"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
Robert Stone

October 2007 Archives

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October 28, 2007


U OF FLORIDA. At a talk I gave last week about Watching the World Change at the University of Florida at Gainesville, professor John Kaplan (a friend, former Life magazine colleague, and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer) introduced me to a large and enthusiastic crowd of journalism majors. The university’s Website has posted a tape of the entire session. (VIDEO VIEWABLE HERE)


An accompanying article, by Stephanie Garry, appeared in the local paper, The Gaineseville Sun.

SYRACUSE. The week before, I spoke with two extremely bright groups of journalism majors at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, in Syracuse, New York. Another professor Kaplan (Joel Kaplan, this time) hosted an evening question-and-answer session. Kaplan posed what could be the single most provocative question I’ve been asked in my year and a half of touring for the hardcover and paperback versions of the book. In light of my involvement as editor of the 2005 Vanity Fair story that revealed ex-F.B.I.-man Mark Felt to have been the confidential source, “Deep Throat,” of the Watergate scandal, Kaplan asked, in effect: “If the time periods had been reversed, how would the country have handled Watergate had it occurred in 2001, and how would the country have handled the 9/11 attacks had they occurred in the 1970s?” To see a partial answer, READ THIS ARTICLE by Syracuse student Melanie Hicken, in the school paper, the Daily Orange. (Full response to the question: To be posted at a later date.)



I was also impressed by Hicken’s probing questions in her Q&A for the paper, VIEWABLE HERE.

RE: REPURPOSING CALCULUS. Isaiah Wilner, sometime Vanity Fair writer and the author of The Man Time Forgot (Wilner's breakout biography of Time magazine co-founder Briton Hadden) quotes this blog on his blog. Wilner writes:

“Do you ever have time to read anything anymore? Or are you 'scanning darkly,' to take (and reshape) a phrase from Richard Linklater. On his blog Watching the World Change, VF Editor of Creative Development David Friend presents a new way of measuring the condition of cultural refraction...” He links to THIS LINK.

In our spare time, it seems to me, Wilner and I devote too many hours to posting our thoughts online. Like energy companies penalized with carbon-offset debits, we should be docked for every minute we spend blogging -- minutes that would be better invested if channeled toward a book (instead of polluting the blogosphere with hot air).

SEPTEMBER 11 POETRY. The journalist Christopher Ketcham, whose work I have cited on this blog (“The Enduring Hokum of the Inside Job”), has written a book of verse about his reaction to September 11 and its aftermath. It is available, in PDF form, on his Website. A sampling:

“There would be firemen marching in the darkness in single file

Looking like medieval warriors, carrying awls, pikes, pick-axes, shovels on their shoulders

Your saw them planted in sleep on brown couches

Pulled form the smashed windows of ground-floor offices

They had signs saying Dave’s Café Le Menu 1) water 2) water

You saw them in rows of stunned silence, soot-faced, white-eyed

Some wept quietly then quit it suddenly like hanging up a phone

When you saw them you gave them water.”

…AND... Dr. Kathy Reilly Fallon reports that her 9/11 initiative, the children’s book and music CD Heavenly Skies and Lullabies (co-authored with Frank Pelligrino and illustrated by Becky Kelly; proceeds to benefit children born to those who lost husbands in the attacks and the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund) has been honored with the 2006 Dragon Pencil Award, a gold medal for illustration (during National Book Week last year), and a bronze medal at the 2006 Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPYs). Belated congratulations.

October 27, 2007


Today I received an email from a Chicago-area high school student, D. Parker, who asked, with a tone of urgency and concern, about my opinion on 9/11 conspiracy theories. He was particularly curious to know what I thought about the much-touted thesis that the World Trade Center’s Building 7, which fell around 5 p.m. on September 11, 2001, was deliberately dynamited – leading theorists to speculate more broadly that the 9/11 terror plot itself was part of a grand plan aided and abetted by the Bush administration.

I continue to field emails and questions at speaking engagements from people who are agitated. Angered by the persistent lies of the Bush team and confounded by how the Congress and the American people seemed to endorse the administration's rush to war in Iraq, they have bought into the notion that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, the neocons, and their cohorts were not only facilitators but active participants with al Qaeda and/or Israel and/or certain Arab governments in planning the 9/11 attacks, possibly as an excuse to invade Iraq.

I address 9/11 conspiracy theories at length in Watching the World Change (pages 241-247 and page 291). And I’ve written extensively about the subject on this blog, citing convincing anti-conspiracy evidence offered in The New York Times by writer Jim Dwyer, co-author of the acclaimed September 11 chronicle, 102 Minutes.

As a direct response to D. Parker’s email, I'd like to reprise the following, which I posted on this site ("Reality as a Cover Story") last March and last May:

Conspiracy theorists, in the main, are looking at the trees--even the chinks in the leaves of the trees--and missing the forest.

In my opinion the people spending time concentrating on side-shows -- the fate of Building 7 (7 WTC, which collapsed after 5 pm on September 11); the size of the Pentagon plane’s impact hole and would-be phantom passengers of that plane; the theories of secret demo teams pre-rigging the towers with dynamite in the days before 9/11; and various mis-statements or misperceptions or unsubstantiated accounts by eyewitnesses, journalists and public officials in the hectic hours after the attacks -- are missing what I see as the four main themes of the Bigger Picture.

1. Al Qaeda took the towers down. They attacked the towers once before, in 1993, and had vowed to do it again. They pre-videotaped the hijackers who intended to do this. They left a paper and video path across the northeast corridor as they planned the mission. They trumpeted it and heralded the martyrs on their Websites. Metallurgists, architects, structural engineers, demolition experts, and an impressive study by a team from Popular Mechanics have stated that this is precisely what buildings would do -- implode -- if hit with such force and with this amount of fuel. If one were to have rigged such structures with dynamite, as has been theorized, then the buildings, as all dynamited buildings, would have been rigged to fall from the bottom first, not from the top. And it would have taken days to do the rigging, with many, many witnesses crying foul in the aftermath of having survived the 1993 attacks. What's more, there is nothing to support the theory that no buildings like this have ever fallen. First, no one has ever smashed jumbo jets into 110-story buildings; so there are no literal precedents upon which so-called experts can make such statements. Second, previously ‘impervious’ buildings actually do fall in wartime. We have only to look at images from WWII. The Titanic, remember, was thought to be indestructible. But its builders had not bargained for an iceberg of that size or an impact of that force.

2. The Bush administration was too inept to have somehow been in league with or complicit with the terrorists. They were intellectually and systemically incapable of coordinating this -- and keeping it leak-free. Instead, as we've known for ages, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing in an intelligence bureaucracy rife with turf wars and in an administration weakened by the stress fractures of internal power struggles. The Pentagon did not bomb the Pentagon.

3. Many misguided and unconscionably distracted officials (such as Condoleezza Rice, who repeatedly ignored or mis-prioritized the warnings of her counterterror chief, Richard Clarke) downplayed or misread a threat that was staring them in the face. And because of the weak-kneed 9/11 Commission recommendations, put out by a Republican-controlled Congress and watered down in the spirit of bi-partisanship, no one on the Bush team has ever been reprimanded for his or her roles in these truly tragic lapses. In fact, most of them have been promoted or given presidential medals of honor! This has been a consistent behavior pattern of this so-called C.E.O. president.

4. Often, people who spend a good portion of their days or nights theorizing on the Internet have too much idle time on their hands. They can sometimes fall into the trap of pondering murky videoclips and digital photographs, coming up with grand theories to explain away complex physical events, even if they're basing their theories on technical flaws or on glitches in the images themselves. They are dancing on the head of pins. This sort of 'stove-pipe' intelligence and this accumulation of 'soda-straw' snapshots of misperceived data, events, and motives (to borrow phrases from Pentagon analysts, quoted in The New Yorker in the magazine's Iraq War coverage) constitute precisely the same sort of juiced-up, bogus-case justification that led us into the Iraq confict in the first place. In this instance, we are doing it on our laptops and desktops.

IN CONCLUSION. While it certainly makes good sense to be skeptical of this administration in light of its six-year record of obfuscation, and while healthy debate in a democracy requires that we ask hard questions, it is foolhardy to be delusional and to lose site of the fact that al Qaeda is still on the mend, regrouping, and primed to attack us. As sensible as these convenient little myths may sound, they are distractions, and dangerous ones at that.

October 14, 2007


From Timothy Tuttle, Hoboken, N.J., responding to an e-mail (previously posted here) from Renee Birenbaum, Tufts University…



"Hi Renee-

“I read your email on David's website and was very impressed at how thoughtful it was. I understand your feelings entirely. But it's pretty tough territory. On one hand there are folks who want to ‘one up’ the 9/11 story and on the other hand there are really tragic stories of despair, hope, pain and remembrance. The stories are important at some level. Inside many of them are the foundations on which the healing processes for each individual are being built.

My name is Tim Tuttle and I live in Hoboken, New Jersey, and work directly across from Ground Zero in New York City. I had worked in both the North and South Towers for several years prior to 9/11. Like your father I was on the last Path train into NYC that tragic day. Although I was across the street and witnessed both towers being hit and their ultimate collapse, at least I was not upstairs like many of my friends.

“Unfortunately, I witnessed many people not only falling from the buildings but I saw many jumping as well—and they were coming out of the 105th floor where I had visited only a couple weeks prior. Some were certainly people I knew well. I was 3 blocks away when the South Tower fell – I had just begun to run. I should have left earlier but I couldn't move -- I was glued to the site just off Greenwich Street where I continued to think I could somehow help my friends. A few of them I had spoken with that morning. All hell broke lose and the world changed forever -- well at least for me. Perhaps you as well.

“Many of my friends and co-workers who survived that day cannot or will not speak about 9/11. In some cases they feel it's too personal -- in others they just prefer to go on living the best they can. For others the best therapy seems to be to remember old buddies over a beer in one of the local pubs just around the corner from GZ. We all have different methods. Many of us have lost friends and family since the tragedy -- compounding our grief somewhat. Two of my good friends who helped me get through 9/11 have since passed away. Both in their thirties. Far too young.

“I have all kinds of stories about friends lost and folks I know who just barely made it. Crazy stuff. Terrifying. A guy who was late because of Monday Night Football (the Giants lost to the Broncos out in Denver the night before). A guy who was fired on Monday. A woman who was back to work for the first day after taking off three months for maternity leave. The last guy out of the North Tower – seconds before it came down -- blown across the street. The tragic and insanely lucky list goes on and on.

“Most of us had no idea what was happening that day amidst all the horror and confusion -- it was pure pandemonium. Two of my friends lost their entire trading group as they headed to work from the airport that morning. They were the lone survivors of a 60 person team. But they continue living -- working and raising families with a boatload of memories.

“Your email was excellent and it asks a very important question. Yes, many folks have put themselves into the tragedy that day. It seems that everyone has a story about where they were and what they saw. Some are very real -- I think some are purely fantasy personally. But everyone has a story for certain -- many need to have a story to help the healing process. For some maybe it is a badge of courage. I can tell you personally that I wish I hadn't been there. And I'm not certain sometimes if watching it on TV really was the same as being down there -- maybe it was -- maybe it doesn't really matter. Then again there is tragedy occurring all over this wonderful (sometimes not always) world. And there are a million stories with each event. The stories change from each viewer and each survivor. They can relate those stories if they like, I guess -- if they feel the need to express it. We used to speak of 9/11 a lot more initially after the event at my office -- it has since lessened. I'm not certain that is good, personally. I don't want anyone to forget.

“My answer -- or therapy -- was to create Music From Ground Zero. It is my attempt to honor all the victims and heroes that day. I couldn't really express my grief and my anguish properly through words so I moved towards music. I play near Ground Zero each year on 9/11 and raise money for charity. It hasn't really helped with closure but it has helped me keep alive the memory of 9/11 for a few folks – and perhaps it does something to honor my friends at the same time. We all have our different ways to release -- and to accept. People who attend the shows each year feel it's very special -- very moving. To me it's a necessary therapy. I've watched far too many important American holidays and special event remembrances turn into unrelated days off from work or Macy Day sales. I also communicate with school kids down in Georgia who wanted to know more about 9/11 and how my music evolved from the ashes. I hope I am explaining something important to them.

“The other night I was hanging out with a friend and his Grandmother. A really sweet lady. We were speaking about 9/11 and she was very interested in what I had seen that horrible day. She listened intently until I finished, with tears in her eyes. She the told me ‘Young man, I was at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 and here's what I saw.. .’ It was truly amazing and inspiring--not to mention wildly interesting.

“To be honest I'm not exactly certain why. A 90-year-old survivor of another tragic American event. And her story was real and mind-blowing. It was history and tragedy coming together and reminding me that in this big cruel world there is hope and possibility. Thankfully she made it through that terrible day (but only just barely -- she was shot at by Japanese Zeros from about 300 feet above--machine gun bullets whizzing within feet of her). It was quite an incredible story. Then she lit up a cigarette and looked off -- thoroughly reliving her past. I didn't think I should warn her against the hazards of smoking at this stage in the game.

“You are a very thoughtful young woman and a gifted writer. Your email was wonderful and shed light on a true problem of ‘post-9/11.’ I wish you continued success in the future.”

October 8, 2007


I’ve survived (just barely) a West Coast swing on the book-tour circuit: five talks in three days at Stanford University, the World Affairs Council of San Francisco, San Jose State University’s Magazine Day, the University of Washington in Seattle, and Seattle's Northwest chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers. Just a few words about my visit to the schools…

Stanford was engaging, to say the least. We assembled in the campus bookstore for a slideshow and discussion, at the invitation of a faculty member and friend, Glenn Frankel, formerly of The Washington Post. Near the end of the question-and-answer session, one older, clean-cut, scowling man became incensed at my skepticism toward 9/11 conspiracy theories. “I’d like to throw a chair at you,” he said, barely containing his anger. While I have received e-mails voicing similar animus (the majority, in fact, from California), it is rare that such discussions escalate to threats of real-world physical violence. (Note: Those who buy into 9/11 conspiracy theories almost always sit on the fringes of the crowd, literally and figuratively.)

I tried my best to diffuse the situation by saying, “That’s one of the things about a democracy, about open dialogue. You and I can look at the evidence, raise questions, debate, and respectfully disagree.” I went on: “Just because the Bush administration was negligent, inept, irresponsible, and bureaucratically lumbering, does not imply complicity or malfeasance. It would have been beyond the administration’s capacity to plan and keep secret so vast a conspiracy” (meaning: to assist al-Qaeda in attacking the U.S. as an excuse to invade Iraq). “I refuse to believe that the Pentagon,” as I have before on this Web site, “bombed the Pentagon.”

He just couldn’t believe, he told me after the booksigning, that I had spent so much time looking at so much evidence about the attacks and had come to an opinion that was diametrically opposed to his own. That, somehow, seemed the most galling to him: that my view of the attacks (and perhaps my world view) clashed with his so completely.

The next day, SJSU’s students came out in force, thanks to the inspiring faculty, engaged kids, and the institution’s long-standing commitment to the craft of journalism – in part through an aggressive effort to help students interact with journalists through field trips, lectures, internships, and jobs.



And I couldn’t have asked for a more attentive reception than the one I received at the University of Washington, an event orchestrated, in part, by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma (to which I donate some of the funds from the sale of Watching the World Change).

October 7, 2007


Our friend and colleague photojournalist Alexandra Boulat passed away Friday, at age 45, having suffered a brain aneurysm this summer.

Below is a photo taken of Alex the week I met her, in 1992, at La Visa, the annual international photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France. (At the time, she was accompanied by her mother Annie, the beloved photo agent, and her father Pierre, who for many years had been Life magazine’s Pairs photographer).

Perhaps it is best, though, to see what she would have wanted us to see: her photographs. CLICK HERE to visit the portfolio page of the photo agency VII, of which she was a founding member and guiding light.



On the home page of VII, the following message is posted:

"Our dear friend Alexandra Boulat passed away peacefully in Paris today, Octoer 5th, 2007. Her friends around the world will to sleep heartbroken tonight and with them we extend our love and condolences to the Boulat family, Annie, Antoinette, Lucy, and Alex’s loving partner, Issa. Her friendship, courage, spirit and creativity touched all of our lives and will remain dear memories always.”

October 2, 2007


From Chris Durkin, Jenkintown, PA…

"thank you for watching the world change.

"some context; i am a news producer for fox tv in philly- and won a regional emmy for line producing our Day 2 coverage at WTC - so as you can imagine - i've read (and seen) volumes on the attacks since- but just wanted to say how special your's was for me in 'coming to grips' and understanding bit by bit as the years ago by - just what happened that day. it truly still has to be seen to be believed....best regards."

From Leona Seufert, Philadelphia, PA…

"After the terrible events of 9/11 I wrote poems and essays as a way to work through my emotions. In 2002 I felt that others could benefit from reading my works and started the website, The WTC Journal.


"Over the last 6 years I have posted countless poems and essays dealing with 9/11, the evolution of Ground Zero from pile to pit to now a construction site, and every anniversary I write about the past year's controversies. I have also posted my personal photographs and digital compositions relating to my writings' topics."

From Julie Fidler, Lancaster County, PA...

"I was 22 years old on September 11, 2001. My nephew was 2 weeks old. I was a newlywed. My husband and I had stayed less than 2 miles from the Pentagon the week my nephew was born -- we never dreamed what was to come. It should have been a wonderful time in my life, but when that first plane hit the World Trade Center, my world changed. Any semblance of innocence I had left as a young adult was ripped away from me.

"I am the only person in my family that is not a New Yorker. I was born here in the Amish Country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. But I spent tons of time in New York, because my grandparents and relatives lived in Westchester County, in Yonkers. I will always have an image in my mind of those towers off to the right, as we drove over the George Washington Bridge to spend the summer with my grandparents. When we would go into the city to shop, or to my uncle's office in Manhattan, they always took my breath away.

"After 9/11, it took me a few years to get past it and move on. I lived in fear, and then I lived with paranoia, and eventually sadness. I don't know if it's possible to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of an event you were not physically a part of, but I certainly felt very traumatized.

"Jump ahead nearly 6 years, and I don't live with that fear or sadness anymore, but I'm pretty sure that for the rest of my life, I will wonder when we're going to get hit again. The other shoe will eventually drop, pardon the overused analogy. It always strikes me that my nephew -- now in the first grade -- and his 11 month-old baby sister will never know a world without terror alerts and 'chatter.' It is so bizarre to me that the childhood I knew -- where, frankly, people only blew things up in the Middle East -- will never be known again... probably not ever.

"All this to say... last year, I started corresponding with Danny Suhr's brother, James. [Danny, a firefighter, perished on 9/11, and is mentioned in Watching the World Change on page 229.] I was taking part in a national blogging tribute, designed to make sure that every victim had a tribute written about them on the 5th anniversary. By the end of the project, I felt like I knew Danny personally. Since that time, I have had it stuck in my head that I want to write a book about some aspect of 9-11 -- mainly, where the survivors and families are now, and how they are handling life in this new world.

"This is not something I know anything about. I'm a Christian author. My first book was published when I was 26, and it was about marriage. I'm co-writing
another marriage book even as we speak. To step outside of that realm and cover something like this is so far beyond me, but... I can't get it out of my mind."

October 1, 2007


I commend and recommend the parallel exhibitions at New York’s International Center of Photography: “This is War! Robert Capa at Work” and “Gerda Taro” -- a visual resurrection of the collaboration and love affair between photojournalists Capa, considered the godfather of modern war photography, and Taro, the first woman to shoot combat from the front lines (during the Spanish Civil War). Taro would die on the battlefield in 1937.



I was especially taken with the Taro’s compositional flair, imagination, and subtle eye, compared to Capa’s. At this early stage in his career, he had not yet become the accomplished craftsman and creator of icons into which he would evolve. Many of her images (taken in square format, with a Rollei, compared to Capa’s horizontal frames shot with what was a new format at the time: 35-mm) seem, if possible, more observant.

A revelation: Her image of two armed Spanish partisans on a hill, and a third man in the foreground (possibly Capa?). The man on the left, it turns out, is actually Capa’s famous “Falling Soldier” – the first photograph showing someone in the process of being mortally wounded in combat. Taro, it turns out, had been positioned right next to Capa that day and photographed the soldier only moments before Capa did.