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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 30, 2001

The September 11th attack
Federal pair only source of cleanup video reports

USA Today

Because so-called ground zero is a crime scene as well as site of a massive cleanup effort, network camera crews have been prohibited from the World Trade Center disaster site in New York City.

And that means that ever since two planes crashed into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, local and network news organizations have largely relied on video shot by two Federal Emergency Management Agency public affairs officers who have been documenting the often heartbreaking and poignant efforts.

The work of Jim Chesnutt and Kurt Sonnenfeld, said "CBS Evening News" producer Jim Murphy, "has been excellent."

Chesnutt, 35, of Boulder, Colo., has responded to a variety of disasters — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods — in his nine years at FEMA.

But nothing like this.

Said Sonnenfeld: "I've been trying to focus on the heroics of the rescue people and police and firemen trying to straighten this mess up. I work long days, but these guys work long days, and they have to cut cement and rebar and climb and tunnel. It's just amazing."

Chesnutt, a former TV news photographer in Minnesota and Wisconsin, flew to New York immediately after the planes hit the towers and had expected to be answering reporters' questions. But then he was asked to shoot video.

Ever since, he and Sonnenfeld have been giving networks two feeds a day: "the best stuff we can get to help them tell their story."

They've crawled through dangerous rubble to document search dogs and scores of rescuers going about their grim task of finding bodies in the debris.

But whenever a body is found, "that's personal and between the rescuer and the families, and the camera goes in the bag," Chesnutt said. "If I was still a news photographer, I would have done the exact same thing. Maybe that's why I'm not a news photographer now."

Chesnutt said of the rescue workers: "These guys run toward the stuff we run away from. They don't get signing bonuses and million-dollar paychecks, and they treat the living and the dead with the same dignity. ... That's been the most humbling part of the assignment for me."