From Ground Zero to Iraq: How We Saw the World After 9/11

More

Three leading Atlantic writers -- James Fallows, Mark Bowden, and William Langewiesche -- recount their efforts to find the follow-up story.

three-writers.jpg

When journalists saw the Twin Towers collapse on September 11, 2001, their first reaction was a human one. Throughout the day, the carefully trained voices of television news anchors cracked and faltered, and the next morning's newspaper headlines were atypically emotional: "A Creeping Horror," shuddered The New York Times, while the San Francisco Examiner simply howled "BASTARDS!"

Before long, though, those in the business of reporting the news felt another instinct: the drive to uncover what they took to be the deeper story. In the case of The Atlantic's leading authors, that meant spending the next several months watching, listening, and writing.

William Langewiesche headed to New York, where he stationed himself at Ground Zero and put in 18-hour days watching volunteers sift through the debris. His resulting three-part series, "American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center," was a detailed look at the inner workings of the cleanup effort--and the longest piece of original reporting the magazine has ever published.

Mark Bowden, meanwhile, had already started working on a profile of Saddam Hussein. Rather than switch tracks and seek out a new 9/11 story, he decided to dive deeper into the world of the Iraqi dictator, which seemed propitious at the time, given the evidence in play -- some from the U.S. administration -- of a connections between the two. The resulting piece, "Tales of the Tyrant," ran on the May 2002 cover and offered insight into the personality and motivations of a leader whose days of unlimited power were about to come to an end. 

A few months later, the magazine ran another cover story about Iraq: James Fallows's prescient "Fifty-First State." The afternoon of 9/11, Fallows had picked up the phone and started calling experts at the Pentagon and all throughout the realm of security policy. After numerous in-depth interviews, he was able to piece together a picture of what might go wrong if the United States invaded Iraq. Over the years that followed, Fallows watched in dismay as nearly every worst-case scenario came true.

In this video, each of these three writers recalls the experience of watching the news on September 11 and deciding what to do next.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgement, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

Just In