It was about five to nine in the morning on 9/11/01 When an AIM message popped up on my office computer. It was from my brother: “Hey Jeff, some sch**ck just flew a plane into one of the World Trade Towers turn on the TV.!”
As the the publisher of Nickelodeon Magazine there was a cable TV connected television in my office. Turning the set on there appeared what seemed like a replay of the crash. Sadly it was no replay–it was another plane and it was hitting a second tower.
Soon the entire Nickelodeon TV crew crammed into my office. We all stared in disbelief as the news grew worse, the attack on the Pentagon, reports of another hijacked plane heading to Washington (which crashed in Pennsylvania), false reports of a car bomb at the State Department, the horror of seeing people jump out of the towers to their deaths, and unbelievable scene of each of the twin towers crashing to the ground. All of America was gripped in fear and confusion.
Having driven into the city that morning there was no way to get home as of yet because all bridges and tunnels leading out of Manhattan were closed. Everyone in the office who wanted to go home was sent home. The second the news was announced that the east side river crossings had been reopened; I rushed out of the office and began what was to be a very long drive home.
Despite the fact that there was almost no cars on the road, traffic was at a crawl due to the dazed people walking in the street trying to make their way out of the city. It was a surreal picture, almost like those movies where Godzilla attacking Tokyo. The 59th Street Bridge was no different, dazed people struggling to get off that tiny island and onto the safety of the Borough of Queens. Gazing out from the bridge to what was soon to be known as ground zero; there was an impenetrable curtain of black blocking the view of the site of the day’s horror. Even with the car windows closed the air had a “smoky” taste and a texture like sand paper.
Communication was out as the logjam of millions of people trying to use their cell phones at the same time crashed the system.
The Long Island Expressway (LIE) was a bizarre sight, often called the world’s biggest parking lot, traffic on the normally packed highway was moving faster than the speed limit–at least eastbound (moving away from NYC). Westbound however was like a ghost town it was totally void of any vehicles. The only exception was police cars stationed at the end of every on-ramp to block cars from entering the LIE toward Manhattan.
Eventually after three hours, I made it home and exchanged hugs with my wife and kids. Those weren’t the usual welcome home hugs there was had a little extra in them as they included the realization everyone in our family was safe and so many other families were dealing with losses and/or uncertainty.
The next day at the office in Manhattan we told everyone take the rest of the week off. America was in shock. There was no way anyone could concentrate on anything as trivial such as a children’s magazine. The 9/12 drive home is scorched into my memory also. Not because the black curtain and sandpaper-like air still filled the air, but for the hatred coming from the car radio.
During the drive home as usual the radio was tuned to NY Sports radio station WFAN. Leaving early radio fare on the drive home was the station’s afternoon stars, Mike Francesa and Chris Mad Dog Russo. These two were entertaining because of their sports knowledge and because listeners could tell these two really hated each other; there was always an undercurrent of tension on their show because an argument could spring up at any moment.
This day however, the day after the attack on American soil these two agreed. They agreed to launch a fact deprived commentary blaming both Israel and American Jews for the attack on America the day before.
Even worse Russo opined (and Francesca agreed) that American Jews needed to prove their loyalty as Americans; choose between Israel, which Mike called “a failed experiment,” and the U.S. The two bigots suggested Jews in America should take a loyalty oath to the country to prove that they were loyal to the US and not Israel. How did WFAN react to this blatant Antisemitism? Suspension? On-air apologies? After all this is the station that six years later fired Don Imus, their number one money-maker, for calling the Rutgers girls basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” Sadly WFAN reacted by sweeping their comments under the rug, while their two cash-cow of bigots denied it ever happened. The station even claimed they “lost” the tape of the day’s programming.
NY Post columnist Phil Mushnick blasted the pair more than once for their denials.
The Anti-Defamation League which was flooded with calls sent a letter to the station which said in part:
“Since September 12th, ADL offices in the tri-state area have been flooded with calls complaining about comments made by “Mike and the Mad Dog” show hosts Mike Francesa and Chris Russo. The complaints focus on the hosts suggesting the motive behind the World Trade Center attack is U.S. support for the State of Israel or, more importantly, suggesting a divided loyalty for American Jews between our country and Israel.”
As of November 2009, the ADL never received a response from their letter:
“From: ADL Media [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 11:42 AM
Subject: RE: Abraham H. Foxman’s letter to WFAN in 2001
As far as we can recollect, we had no response from WFAN”
When the NY Post’s Mushnick wrote about the incident in the weeks after 9/11, the sports talkers took to the airwaves to express their denial.
A year after the 9/12 bias attack Mushnick responded:
“… Francesa’s claim that I fabricated quotes, then attributed them to him is a total lie because I never quoted either Francesa or Russo in that column. I couldn’t quote them because WFAN claimed that it did not tape that particular segment.
But I did hear them – first-hand, not “second or third-hand” – then wrote a column critical of them for characterizing the 9/11 attacks as the fault of Israel, and by extension, American Jews……The fact that no tape was, in Francesa’s words, “ever found” – he failed to mention WFAN’s claim not to have taped the segment I wrote about – was used by Francesa, Monday, as proof that I fabricated a story about him.”
In a 2009 column Mushnick added:
Days after the 9/11 attacks, Francesa, global affairs expert (it’s a gift), launched two bigoted, backwoods and facts-depraving commentaries blaming both Israel and American Jews for America’s peril at the hands of terrorists.
Francesa also said the Jews he knows are disloyal Americans in that they would go to war to defend Israel but not the United States.
In the wake of an attack on the U.S. by Islamic lunatics, Francesa even called upon American Jews to prove their virtue as Americans, to choose between Israel, which he called “a failed experiment,” and the U.S.
As a third-generation American Jew, whose great-uncle was a WWI doughboy, and whose father was a WWII Naval Lt., then commander of the Staten Island chapter of the Jewish War Veterans, I was, shall we say, displeased by Francesa’s determination that the time had come for me to swear allegiance to the United States.
On Sept. 23, 2001 the above appeared in this column. In WFAN’s response, on behalf of Francesa, station boss Mark Chernoff denied that Francesa said any of that — despite thousands, including WFAN staff, having heard what I’d heard. My challenge to produce those tapes was ignored.
I am told that that the two continue to deny what thousands of people heard with their own ears. There is no way for me to report that for sure since I haven’t listened to WFAN since 9/12/01 (where Francesa remains), nor have I tuned to Chris Russo’s sports channel on Sirrus/XM, I do check search engines a few times a year. In 2011 ten years after 9/11 the station and the two bigots were contacted again. WFAN and Francesa did not respond and Russo met the request for an apology to the Jewish community with derision on his Facebook page.
Like most Americans who suffered through those horrible days, the sounds, tastes and pictures of the ghastly attack on America are embedded in my memory. In the aftermath of that beautifully clear day in mid-September 2001 most Americans, stood united against the hatred of al Qaeda. But here in melting pot of New York City two sportscasters chose not to stand united against the hatred of Islamist Terrorism; instead they chose to create even more hatred.
Today we commemorate thirteen years since that first 9/11 horror and
the one in Benghazi two years ago. It is well past the time for WFAN,
Francesa and Chris Russo admit their mistake and apologize for their hatred. If you
agree please contact WFAN program manager Eric Spitz here
[email protected] or call the station at 212-314-9200 to comment on
Francesa. As for Mr. Russo you can call Sirrus/XM corporate offices @
212-584-5100 and tell them you think the Mad Dog should fess up and
apologize. Or if you prefer you can tweet them yourselves; Russo’s
Twitter handle is @MadDogUnleashed Francesa does not use twitter.