Lauren Ashburn is a USA Today reporter who makes her first appearance of the day--well, she telephones in an "eyewitness" report from the 18th floor of the USAToday building, to the local CBS affiliate in D.C. News9. (They each get a nickel every time they say USAToday.)
Andrea: Lauren are you there? Lauren, Lauren Ashburn from USAToday, can you hear us?
Lauren: Yes I can Andrea.
Andrea: We understand you witnessed what happened at the Pentagon?
Lauren: Yes I did. We’re sitting in the USAToday Towers, 1000 Wilson Blvd, and as we were getting ready to record…ah, we watched what appeared to be a huge explosion over the top of the Pentagon. At that point we were immediately told to evacuate the USAToday Towers. As many people know, they are very tall towers that overlook Washington, called Silver Towers, and the picture you’re seeing right now is actually taken from a camera that is on top of the USAToday building.
Male Announcer: We are getting a report Lauren, see if you can confirm this, an Associated Press reporter saw the tail end of a large airliner plunge into the Pentagon. Could you tell what type of aircraft?
Lauren: We could not tell what kind of aircraft it was, the only thing we could see was a huge cloud of smoke and what looked like some flames at the onset of that, we couldn't see, I…I don’t know if you can hear right now but, but emergency trucks, I’ve seen about twenty, twenty-five of them screaming down Route 110 here in front of the USAToday headquarters.
Andrea: Lauren, where are you right now?
Lauren: I am on the 18th floor of tower one of USAToday headquarters building looking out onto the Potomac river.
Andrea: And you say that they have evacuated from upper floors or they’re trying to evacuate everybody in the USAToday building?
Lauren: At this point they are evacuating everybody in the USAToday building in both towers, both Gannett Broadcasting and USAToday.
Ashburn is clever enough to leave room for plausible deniablity. After answering yes, she'd been a witness "to what happened," she says that "we watched what appeared to be a huge explosion." Either it was a huge explosion or it wasn't, you either saw it, or you didn't. She immediately digresses, moving on to describe what happened next, a call to evacuate, as well as providing some thoughtful background on the building she was in.
The male announcer, Mike, asks her, "We are getting a report Lauren,see if you can confirm this, an Associated Press reporter saw the tail end of a large airliner plunge into the Pentagon." Mike's voice drops an octave, "Could you tell what type of aircraft?"
Is this the first public mention by the News9 team that possibly an aircraft struck the building? Instead of asking what "type of aircraft," shouldn't they first ask if she'd seen aircraft at all? Why does Ashburn now answer the first question with lawyerly precision, "the only thing we could see was a huge cloud of smoke," appending a "and what looked like some flames at the onset." At the onset of what? An explosion, a huge cloud of smoke, or the advent of an airliner, tail end or whole? And what is flame commonly mistaken for again?
Ashburn starts to say what she didn't see, which is of some use in establishing the parameters of truth, but shifts instead into another off-topic digression. The female announcer, Andrea, must sense a need, for she throws her a life-ring by asking a question already answered: "Where are you?"
"At this point they are evacuating everybody in the USAToday building, " Ashburn replies, sitting there.
So it is odd to find Lauren still in the building later, televising an interview with an eyewitness. Odder still, this interview goes out on the same CBS station, but with a different, less-descript “Live 9” emblem in lower left corner, and without a word from her about any special status or relationship between their organizations. Oddest of all, she is interviewing an USAToday colleague, his story heavy with explicate details of official narrative, also without a word of explanation from her. She interviews Sucherman a second time that afternoon.
Lauren: Well, good morning Andrea, right now with me is Joel Sucherman. He was on his way into work, I believe, when he saw an American Airlines jet crash into the Pentagon. Joel tell me what you saw.
Joel: Well, traffic was very heavy this morning so, ah, it was bumper to bumper, we were all stopped, I was probably about 100 yards from the Pentagon, when I heard this screaming sonic boom, and saw the jet come screaming across the highway, it was an American Airlines jet, silver, with the markings along the windows, and ah…ah…within seconds it hit the side of the Pentagon. My first thought was my God it’s coming in so low for a landing at National, but it screamed across Route 110, and hit the west side of the Pentagon, ah…immediately there were flames that shot up, higher flames, white smoke and then within seconds, thick black smoke.
Andrea:…we are interrupting Lauren Ashburn to go to Gordon Peterson live near the Pentagon...
I'll check and find out what it was that was so earth-shatteringly important for Gordon Parks to report on, that it warranted an interruption, putting to a close an 107-word answer to a 37-word question, and calling it journalism, even though it's left as the central unanswered question six years later.
Later that day, Sucherman interview #2, also going out on a Live9 CBS feed.
Lauren: One person was on his way to work here at USAToday headquarters, he’s Joel Sucherman. Joel, tell us what you saw.
Joel: Well we were stuck in traffic, nobody was moving much and we heard a sonic boom all of a sudden we saw a jet, what appeared to be an American Airlines passenger jet, come screaming just a few feet above the highway, which runs to the west side of the Pentagon it ah ,with a second or so, it slammed into the west side of the Pentagon, there was an explosion, flames shot up, there was white smoke and then within seconds it was thick black smoke surrounding the area.
Lauren: How were you sure this was an American Airlines jet, what, what did you see?
Joel: I saw a plane, a jet, with silver…ah…it was painted silver, and there were markings along the window, which ah, reminded me of an American Airlines.
Lauren: Are they red and blue?
Joel: That’s correct, they were red and blue.
Lauren: And what happened on the ground at that point, did you stop and get out of your car, what happened?
Joel: Well, everybody, ah, sort of stopped, there were a lot of people who did get out of their cars, I did not, ah, you know, we were…I was just worried there would be a another impact seconds later and without being able to maneuver away from the scene, another impact could have shot flames, and we all would have been toast.
Thank goodness Lauren prepared because Joel did not. Do you think Joel worried that Lauren was feeding him a trick question by prompting him with "red and blue?" And without being able to maneuver away from the scene, wouldn't the logic of Joel's staying inside his vehicle, left him roast instead of toast?
Six USAToday employees had front-row seats to witness the airliners crash into the building. Many other employees of Gannett, the owner of USAToday, also were eyewitnesses.
This official release taken by Sgt. Carmen Burgess in the first moments after the attack, before fire engines and other responders arrived, has a view pointed toward where the six non-carpooling USAToday employees are--up the incline of an overpass. I'm sorry things are so tense and stressful out of sight of the carnage. Down here, we see three men in the background , out in the road, leaning on a car, and shooting the breeze. Traffic is jammed too.