A Retrospective on Fordham 9/11 Coverage 20 Years Later


On Tuesday, Sep. 11, thousands of New Yorkers saw their iconic skyline altered as the Twin Towers collapsed. (Courtesy of Flickr)

A sunny day with highs over 80 degrees, the anniversary of the Carol Burnett Show, Brian de Palma’s 61st birthday and the New York City mayoral primary: these were the highlights of the day that WFUV morning host Claudia Marshall listed off on the morning of September 11, 2001.

At 8:51 that morning, the broadcast cut to a breaking news report of a large explosion in the South Tower of the World Trade Center — the cause is still yet unknown to the public. The broadcast continues as the second plane hits, despite the lack of information coming into the station.

In the span of two hours, Claudia Marshall’s narration transitions from an account of an explosion in the World Trade Center to a terrorist attack on both Twin Towers and the Pentagon, a permanent change in the New York City skyline. 

The publicly-available archive of WFUV’s historic broadcast ends with Darren Devivo, the midday host’s, chilling words: “Our world has collapsed.”

George Bodarky, the current news director of WFUV and assistant news director at the time, remembers that he’d been recovering from a long night of election coverage at WFUV when the first plane hit. As the situation was developing, he traveled to lower Manhattan with his photography equipment to capture the news from ground zero. 

“It was really this ‘firefighter’s mindset,’” said Bodarky. “Where you’re running into where everybody else is running out of.”

He described his difficulties getting there, as the subways, the Metro-North and large highways such as the FDR Drive were closed. He recalls that there was “horrendous” traffic on his way to Brooklyn and described an eerie experience of hearing the radio blaring from open car windows all around him, as everyone was listening to the news.

One tower had fallen by the time Bodarky arrived in Brooklyn. He looked right towards the skyline of New York City, only to see billows of smoke. Unable to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, he attempted to get in the back of a police car or ambulance but was refused. He said that one police officer told him that “if you have to get over there for your job — quit your job.” The devastation in Manhattan was not quite visible from Brooklyn — except for when the evacuees brought it with them.

“It was the kind of situation where the story was coming at you,” recounted Bodarky.

He described a river of people crossing the bridge coming in from Manhattan covered in white dust, some bloodied and injured. “They were streaming over the bridge like zombies,” he said. Interviewing them, he heard stories of people caught in debris and watching their coworkers jump out of the buildings.

However, official radio stations like WFUV were not the only ones covering September 11 on Fordham’s two campuses. Student journalists at student-run publications like The Fordham Ram and The Observer also ventured forward to provide information to the public during a time when information was so scarce. 

The issue of The Fordham Ram published on the week of September 11 was published on Thursday, Sept. 13, giving the news team two days to write and print their coverage of the event. The paper published an article detailing Fordham University’s response to the tragedy and the stories of students dealing with the emotional impact, as well as an article on two members of FUEMS (Fordham University Emergency Medical Services) who were called in to volunteer at ground zero. 

Rebecca Cooper, FCRH ’03, news editor of Volume 83 of The Fordham Ram in 2001, was contacted for an interview about the Ram’s coverage that week.

In response to a comment regarding the difficulty of printing the newspaper only a day after the tragedy, Cooper said, “I didn’t think about it until you mentioned it, but the turnaround time, the schedule was the same. We were putting it out on Wednesday night after it happened Tuesday morning.”

“There was no daily web coverage or anything like that, so we actually got time to process a little bit — I certainly did — I kind of turned off my phone and needed to just take a break after we were able to leave our rooms and everything,” she continued. “I couldn’t face having to work on this yet. I remember I was laying on Eddie’s trying to figure out what to do — I remember because the sky was completely empty of planes.”

Like WFUV, the Ram was dealing with a similar issue of not being able to get information in the first few weeks. “It was slow,” Cooper said. “It was several issues later before we published a list of the missing or dead, because it was so difficult to find out who. Everybody, not just the university, was looking for people they couldn’t get a hold of.”

She pointed out that members of the staff that weren’t a part of the news team had begun news reporting and interviewing people. “It was probably the first time we dealt with a breaking news event, the way a newsroom has to triage a situation,” she explained. “Everyone did news, even if it wasn’t their thing.”

“I interviewed the FUEMS students who took the ambulance down there. I had to convince them to talk to us,” Cooper said, referring to the previously-mentioned article on two members of FUEMS volunteering downtown. “It was very instructive for me as a young journalist: how to get somebody to trust me and talk to me about that.” 

Cooper stated that experience writing for the Ram that September helped form her feelings toward journalism at a young age. “I think I realized at that moment that I could imagine being a professional journalist,” she said. “It certainly kind of forced you to face whether or not journalism was a path you wanted to take. I think there’s a lot of people in the profession who will never have to face covering something that difficult and to do it so young.”

“I look back on it, and I’m surprised I stuck with it, to be honest, but I see echoes of it now, too,” Cooper said. “Maybe instead of processing that trauma I just worked through it, that’s how I see a lot of people of my generation addressing it, for better or for worse.”

For two weeks afterward, the news coverage of The Ram focused largely on the impact of September 11, and the opinion section similarly consisted largely of calls for hope from the student population.

Unlike The Fordham Ram, The Observer, Lincoln Center’s school newspaper, had a gap in coverage following September 11 spanning nearly a month.

In their Oct. 1 issue, the first issue following September 11, The Observer similarly covered the coming together of the Fordham community through avenues such as blood and clothing drives, residence accommodations for commuter students, and counseling and prayer services.

20 years later, Fordham University has just crossed the threshold into the point where the majority of its undergraduate population was not even born when the historic moment occurred. As a generation that has never seen the Twin Towers grows older and goes off to university, it is more important than ever to look back on the public’s reaction to the scarring event as it happened.