On 9/11/01 I was sitting in my office when I received an IM from my brother telling me of the first crash and urging me to turn on the TV (I worked for Nickelodeon at the time and had a TV in my office). Turning on the set I saw what I thought was a replay of the crash, sadly it was no replay, it was the second plane. My entire team crammed into my office. They stared in disbelief as the news grew worse, the attack on the Pentagon, followed by the horror of each of twin towers crashing to the ground. Just thinking about it brings back memories of fear and confusion.
Having driven into the city that morning I was stuck in the city because all bridges and tunnels leading out of Manhattan were closed. But the second TV announced the reopening of the east side river crossings; I rushed out of my office and began to drive home.
The streets of Manhattan were almost devoid of cars. Traffic moved slowly anyway because the streets were packed with dazed people 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 over the East River. Even with the car windows closed the air had a “smoky” taste and a texture like sand paper.
I made it home to my family and drove into the city the next day. My memories of the drive home on 9/12 is just as vivid not because of another terrorist incident, but because of something I heard on the radio.
Per my usual practice, during the drive home I listened to NY Sports radio station WFAN. I left early enough to hear WFAN’s afternoon stars, Mike Francesa and Chris Mad Dog Russo. The fun of these guys was more than their sports knowledge, you could tell these two really hated each other; there was an undercurrent of tension on air.
On 9/12 however, these two agreed. They launched a fact deprived commentary blaming both Israel and American Jews for the attack on America the day before. Even worse Russo said (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 thought 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? One would think that they would have reacted very strongly, 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 it under the rug while the pair of bigots denied it ever happened ( despite the fact that other listeners including NY Post columnist Phil Mushnick heard the offensive comments).
The ADL 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”
To this day the two (who Don Imus called Fatso and Fruit loops) deny that this incident ever happened. I contacted the station and the two bigots last September, the station and Francesa did not respond and Russo met my request for an apology to the Jewish community with derision.
When the NY Post’s Mushnick wrote about the incident in the weeks after 9/11, the sports talkers used some of their radio time to express their denial.
Mushnick wrote in 2002:
“… 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.
Like most Americans who suffered through those horrible days, the sounds, tastes and pictures of the horrible attack on America are embedded in my memory. On 9/12 most Americans, stood united against the hatred of al Qaeda. But here in New York, two sportscasters on WFAN chose not to stand united against hatred; they chose to create even more hatred. I am told that they continue to deny what thousands of people heard with their own ears. I couldn’t tell you for sure since I haven’t listened to WFAN since 9/12/01 (where Francesa remains), nor have I tuned to Chris Russo’s year old sports channel on Sirrus/XM.
In less than two weeks we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of that horror. It is about time WFAN, Francessa and Chris Russo fess up 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