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The 9/11 Horror and the NY Sportscasters Who Spewed Anti-Semitic Hatred on 9/12

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Like a burning cattle brand, the horror of the day that changed the world Sept.11, 2001 has permanently marked the collective memories of the Americans who lived through it. Just as vivid in the minds of some New Yorkers is the memory of the day after when two popular NYC Sports hosts Mike Francesa and Chris Mad Dog Russo, blamed the attack on Israel and demanded that American Jews take a loyalty oath to the U.S.

It was 14 years ago, but I still remember driving into the city at six a.m. that day as I did every day, but for some reason as my car made its way over the bridge which led to the midtown tunnel, my eyes looked downtown at the two towers of the World Trade Center and thinking that it was a particularly beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. Little did I know that, just a few hours later, the towers would fall and the sky would be totally black, filled with the black smoke of terrorism.

Three hours after leaving my house, I was sitting in my office at Nickelodeon (I was the publisher of Nickelodeon Magazine) working on 2002 projections when I received an AOL IM from my brother: "Hey Jeff, some sch**ck just flew a plane into one of the World Trade Towers turn on the TV.!"

As the publisher of Nickelodeon Magazine, I had a cable TV connected in my office. Turning the set to MSNBC (it was a news channel back then) there appeared what seemed to be a replay of the crash. Sadly, it was no replay--it was another plane and it was hitting a second tower.

Soon, the entire Nickelodeon TV crew crammed into my office. We all stared in disbelief as the news grew worse: the attack on the Pentagon, reports of another hijacked plane heading to Washington (which crashed in Pennsylvania), false reports of a car bomb at the State Department, the horror of seeing people jump out of the towers to their deaths, and the unbelievable scene of each of the twin towers crashing to the ground. All of America was gripped by fear and confusion.

Having driven into the city that morning, there was no way to get home as of yet, but the second the news said the east side river crossings had been reopened; I rushed out of the office and began what was to be a very long drive home.

Despite the fact that there were almost no cars on the road, traffic was at a crawl due to the dazed people walking in the street 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 blocking the view of the site of the day's horror. Even with the car windows closed the air had a "smoky" taste and a texture like sand paper.
 
 
Communication was out as the logjam of millions of people trying to use their cell phones at the same time crashed the system.

The Long Island Expressway (LIE) was a bizarre sight, often called the world's biggest parking lot, traffic on the normally packed highway was moving faster than the speed limit--at least eastbound (moving away from NYC). Westbound however was like a ghost town it was totally void of any vehicles. The only exceptionf were police cars stationed at the end of every on-ramp to block cars from entering the LIE toward Manhattan.

Eventually. I made it home and exchanged hugs with my wife and kids. Those weren't the usual "welcome home" hugs - there was a little extra in them as they included the realization everyone in our family was safe while so many other families were dealing with losses and/or uncertainty.

The next day at the office (Wednesday), we told everyone to take the rest of the week off. All of America was in shock. There was no way anyone could concentrate on anything as trivial such as a children's magazine. Sadly, the 9/12 drive home is also scorched into my memory. Not because the black curtain of smoke and sandpaper-like air - but, because of the hatred coming from the car radio.

As a creature of habit, the car radio was always tuned to what was then the only NY Sports radio station, WFAN. Leaving right after telling my crew to chill for a few days, the radio fare on the drive home featured the station's afternoon stars, Mike Francesa and Chris Mad Dog Russo. These two were entertaining because of their sports knowledge and because listeners could tell these two really hated each other; there was always an undercurrent of tension on their show because an argument could spring up at any moment. But, on 9/12/01, the two were in total agreement as they launched a fact-deprived commentary blaming both Israel and American Jews for the attack on America the day before.

Russo opined (and Francesca agreed) that American Jews needed to prove their loyalty as Americans and choose between Israel, which Mike called "a failed experiment," and the U.S. The two bigots suggested 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 anti-Semitism? Suspension? On-air apologies? After all, this is the station that six years later fired Don Imus, their number one moneymaker, for calling the Rutgers girls’ basketball team "nappy-headed hos." Sadly, WFAN reacted by sweeping their comments under the rug, while their two cash cow bigots denied it ever happened. In fact, the primary reason that this post paraphrases the bigoted conversation rather than provide direct quotes is that WFAN station management claims that the tapes had not been saved and there was no way to know exactly what was said. 

The Anti-Defamation League, which was flooded with calls sent a letter to the station

 

As of November 2009 the ADL never received a response from their letter.

Twelve days after the attack on 9/23, NY Post reporter Phil Mushnick wrote:

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.
 

The two sports talkers/bigots took to the airwaves to express their denial.

“Dumbest thing I ever heard [sic] in my life,” Russo said.

“Not even a kernel of truth,” Francesa said.


To which Mushnick responded in another column:

"… 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."

Like Mushnick, I heard them with my own ears, stuck in traffic on the approach to the mid-town tunnel, the air still tasting like burnt rubber, the black curtain of smoke still blocking the horrible scene two miles south. On that day and for months afterward, the city was patrolled by American heroes in their fatigues and carrying rifles, a reminder that the world was drastically different.

 In 2009 Mushnick added:

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.

 If I wrote such malicious lies, why wasn’t I sued? Why not a word of protest  from Francesa  and/or WFAN to me or to the publisher of The Post?

To this day, the two continue to deny what thousands of people heard with their own ears and complained about.  Francesa on WFAN and his show is simulcast on the Fox1 sports network. Chris Russo's has his sports channel on Sirrus/XM where, ironically, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, he broadcast a special about the horrors of the day. 

If the two hosts had made those same comments about Islamic extremists, or Latinos, or African-Americans, they would have been fired before they finished their comments. But negative statements about Jews or Christians often get protected. 

Like most Americans who suffered through those horrible days, the sounds, tastes and pictures of the ghastly attack on America are embedded in my memory. Most Americans reacted to that day by standing united against the hatred of al Qaeda. But, here in melting pot of New York City, one of the places where the 9/11 attacks occurred, two sportscasters chose not to stand united against Islamist terrorism. Instead, they chose to create more hatred and their hatred was protected, and even to this day, they deny it ever happened.

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