How Aaron Brown Became CNN's Voice Of Sept. 11

September 11, 2011

NPR Staff

Aaron Brown reported for 17 straight hours on Sept. 11, 2001.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Aaron Brown came into work at CNN still preparing for his new role as the anchor of the network's flagship evening broadcast. He wasn't supposed to go on air for several more weeks, but on that morning and in the days that followed, Brown became the guide for millions of viewers glued to their television sets.

As he scurried to the roof of CNN's headquarters in New York shortly after the towers were hit, Brown remembers stopping in the middle of 8th Avenue and telling himself to stay calm.

"In some ways, you were like too into it, too focused to be anything other than a reporter with the biggest story anyone had ever had," Brown tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.

Brown, now a journalism professor at Arizona State University, reported live that day for 17 hours. Over the course of the day, he says he remembers feeling shocked, even stupid, but never scared.

"I know I was exhilarated, which I know will sound strange," he says, "but it's what I had prepared my life to do."

Balancing Reporting, Emotion

But like the rest of the country, he was also processing the horror in front of him. There were moments in which Brown took off his reporter's hat to simply react.

When the north tower fell at 10:28 a.m., Brown became quiet.

"Good Lord. There are no words," he said, looking at the smoke billowing just 30 blocks away.

Brown didn't talk publicly about his coverage of the terrorist attacks for many years. He doesn't see his reporting as heroic compared to what the firefighters and other first responders did that day.

"Sometimes I'm a little embarrassed, I suppose, at this notion that anything I did mattered," he says. "I think I just told a story."

Brown confesses he doesn't think his coverage was even that good, but he did win the Edward R. Murrow award for his Sept. 11 coverage atop the CNN roof.

A Haunting Image

Looking back, it's not the straight-on view of the World Trade Center that's seared into Brown's memory — it's an aerial shot of the destruction from a helicopter coming over the New York harbor. He says he thinks of that image all the time.

"It captures what television ought to capture — which is the totality of a story — and that one did it all," he says. "The strength of the country, the beauty of the day, and the horror of the moment."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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