FNC anchor Jon Scott was on the air the morning of September 11, 2001, when the attack on America began. Jon sat down with FOX Fan Central recently to talk about what it was like to report to millions such horrifying and unprecedented events.
What went through your mind when you first heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, then the Pentagon?
I thought it had to be an accident. I'm a lifelong aviation buff and, since 9/11, a private pilot. I knew that jets routinely flew the Hudson corridor right next to the World Trade Center on their way to land at LaGuardia Airport. I figured that a pilot had simpy become distracted and let the plane get too low, or had punched some incorrect coordinates into the autopilot. The story of the WW II-era Army bomber that had slammed into the upper floors of the Empire State Building was on my mind; that was an accident as well, but it happened in heavy fog. How this "accident" could have happened on a bright, blue-sky day was tough to reconcile — but that's what I was thinking. So, I might add, was a former NTSB accident investigator whom we began talking to on-air that day. He was explaining how the "accident" might have happened, right up to the second the second plane hit the south tower. That's when I knew we were under attack.
What was it like to break the news of the largest terror attack on U.S. soil to FNC viewers across the country? How did you stay level-headed in the confusion, once you realized the scope of the attacks?
It was difficult to stay calm, especially in the first few minutes of what had become obvious: that America was suddenly the victim of an unprecedented and unprovoked terrorist attack. One of my off-camera coworkers was sobbing in the studio just a few feet away as the attacks unfolded. I nearly broke down when I saw her, and when I saw the desperation of those victims who were leaping to their deaths from the upper floors. Still, I've seen a great many terrible things during my years in journalism, and my overall demeanor is generally pretty calm. I told myself that, if I were to become hysterical on-air, it would add nothing to our coverage except to potentially make viewers hysterical as well, so I tried to keep my emotions in check. It also seemed important, as the day wore on and the horrors compounded, to try to remind viewers that we, as Americans, would pull through the attacks together.
Describe the atmosphere in the studio that morning.
My memories of what was happening in the studio are actually pretty blurred. I recall seeing the first helicopter images of the burning tower, and not being able to wrap my mind around the scope of what I was seeing. I remember seeing my co-worker, who was convulsed in great, heaving sobs as she watched the live pictures coming in on the same monitor I was watching. And I'll never forget seeing a fleeting image of the United Airlines jet, just a couple of seconds before it smashed into the south tower. Because these were images none of us had ever seen or even imagined before, it took some time to process what was really going on.
In the days that followed 9/11, what are your most vivid memories of FNC's coverage of Ground Zero and the Pentagon?
The attack occurred on a Tuesday morning; because of police barricades, and the amount of work we were doing at FNC headquarters, I didn't make it down to Ground Zero until Friday of that week when President Bush arrived to look over the catastrophe. It was his famous "bullhorn-on-the-firetruck" speech. The crowd listening was composed primarily of rescuers and construction workers who'd been desperately digging through the rubble, searching for survivors for three days. It was hot, dirty, frustrating work, with no survivors found after the first 24 hours. When they heard the president make his promise through the bullhorn, the roar that went up from that crowd was like nothing I've ever heard. Later that night, because transportation was so limited in that area, I caught a ride back toward the office with some police officers. As we drove past the barricade that kept most people out of the tragedy zone, I was astounded by what I saw: here it was, midnight on a Friday, and yet dozens of people were standing there, holding candles and flags, and cheering when police, firefighters and rescue workers drove by. It made me proud to be an American, and I hope our coverage in the days and months after the attacks reflected that national outpouring of grief and support.
Did 9/11 change your perspective on breaking news? How so?
I knew as I was watching the events of 9/11 unfold that life in our country would never be the same again. We've launched two wars and sacrificed thousands of brave troops. We've overhauled airline security, and hardened our most likely targets. The list goes on. I'm proud of the work all of us at FOX News Channel did on that terrible day; these were awful events to have to report to the American people, but I think we did well. And, I hope we'll never have to cover anything like that again.