America before Sept. 11

BREAKING NEWS: “We have an update on the Chandra Levy case. Gary Condit just took off his coat and got in a car. We have a correspondent on the scene…”

BREAKING NEWS: “Another surfer is attacked by a shark off the coast of California today.”

BREAKING NEWS: “Former Attorney General Janet Reno talks about her announcement last week of interest in running for governor of Florida.”

And in other news today: “A terrorist named Osama bin Laden declares a holy war against the United States and Israel.”

“Back to you, Bob, for the weather update.”

With news reports chronicling the Condit-Chandra controversy, every hour on the hour before Sept. 11, the threat of terrorism on United States soil was not only off the radar screen – it was something that could happen “only in the movies.”

BREAKING NEWS: “A small aircraft just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City … “

How the world perceived news changed. The next time the name Chandra Levy followed a breaking news alert was when her apparent remains were found in May, eight months after the frenzy following another capital sex scandal.

It sounds funny to say, but the world was simpler then.

It had been decades since Vietnam. The Gulf War was serious when it happened, but the conflict was viewed as such a success that if there was a fear of safety at home, it was minimal.

All that changed when a second plane gutted the second tower.

It was clear then that America was under attack. That fear mutated when news stations showed smoking footage of a missing chunk of the Pentagon.

Before the plane went down in Shanksville, Penn., people were asking themselves, “What’s next?”

The domestic media’s days were filled with the soap opera dubbed, “The Chandra-Gate.” It seemed as though every day, there was another shark attack. President Bush had just passed the 200th day-in-office mark, and his approval rating was still low. Michael Jordan’s pending announcement of his return to basketball flooded sports radio talk. The Elian Gonzalez debacle was still on the American subconscience.

After Sept. 11, all that seemed rather insignificant.

On the local front, the fall semester was just underway. The Board of Trustees had just replaced the Board of Regents. The new residence halls on campus were just opened for business. Lee Roy Selman entered his first school year as athletic director amid controversy surrounding the women’s basketball program. Sami Al-Arian was just another professor in the computer science and engineering department.

And Osama bin Laden was just another terrorist. The American public just wasn’t aware of what he had in store.

On Sept. 10, 2001, The Statesman, a newspaper in India, reported a confirmation that a videotape surfaced in June had bin Laden outlining his plans for expanding terrorist operations in Afghanistan. The tape reportedly promoted the Taliban as “an ideal, purified Islamic state that provides the perfect base for a worldwide holy war against infidels.”

It’s apparent now that bin Laden’s holy war didn’t begin on Sept. 11, 2001.

That’s just the day that America took notice.

Contact Will Albrittonat