Stuck in Europe Following Honeymoon, WCBS Anchor Maurice DuBois Was ‘Desperate for any Shred of Information’ During 9/11
For several days, we’ve been offering you some insight as to how some well-known reporters and anchors covered the horrific day 10 years ago when our city, world, and life would change forever.
We conclude our special coverage–9/11: New York Remembers.
For WCBS-TV main anchor Maurice DuBois it was, perhaps, even more difficult. DuBois, at the time, a co-anchor on WNBC’s Today in New York, was returning from his honeymoon in Southern France on September 11.
“Not quite halfway through the flight the pilot gets on the public address and says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is an unusual situation, but we’ve been advised that U.S. airspace is closed and we are returning to Paris.’”
DuBois recalls passengers letting out a gasp on the plane as they remained in the dark about the details stateside.
An hour after, as they were turned back for France, DuBois tells FishbowlNY, the pilot gave one final much grimmer update, telling passengers that there were “massive explosions in Lower Manhattan.”
However, it wasn’t until landing that DuBois learned the specifics available to that point, when he called his news director.
“It was just stunning to sort of understand that logic,” DuBois says.
DuBois still hadn’t seen the video or still shots.
Despite being devastated by what he just found out, DuBois had little time to react. He was being patched onto the air at Channel 4 with anchors Chuck Scarborough and Jane Hanson from whom, he received a live progress report, 3,600 miles away.
“You can’t even describe the kind of emotion that you feel at that moment,” DuBois remembers. “All I can do is describe what is was like for a couple of Americans coming back with maybe 300 others to be just so out of position, just at a loss.”
Separately, DuBois was asked to “report” on the network’s wall-to-wall coverage with Tom Brokaw (which wasn’t seen in New York).
“I just remember at the end he said, ‘Thank you very much, WNBC’s Maurice DuBois who was coming back from France on his honeymoon.’ It was the [emptiest] sensation you could imagine,” DuBois says.
It wasn’t until the anchor got to a Parisienne hotel, nine hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, that the usually unflappable DuBois got his first look at the unbelievable images.
“My wife and I were literally in tears watching this,” DuBois recalls. “This is our hometown.”
But his news acumen eventually took over. DuBois, a native of Port Jefferson, N.Y., felt helpless as the biggest story of our generation was unfolding.
“You spend a career on the air in times like that, making your way through a tough situation, trying to make sense of it for people,” DuBois admits. “And now you can’t do any of that. You’re a regular viewer desperate for any shred of information.”
Like viewers back home who would switch from channel to channel during a crisis, DuBois would do the same, but this news gathering was multilingual (French, Italian, Arabic, and German stations).
“The same thing over and over,” DuBois recalls. “It was the ultimate nightmare.”
Instead of watching and waiting for news to develop, DuBois and his new wife took matters into their own hands. The next morning, he went to CNBC’s Paris bureau and was able to file some reports for WNBC (possibly used on NBC and MSNBC as well).
“My wife became my producer, and she knows nothing about the business—she’s in marketing,” DuBois says. “So we went out and scraped together a few people stories of how Europeans are reacting.”
Moreover, DuBois located Americans and even New Yorkers to interview to “help shape the story back home.”
When it finally came time to return home on Saturday, September 15, DuBois recalls being greeted by an image that he’ll never forget.
“Flying into Newark [Airport] …and you could see this gaping hole, this open wound that you’d been watching on television.” DuBois reflects. “Surreal isn’t even the fair word to describe it.”
He says some passengers started to cry, while the majority sat stoically as they looked out the window.
“What I remember the most was the silence of being on the plane, silence in getting off,” DuBois says. “The normal bustling sort of energy that you hear at an airport wasn’t there… You went outside, got in a cab, and everything was so downcast.”
DuBois says the city was, four days after the fact, in a state of shock.
“For New Yorkers, people were just quiet and especially polite,” DuBois says. “There was a certain ‘we’re in this together’ sense.”
DuBois, named the Channel 2 evening co-anchor with Kristine Johnson at the start of 2011, says thinking about the events of 9/11—ten years later—remains difficult, but necessary.
“It’s real and it’s raw and you don’t want to go there, but you don’t want to ever forget either,” DuBois says. “You can’t let your guard down, because you know what that could lead to.”
In case you missed any of the 9/11: New York Remembers articles, or just want to read them again, on Sunday, as a special honor to September 11, we’ll link back to each of the pieces.