NBC News Reporter Jeff Rossen Calls it ‘An Honor’ to Cover 9/11 for WABC/Channel 7

Already with NBC News since 2008, Jeff Rossen’s popularity ballooned earlier this year by landing an exclusive interview with Charlie Sheen. 

But his star was on the rise just months after returning to New York City in May 2001 at WABC/Channel 7. 

Rossen, a Hauppauge, New York native, was one of the Eyewitness News reporters covering the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Rossen spoke to FishbowlNY for our special series–9/11: New York Remembers.

“When we finally got downtown, we saw a jet engine on the sidewalk,” Rossen says.

Rossen (25 years old at the time) and his photographer Danny Lamothe kept moving south toward the World Trade Center.

“We were in place for when the second building came down,” Rossen remembers. “We felt that coming down on top of us.”Fortunately, Rossen didn’t suffer any long term ill-effects from being in the crosshairs of the collapse. But there was the matter of dealing with mental anguish.

“The dust cloud, as you’ve seen in all the video, was awful, scary,” Rossen admits. “I told my photographer Danny, ‘Hold my hand. Let’s just not get separated here.’”  

Lamothe somehow kept the camera rolling, as the duo did lock hands—but it wasn’t enough against the angry debris swarming closer.

“I ended up hiding out in the corner of an OTB for five minutes as the dust cloud came by,” Rossen recalls.

When the ash settled and the sun shined through again, Rossen and his photographer would reunite, as Mayor Giuliani arrived with surgical mask covering his mouth.

“It was such chaos, no one even was paying attention,” Rossen says. “So he [photographer] and I ran over—it’s that now famous shot of Giuliani walking down the street—We have this exclusive interview with the mayor.”

Rossen remained on the scene of death and destruction into September 12 (Watch a clip of Rossen’s reporting below at the 8:31 mark).

“I think I was on the air for like 35 hours,” Rossen remembers. “I would sleep for a half hour in the truck.”

Not that he was seeking it, but Rossen’s yeoman work would payoff personally.

“The then-news director of Channel 7, Dan Forman, called me up and said, ‘You know what, consider yourself full-time as of right now,’” Rossen recalls.

Despite his stellar reporting, management would have preferred that he relinquished his on-air duties —even for a few hours.

“They were trying to get different shifts in. They wanted fresh reporters on the ground,” Rossen remembers. “I kept saying, ‘I don’t want to go home yet.’”

He wasn’t able to put himself in a mindset of being anywhere else.

“I couldn’t think about walking away from there and sitting at home, because all I would do was sit at home and watch it on TV,” Rossen admits. “I wanted to be a part of it.”

With so many viewers affected by the attacks, Rossen says he’s never seen such an appreciation and hunger by people.

“It was really an honor to be there to be delivering it,” Rossen says.

As the hours went by for Rossen, the reporting process became more complicated. The Trade Center had the cell phone mobile towers, meaning communication was down. Not only was cell phone service non-existent, IFB (direct line from remote to station) was hit or miss. So the next choice was the two-way Nextel phones. 

Beyond what difficulties Rossen faced covering the story professionally, the attacks took their toll on him personally.

“We saw people jumping out of windows,” Rossen admits “This is scary stuff that I’ve tried my best to suppress—not always successfully.”

Rossen took a moment to pause as the horrific scene played out before his eyes.