By Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor
I met an investment banker at a New York luncheon today who told me the mindset at her firm has been "re-set to a 9/11 mentality" after what happened in Lower Manhattan this morning. Many in her office evacuated, along with many other firms and buildings. I'll link to the story here, but here's the lay version with my added bias: word started spreading through New York during the morning rush hour that a "jumbo jet flanked by a fighter jet" was flying low over the Hudson river near the southern tip of Manhattan. Networks like ours switched our footing to preparation to report the incident. People who looked on from a distance were horrified at the sight. What's worse, people who were close to the "fly-over" were even more troubled -- as some of them recognized the world-famous livery -- the paint scheme on the fuselage: it was Air Force One. The real one. The fighter jet was real. Was the President on board? Was he in jeopardy? Could this really be happening in the sky over New York?
The finger-pointing reached Olympian heights before lunch. The Air Force said they told everyone who needed to know, including the FAA and NYPD. The NYPD said they were told not to tell the public. It was apparently a "photo mission" (masked as a "training mission"?) to take pictures of the aircraft with the Statue of Liberty in the background. I understand the need for pretty pictures of the aircraft against a dramatic backdrop, and I've flown a lot of miles with the air wing that operates Air Force One... but why was it staged during Monday morning rush hour? Why not make it a public event -- widely announced via electronic media -- and invite the public, a la an air show, to come to lower Manhattan with their cameras on, say, a Saturday morning to take their own pictures of this dramatic sight?
This was dangerously mishandled. As I said the other evening at a gathering of New York City firefighters: even after all these years, among many New Yorkers, 9/11 still feels like it was about 10 minutes ago. The pit is still there, though it's now a construction zone. The losses don't go away. No one is bringing my neighbor back to me. I will drive by his house on my way home from work tonight, and he won't be there. We still look up at the sky (in ways we never did before) when we hear low-flying aircraft, and we still worry. Lower Manhattan is no place for an unnanounced low-altitude jumbo jet-and-fighter-jet flyover.
Someone should pay for this.
Now to the news of the day: we will have comprehensive coverage of the swine flu outbreak, and Mike Taibbi will cover the story above. We'll end on an uplifting example of Making a Difference... and we hope you can join us as we start a new week.