'This is NPR' is honored to share personal accounts of 9/11, in the voices of our journalists who covered the events as they unfolded. Below is National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea's account of the scene at the White House that morning, and how the events of 9/11 changed media coverage in the decade to follow. Visit 'This is NPR' later today for guest posts from Tom Gjelten, who was at the Pentagon when the plane hit, and Neal Conan, who anchored hours of breaking news coverage his second day as host of Talk of the Nation.
In September 2001, I was NPR's White House correspondent, a job I started after the contentious 2000 Presidential election. President Bush was in Florida for an education related event. I'd stayed behind in Washington to work on other stories. That morning, while we were all grappling with the sudden horrible news of the planes striking the World Trade Center, I was making my way through security at the northwest gate of the White House when I heard that a hijacked jetliner had hit the Pentagon just a few miles away.
That set off a chaotic scene on the White House grounds. The building was evacuated. I was not yet through security, but members of the US Secret Service uniformed division told me to immediately step outside the main gate. Staffers and others on the ground, including journalists, poured from the West Wing and other offices in the complex.
It was a moment of utter uncertainty. We were pushed back by the Secret Service as they created a sudden and ever widening security perimeter. First into Pennsylvania Avenue. Then into Lafayette Park. I stood and watched for some time from the corner of H and 17th Streets. At this point fighter jets appeared overhead, both adding to the surreal scene and providing some measure of comfort.
Cell service was very poor. I managed to get through to Morning Edition and spent the next several hours providing live reports, though solid information about the President and the potential threat to the White House and administration officials was non-existent. Rumors flew about, including one that a bomb had exploded at the State Department. It wasn't true, but seemed plausible at the time. White House press staff knew as little as everyone else on the street in the first hour, as they too were cut off from traditional lines of communication.
The details of the day remain vivid.
Obviously, the events of 9/11 profoundly influenced the last decade for those of us covering the White House, Washington and politics in this country of 9/11. I continued on as NPR's White House correspondent throughout the entire Bush administration and into that of President Barack Obama. The overwhelming majority of stories that I covered in that time flowed out of the events of 9/11. Wars. The response to terrorist threats at home and overseas. Presidential elections. National priorities. Budgets. Civil liberties. Public safety. The list goes on. The terrorist attacks affected how the nation has talked about and how politicians have dealt with issue after issue.
The stories we have covered — and continue to cover — reflect all of that. Even a decade later.