortunately for them, the elevators were still working and they got down to the lobby and were escorted out. Jonathan says that he saw the first building collapse onto the footbridge, knocking it apart from the Financial Building and he saw, with horror, people jumping from the 80th floor of the other tower until that, too, collapsed.

We, listening on the radio in the office, were horrified and I tried without luck for over an hour to reach my son. Finally, I reached him on his cell phone which could not call out but could intermittently receive calls. He told me that he was now walking uptown to his apartment on 83rd street and what had happened. Luckily he was all right except for a coat of dust and dirt. Our family was fortunate.

Subject: Safety Prayers
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 10:57:25
From: andrea narciso <>

My brother-in-law Gerard is among New York City’s Bravest, he is a NYC Firefighter and is part of the recovery mission. Please include him in your prayers.

Thank you

Subject: Re: Hey, hope you’re OK.
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 11:53:36
From: Dan Link <>
To: Ian Newman <>


We’re fine, though Dave’s train passed just under the center right before the first plane hit. I’m glad you and Dave are okay. I’m so sorry to hear about the teachers. This is the first loss I’ve heard about from someone I know. The story about your brother is harrowing and amazing. I heard a similar one yesterday from a friend whose brother in law escaped from Tower 1 through an airshaft. I’m glad I didn’t know he was working there or I would’ve been crazy thinking about it.

I was at home yesterday and went to get some cold medicine at the drug store at around 10:30 having no clue what was going on. As I stepped out I noticed how dark the sky was and that there was particle matter in the air; also, on 4th Ave right outside our door sirens were screaming non-stop. There was a burning smell in the air (which lasted into the night last night).

The irony today is that the sky is clear, and from here, with no view into the city, all appears to be normal. (Except for the sight of firefighter jets flying overhead on occasion).

Since living here I’ve come to feel of the city physically, that it is like the mountains in CO: permanent, monolithic. This was especially true of the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers. They were always there to greet me when I came back and to orient me when I was lost in the city. I never could have in my worst nightmare imagine them simply disappearing.

My thoughts are with you. Take care.


Subject: RE: Hope all are OK
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 12:31:20
From: “Hemmer, TinaMarie” <>
To: ‘Ian Newman’ <>

We were happy to hear that everyone there is okay. Shirley called yesterday afternoon to fill us in. I know of some people and/or their spouses that were at the pentagon. All of them made it out okay. The kids said that lots of parents showing up immediately at school and pulled their kids out. Kristi’s elementary school did not mention anything to the kids. Brandi’s middle school did. We all watched the television together and they had lots of questions. Brandi did fine although she did want to be driven to school this morning but Kristi was afraid to go to sleep alone in her [r]oom. She did fall asleep but came in our room at 1:30 am and was awake most of the night. Today may be harder for them—for example, Brandi knows one particular girl that was picked up right away and whose father works at either the WTC or the Pentagon, I’m not sure. I’m planning on being home when they get there today. I haven’t heard too much so far but I’m sure there are a lot of people here who are affected but aren’t in today. All we can do is pray. Thanks for your e-mail and we are so glad you are all safe.


Subject: RE: Hope all are OK
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 12:33:15
From: “Hemmer, TinaMarie” <>
To: “Ian Newman” <>

By the way, the Marriott at the WTC was evacuated. Then 10 Marriott associates went room to room with firefighters. As of last night 5 of the 10 were accounted for and as of this morning 8 of 10 were accounted for. The other 2 could be anywhere right now.

Subject: Re:Ian’s Brother Alive and Well!
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 12:40:27


Thinking of Mitch in that horrible circumstance brought me to uncontrollable tears. The stories just keep coming and the emotions are almost too much to bear. My three cousins all had similar stories and my whole family is pretty shaken up. Countless families at the Conservatory are waiting for the word of their loved ones and I spent a couple of hours consoling an adult student yesterday afternoon. Knowing that I will see you, David and your whole family again and hug you all tightly means more to me than I could possibly describe. Pass my love along to everyone and I will speak to you soon.


Subject: Re: Good News for One Faculty Member—I hope there are more.
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 12:51:07
From: Collette Fournier <>
Organization: Campus communications
To: Ian Newman <>

hi ian,

thank you for the account. thank your brother for his bravery and insistence that people get out of the building. this is very difficult to watch and hear of so many suffering. people like your brother saved other people’s lives.

Subject: Re: Ian’s Brother
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001
From: Flip De Luca <>
To: Ian Newman <>

Hi Ian,

I’m happy you finally got to talk to your brother and that he’s okay. What a harrowing experience.

Your email so moved me that I read it to my 12:30 class. Of course my voiced cracked several times, but I made it through. Several students had tears welling up. We spen[t] the class talking about the events of yesterday and how JMU students are doing. About half our student body comes from around DC, so I’m sure there are people with direct connections to the Pentagon crash.

Nor sure how the Breeze is covering all this. I sent emails to the editors yesterday with suggestions for local-angle stories, but didn’t hear back. So I’m going to go by there this afternoon to see how they’re doing.

I just heard about this web site, but haven’t looked at it yet. It’s at Poynter and is supposed to offer suggestions on how to cover this tragedy.

Good luck. Take care.


Subject: Re: Everyone OK?
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001


Very glad to hear that Mitch made it out. What a terrifying story—much more visceral than what they keep saying on the news: “People were calm and orderly in the stairwells.”

The only family member of mine in the WTC was my cousin Billy, who managed to walk down from the 61st floor. Everyone else is safe and accounted for. Fred was in his office on the other side of Wall Street—he felt the explosion, but managed to walk up to Grand Central and catch a train home. Rob watched the towers fall from Union Square, where his morning commute on the subway was halted. He said the crowd in Union Square totally wailed and screamed when the towers came down. BJ was in midtown, Pat was in the Village, and my sister-in-law Ann-Gail was in Brooklyn in court. I was out here in Manhasset, waiting to hear from Scholastic, who I had an interview with last week. I’m guessing that it’ll be a few more days now until I hear, at least.

I keep looking at the gap-toothed Financial District and feeling so lonely and sad. I miss the WTC already. America has released such a howl of misery and outrage. I’m incredibly worried about what happens next—if it’ll be too much retaliation or too little.

Ian, I’m very glad to hear that you’re all safe. We got lucky, too.



Subject: Re: Good News for One Faculty Member—I hope there are more.
Date: Wed 12 Sep 2001 14:21:46
From: Jamey McCarthy <>
To: Ian Newman <>

There are no words…..Just Tears

Subject: Re: Ian’s Brother Alive and Well!
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001

Dear Ian…Reading your account of your brother’s ordeal made me choke up. Felt like I was there with him. There may be other miraculous stories but simply not enough……Our world will be a changed place from now on………….Thank God your brother is OK and thank you for telling us about it. Love, Phyllis and Ed……….

Subject: Re: Good News for One Faculty Member—I hope there are more.
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 16:29:04
From: ehumphrey <>
To: Ian Newman <>
CC: All

Unfortunately for RCC we have lost one of our Fire Technology Teachers to the horrific tragedy yesterday. Andy Fredericks from the RC Fire Training Center became one of many casualties. We can only pray for his family and hope that the other firemen from the area get home to their families.

Subject: Re: Unfortunately not yet good news
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 18:33:43
From: Pearl Weisz <>

There are two former fire tech teacher missing. Both last taught at RCC in 1998. John Grasso is a volunteer fire fighter in Monroe with the Chester Fire District and a f/t NYC firefighter—with a wife and 4 or 5 kids last listed as missing. And Fredericks is from Suffern and also a volunteer firefighter. Also f/t NYC firefighter//wife and 2 kids//last listed as missing. Theirs was the initial fire battalion sent to the explosion. Both taught p/t at the fire training center in Pomona and taught fire technology at RCC for a brief time. I do not want to write this story until the last moment which is [???] in case, hopefully, the story changes. I got my info by talking to [The College’s PR Dept] […] and talking to the Fire Training Center// Bill Baker Chair of Math and Natural Health and Science had no info and directed me to other sources which I tracked down. I will still check with them either later or first thing in the am to see if anything changed. What do you want me to do with this info I’ve sent??

Subject: good news
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 10:08:25
To: undisclosed-recipients:

I told several of you about my friend, Jerry, who was unaccounted for in Tuesday’s disaster. I finally heard from him this morning. He was actually in a building two blocks away when the planes hit the towers and he is fine.

Thank you all for your concern


Subject: Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 10:48:23
From: Pat Castro <>

The families of Patti Castro (Continuing Ed) and Jocelyn Moncion (also of Continuing Ed) have family members who are still missing. Please keep their families in your thoughts and prayers.

Thank you!

Subject: Still another heartbreaking aftermath of this tragedy.
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 10:55:10
From: Maryann Gould <>

I waited as long as I could, hoping that I would not have to write these words. My sense of hope grew each time I read another message of someone’s loved one returning home from this horrible ordeal. Unfortunately, this is not one of those situations.

Carol DiStefano’s son-in-law, Rich Bosco, was scheduled to attend a meeting at around 8:30 am on that tragic day, which was to be held on the 105th floor of the first tower to be hit. He has not been heard from and at this point has become yet another victim. Rich leaves behind a wife and two young children under five.

Please offer your prayers that Carol and her family, and Rich’s family gather the strength to overcome the senseless loss of this vibrant, gentle, loving man.

Subject: Fwd: hi
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 13:05:29
Fwd from


Thank you so much for sending the email that everything is ok. I was so worried that I couldn’t get through on the telephone last night. I had thought that Mitch was there because a few weeks ago he said that he could be in the city for training. When I saw the whole thing on the news I had a feeling that he was at the WTC. I was in Kiev at a friend’s house. Now I am in Odessa and on my way back home. Again, thanks for the email.



The picture from your vacation is super!

Subject: Candle in the wind
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 19:30:25
From: Kobe <>
To: Ian Newman <>

Dear Ian,

First of all, I really hope you are safe and healthy. With anger and fear I watched the images CNN broadcasted. Here in Belgium is was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. My brother called me, said that I had to watch CNN it was a surreal image, the two towers, burning like candles. The pentagon, one of the most secure buildings in the world, but who can stop a 767, a passenger plane used as a human bomb. Innocent people died, perhaps people you knew.

Strangely, a disaster like this, brings people together. Support for the victims, donating blood, it’s heartwarming. And the burning candles now serve as image of peace, serenity.

I hope you receive this mail, and that you’re alright, like your parents, your friend, everyone close to you.

Subject: Re:[Fwd: Good News for One Faculty Member—I hope there are more.]
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 19:53:17

Dear Ian:

Everyone on our end is fine. That G-d for your brother. Our neighbor, the Wegs, have a son who worked on the 40th floor of one of the towers. However, due to his young son being difficult on that particular morning on their way to nursery school, he was running late for work. Instead of being in the building when the first plane hit, he was just approaching the front door and backed off immediately with the advent of the first explosion. By the time the second plane hit and he started seeing people throwing themselves out of windows, he vacated the area and also did not look back.

What a terrible, terrible tragedy.


Subject: From Steve Romer
Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001

Dear Family and Friends:

This was undoubtedly one of the worst days of my life. I can’t remember any other time where I cried so frequently for literally four days in a row. My feelings of pain and loss on account of what happened to us this week was enormous. I’ve been asking myself why this particular event has shaken me to my core.

I mean, there have been scores of painful events which was touched me ever so deeply. When friends of mine lost a very young grandchild, I was devastated, but I was able to quickly move on with my life. When I lost my father suddenly seven years ago when he was only 71 years old, I cried as we lowered him into the ground. But he was gone, and it was final, and I would have to move ahead with my life for my wife and children needed me. The books that I have read regarding the atrocities committed against Jews throughout history and particularly during the 20th century have never failed to devastate me. However, even with all of my anger against dead perpetrators, I could only conclude, “Never Again,” and life must go on.

It finally hit me why I was so impacted this week. I felt that I was made part of the horror, pain and misery that so thoroughly overwhelmed us.

At approximately 8:55 a.m. Tuesday morning, I turned on the radio as I prepared to start my work. Immediately I hear that one of the Twin Towers has been struck by a commercial airplane. So I turn on the television to the news and this begins a four day marathon of horrific events, turmoil, confusion, pain, suffering and misery. Every day, from morning until evening, I was drawn to the television to try to understand why anyone would destroy the lives of so many innocent civilians. Day after day I saw and listened to the pleas of individuals desperately searching for their family members and loved ones.

I feel so sick, and empty and vengeful. Maybe now I understand intimately better what Israeli Jews put up with on an almost daily basis. And how many other places in the world are civilians being mercilessly slaughtered by terrorists, despots, or religious fanatics. The insanity must stop. Once and for all, somehow, someway, this evil must be forever wiped-out.

For the first time in 55 years, NATO has invoked article 5 which declares war on any foreign entity which initiates was against a NATO member. The United States, a NATO member, has been attacked by a foreign terrorist entity. This was a definitive act of war against the United States and going forward, we must consider ourselves in a constant state of war against a non-controversial shadowy enemy.

I am told that Moshiach will come after Armageddon. Could it be that we are at the beginning of Armageddon? If so, I await Moshiach with bated breath and pray that lasting peace in the world hereafter will heal the pain which presently torments me.


Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 14:52:54
From: “Zylstra, Alexandra” <>
To: “Ian Newman” <>

Hey Ian-

Just thought I would check in with you to see how you were doing given last week’s tragedies. I know you are pretty far from the city, but didn’t know whether you had friends or relatives there.

I was actually in Alaska when the tragedies happened last week. I was on vacation and work up in my hotel in Denali National Park on Tuesday and turned on the news just a few minutes after the second plane hit the Towers. It was very surreal to be in Alaska when it all happened. I continued on with my vacation, heading north to Fairbanks and even getting to see the Northern Nights, which was incredible. But I had a hell of a time getting home. I was supposed to fly out midnight Wednesday night but at that time the flight ban hadn’t even been lifted. I had to rent a car and drive 400 miles from Fairbanks to Anchorage then camped out at the airport for 14 hours Thursday in order to get a standby seat on the midnight flight. I made it and was happy to be back home.

What an odd time we are living in, particularly for journalism. Anyway, just wanted to say hi. Still don’t know if I am going to New Orleans next month. Are you still going?

Take Care,

Subject: Media convergence?
Date: Sat, 13 Oct 2001 21:30:21
From: Kurt Hulse <>
To: Ian Newman <>


Glad you had a safe trip. I hope it was productive for you. I had more free time than usual this weekend, so I thought I’d write back at length.

Excessive length, probably.

The reaction of your students in Bosnia and Croatia is interesting. I haven’t heard anyone over there debating the appropriate level of gore in the news. (Lower-case ‘g’.) What I saw of the attack was quite horrible enough, and explicit footage would not have improved my understanding of it. Some of the pieces written for the NYT and the New Yorker have described the most disturbing aspects, but they were not written in a sensational way. The oddest account of September 11 that I have found is at It’s worth reading because it’s so different.

At your prompting, I’ve been poking around the Poynter Institute’s web page. There’s lo[ts] of impressive stuff. I appreciated the various discussions of the journalist’s role. But the site also exemplified the thing that bothers me most about coverage of this whole situation. Even before the U.S. started bombing, more than half of the columns were about journalism “in time of war.”

Nobody in the Bush administration has yet made a convincing case that the current military action will disrupt terrorist networks sufficiently. Nor has a case been made for the moral justification of bombing near cities or attacking troops conscripted against their will. Nobody has even addressed the more basic question of how an attack by a handful of people constitutes, in the classical sense, an act of war. (Evidence suggests that only six of the hijackers plus whatever individual directed them, knew they were going to crash the planes). So, with a flimsy defense on the pragmatic, moral, or causal fronts, we are at war mainly because certain people say we are. Until a week ago, this did not have to turn into a war. Journalists’ use of that word to describe the situation was irresponsible and inflammatory.

A similar thing happened when the Supreme Court announced its decision in Bush v. Gore. Journalists and commentators immediately began calling Bush the “president-elect,” even though that is not a proper title and even though Bush was not elected. The use of the title cemented public opinion to a greater extent than anything the Supreme Court said.

If we must be at war – as it now seems that we must – then we should have a thorough examination of the likely outcomes. For example, specifically how will our civil liberties be affected? (It has not been widely reported that the FBI implemented wholesale monitoring of internet and e-mail on September 13, although an article appeared in the web version of Wired magazine.) Also, regardless of whether the war is justified, who stands to profit from it? Every war has its profiteers, and there are enormous natural gas fields in Afghanistan and nearby countries to be considered.

Even though I do not think the current U.S. actions are correct, I admit that I don’t know what the best policy response would be. I am deeply angry about the terrorist attacks, and I am grateful that your brother escaped harm. I also know that this is not the first time terrorists have come close to harming the Newman family. This letter does not speak to that, because I don’t know how to speak to that. Perhaps you can…


Regarding “media convergence,” I’m not sure what that term means. Does it describe Gary Condit’s lawn when it was crowded with reporters? Or does it refer to the phenomenon of the Time/Live/Warner/Disney/AOL Inc? (I have a theory that someday all of the corporations in the world will be sucked past the event horizon and will merge into a single company, to be known simply as Inc.)

Or maybe it has something to do with the parameters of journalistic discussion. A few days after the attack, the CNN web page offered a poll about “your reaction” to the events. Visitors were asked whether they felt a) horror, b) outrage, c) sadness. You were supposed to choose only one.

Be chipper.


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