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Context of '(9:54 a.m.-6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001: President Bush and His Entourage Have Difficulty Following Events on TV due to the Poor Reception on Air Force One'

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Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, who is traveling with President Bush in Florida, is advised by the White House Situation Room not to bring the president back to Washington, DC. Air Force One’s flight plan currently has Washington as the destination of the president’s plane. (White House 8/29/2002) And while he was being driven to Air Force One from the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Bush had been “itching to get back to Washington,” according to Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, who was with the president in his limousine. (Card 8/12/2002) But as he was traveling in the president’s motorcade, shortly before it arrived at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Rosenker learned that a secure phone call from the Situation Room was holding for him. After the motorcade reaches the airport (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), therefore, Rosenker enters Air Force One and goes to an area at the back of the plane where he takes the call. The identity of the person in the Situation Room he speaks with is unstated. Rosenker will later recall that the person “indicated that it would be best if we did not come back to Washington, and that we should try to find some escort aircraft for us.” Rosenker then heads to the to the communications area of the plane and waits for takeoff, so he can then discuss these matters with the pilot, the president’s military aide, and Card. (White House 8/29/2002) Air Force One will divert from its original course and head west at around 10:10 a.m. (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and then at around 10:20 a.m., Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana will be chosen as its new destination (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)

President Bush watching TV in his office on Air Force One.President Bush watching TV in his office on Air Force One. [Source: White House]President Bush and those with him on Air Force One are less aware of ongoing events than millions of Americans are, because the television reception on the plane is weak and intermittent. (Bamford 2004, pp. 83; Draper 2013, pp. 100; Graff 9/9/2016) The president’s plane currently has no satellite television. (Fleischer 8/8/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 130) The TV system is instead only able to pick up local stations as the plane flies over large populated areas and even then the reception is poor. (Walsh 2003, pp. 210; Schmitt and Shanker 2011, pp. 21) When the plane is over a populated area, the televisions on board flicker briefly before the images fade away. (Krueger 9/10/2002; Smith 8/26/2011)
Passengers Only See 'Bits and Pieces' of the News - “It was not a good signal,” Mark Rosenker, director of the White House Military Office, will later recall, and the plane’s passengers are only able to see “bits and pieces” of what is being broadcast. (White House 8/29/2002) “Everyone is watching the monitors, trying to get snippets of visual information, and the reception keeps going in and out,” White House photographer Eric Draper will say. (Krueger 9/10/2002) “After a few minutes on a given station, the screen would dissolve into static,” Bush will describe. (Bush 2010, pp. 130)
Passengers Are 'Starving for Information' - Partly because of their inability to follow events on television, Draper will say, “Everyone [on Air Force One] was starving for information.” (Graff 9/9/2016) “Bush was largely blind to the vivid images of destruction and disarray that were seen by millions of Americans live on television,” journalists Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker will write. (Schmitt and Shanker 2011, pp. 21) Those on the plane end up learning the news through sharing information among themselves by word of mouth. (Sarasota Magazine 11/2001; National Journal 8/31/2002) Bush will state, however, that despite the poor television reception, he manages to catch “enough fleeting glimpses of the coverage to understand the horror of what the American people were watching.” (Bush 2010, pp. 130)
Bush Is Frustrated by the 'Woeful' Communications - Officials will subsequently comment on Air Force One’s inadequate communications capabilities and their effects today. The president’s plane lacks “continuous direct broadcast television receive capability” and today’s events highlight “limitations in the president’s airborne capability to… monitor real-time news coverage,” the Air Force will state. (Donnelly 9/22/2002) “One of my greatest frustrations on September 11 was the woeful communications technology on Air Force One,” Bush will write. (Bush 2010, pp. 130) The communications systems on Air Force One will be upgraded in order to correct the problems experienced today. (Fleischer 8/8/2002; Weisul 11/4/2002; Walsh 2003, pp. 33; Graff 3/20/2017) As well as having difficulty following events on television, Bush and his staffers have problems communicating with their colleagues in Washington, DC, while they are on Air Force One (see (9:54 a.m.-2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006; Graff 9/9/2016)


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