DEN alumni remember 9/11 coverage


Ryan Meyer, Multimedia Reporter

Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shocked the country in 2001, and Daily Eastern News alum Bill Ruthhart was one of the college journalists who was involved with news coverage that day.

Ruthhart, a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was the News’ sports editor in the fall of 2001.

When he first heard the news, he was in a house on Fourth Street with four roommates next door to Marty’s.

“So I remember going downstairs to get something to drink in the kitchen, and I had not put my contacts in yet, so my vision wasn’t that great,” Ruthhart said. “And I remember coming down the stairs, I remember seeing all four of my roommates sitting on the couch watching TV, which is super weird for like eight or nine in the morning or something like that.”

When his roommates filled him in on what was happening, he described getting up close in front of the television to see the coverage through his foggy vision, and then heading to the newsroom to get to work.

“I remember we had a big screen TV and I walked up to it, and I had to walk up pretty close to see because I didn’t have my contacts in, and there’s just the smoke was billowing out of the tower,” Ruthhart said. “And then I immediately forgot about the drink I was going to get in the kitchen and I ran upstairs, I put my contacts in so I could see and then I remember I just ran across campus to the newsroom at Buzzard, the Daily Eastern News and a bunch of students had just kind of started gathering here, and I think the second tower may have fallen somewhere between like when I left and when I got here, and I just remember all of us just kind of fanned out across campus and just started reporting.”

The News’ managing editor at the time, Matt Neistein, recalls a similar experience, when he realized the impact of what was happening from a journalistic standpoint.

“And I hadn’t had the well-defined journalism instinct yet of going, ‘holy crap, this is news, I need to get to the newsroom,” Neistein said. “That’s the first time that I’d ever experienced that feeling in the rest of my career, I can tell you other days and events where that’s happened but that was the first time where your first instinct is to go to the newsroom, whatever you’re doing, drop it, there’s news to be covered.”

The next day’s copy of the News featured Associated Press stories and photos, but the work the staff put in the day before showed in many localized stories, like “Administration tries to ensure campus safety” by Pat Guinane and “Service brings comfort, unity to students” by Jessica Danielewicz.

Ruthhart also had two photos in the paper, one of a flag in Greek Court hung at half mast and another of a flag in the bed of a truck in the O’Brien Stadium parking lot.

Neistein tells a story of the News’ frantic search for an AP photo, and describes how the person he got through to in the AP office in New York gave him the photo that ended up being on the front page with no second thoughts. This, Neistein said, was an example of journalists helping each other out.

“And for me the reason that’s important is because it demonstrates what journalism can be and what journalists can be for each other…I didn’t ask for it for free. But in that moment, the business side of it didn’t matter. He knew what we were dealing with, I knew what he was dealing with, he had something I needed, just take it.”

While 9/11 was hard on Neistein, he also acknowledged that other events, like the school shooting in Newtown in 2012 or the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, affected him on a more personal level, since he “didn’t really know anybody who was directly affected who was on the planes or who was in the buildings.”

“Going back to some other examples, Newtown happened, I had a son in elementary school, when Newtown happened,” Neistein said. “That hit me on a deep level. I’m Jewish, Tree of Life hit me at a really deep level…Newtown is the only time I’ve ever cried at work. I had to literally go into a corner and cry.”

In the words of a Ruthhart column from that same Sept. 12 paper, he writes “The true heroes are those who run into burning buildings giving their lives to save others. Our true heroes are not those who hit the most home runs or score the most points, but those who risk and give their lives for freedom.”

Ryan Meyer can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]