9/11: Running with the President

Former Bloomberg News White House correspondent Dick Keil joins Tim to talk about his story of 9/11 that started at 6:30 a.m. when he went on a morning run with President Bush in Sarasota, Florida, where the president was scheduled to make an appearance at a local elementary school.  Dick provides details and background on what the chain of events was with the president that morning, and what it was like to cover the President of the United States from Air Force One as history was unfolding.  This episode is part of our special series, “9/11: A Generation Removed.”

On the morning of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush woke up a little before 6 a.m.  He was staying at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, Florida, not far from Sarasota, where he was to make a visit at a local elementary school later that morning.

At 6:30 a.m., he took his daily run. He ran about for and a half miles on the grounds of the Longboat Key Golf Club. It took him just over 32 minutes to complete the run. He was joined by several Secret Services agents, and by Bloomberg White House correspondent Richard Keil.

It was a beautiful day in Florida and all the way up the East Coast.

The president was scheduled to visit the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota at 9 a.m.  That was a 20-minute drive from the hotel to the school.

The purpose of the trip was to promote education. This was part of the president’s campaign to combat illiteracy rates in the country. The name of the campaign was, “Putting Reading First.” Shortly after 8:30 a.m., the presidential motorcade left the hotel for the school.

Meanwhile, 1,200 miles away, at 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Quickly, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer gets word that a plane has crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center. Word starts to spread throughout the motorcade, but the president is not immediately notified.

About two minutes after the plane has hit the building, at 8:48 a.m., the president arrives at the elementary school, where he is told what’s happened by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

As far as anyone knows at that point, the size of the plane and what had happened were unclear. For now, the president assumes it was a tragic accident.

The president is escorted to a room in the school where there are 18 second-graders in two rows before him. They start to take turns reading a story from a children’s book called, “The Pet Goat.”

The traveling White House Press Corps lines the back of the room, capturing video of what is to be a routine photo op. At the same time, some in that group are already getting texts, pages and calls about what is unfolding in New York.

At 9:03 a.m., a second aircraft, United Flight 175 has crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Before long, Andrew Card would do something that’s almost never done in the midst of a presidential event. He walks to the head of the classroom, and leans down to communicate directly to the president.

He whispers into the president’s right ear, “A second plane has just hit the World Trade Center. America is under attack.”

Immediately, he steps back so as not to engage in a discussion of the matter in front of the children and the news media.

The president’s demeanor immediately and visibly changes. Clearly, he is preoccupied. He avoids any abrupt actions or movements so as not to send the wrong message. He works to keep his cool until the appropriate time where he can gracefully excuse himself from the room.

Not long after, he exits the classroom for a nearby holding room that the White House is using. It becomes a de facto war room where the president and his team can find out what’s happening and to make the first decisions that have to be made in response to the terrorist attacks of the day.

A brief set of remarks are prepared, and the president now walks into the school library, where 200 students, teachers, parents and the news media are waiting.

Our guest was there throughout that morning’s events with the president.

About 9/11: A Generation Removed

On September 11, 2021, America will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the country that happened on September 11, 2001. In remembrance of the event, the Shaping Opinion podcast will release a series of nine distinct episodes centered on the 9/11 attacks, starting on Friday, September 3rd and culminating on the 20th Anniversary, September 11, 2021.  The series, entitled, “9/11: A Generation Removed,” will feature six new and original episodes for 2021, and three encore episodes, all based on the personal experiences of guests and stories of people who were there in New York, in Washington, D.C., and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.


About this Episode’s Guest Dick Keil

Dick Keil is Managing Director of Communications at Accenture.  He devises strategy, leads execution and supervises on multi-platform public advocacy campaigns designed to enhance, protect and repair corporate brand and reputation; campaigns can comprise issue advocacy, earned and paid media (traditional and digital), grassroots and coalition-building. He also specializes in communications strategy and execution, with a focus on external engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders in media and politics.

He has worked as a senior level communications advisor to corporate, nonprofit and government leaders.

He served as the White House correspondent for Bloomberg news from 1997 through 2006. Before that, he was a reporter for the Associated Press for ten years.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Rochester University where he was a competitive runner.