New York— Last week was supposed to be a celebration of the cable industry's diversity efforts.
But those festivities were barely underway when a terrorist attack that tragically leveled the World Trade Center here shattered the industry's good will and provided cable executives a frightening image that most will never forget.
All of cable's Diversity Week activities — including the Walter Kaitz Foundation Fundraising Dinner — were canceled last Tuesday in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers here and on the Pentagon. Subsequent security measures taken by the government — including the closing of all national airports — also left executives scrambling to find ways back home.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association issued a statement three hours after the attacks calling off all of last week's industry events. Along with the annual Kaitz Foundation dinner, slated for Sept. 13, the NAMIC Digital Media and Diversity conference, scheduled for Sept. 10 to Sept. 12, the Cable & Telecommuncations Association for Marketing of New York Blue Ribbon Breakfast on Sept. 11, and the Kagan Associates Broadband Seminar, set for Sept. 11 to Sept. 12, were canceled.
NAMIC's conference was canceled one hour after its opening session. Attendees gathered around several television sets in the Millennium Broadway Hotel to catch the latest information about the unfolding tragedy.
Most of the 400 participants attending the conference's opening session, which featured remarks from NAMIC president Patricia Andrews-Keenan, were unaware of the World Trade Center attacks just several miles away.
Andrews-Keenan informed attendees of those events prior to the conference's 10:15 a.m. marquee CEO roundtable session, which was subsequently canceled.
NAMIC set up several television monitors for attendees to keep up with cable coverage of the unfolding story. At one point, many of the attendees gathered for a prayer for the families and victims of the attack offered by TV Guide Channel executive Terry Goodbeer.
Having lost the use of cellular phones due to the attack, several attendees also spent much of the day scrambling to reach family members or co-workers.
The first panel of Kagan's conference at midtown Manhattan's Park Lane Hotel was held Tuesday. But following the break — during which news of the World Trade Center collapse was learned — conferees were unable to return to the discussion at hand, Kagan Associates said on its Web site. The rest of the conference, on Wednesday, was also canceled.
Comcast Corp. president Brian Roberts had a close call during the disaster. A member of the board of directors at the Bank of New York, Roberts was early for a regularly scheduled 10:30 a.m. board meeting at the bank headquarters — located directly across the street from the World Trade Center — on Sept. 11. With Roberts was another BONY board member — Liberty Media Corp. chairman John Malone. According to sources, Roberts and Malone decided to leave — walking north to safety — shortly after the second plane slammed into the Trade Center. Both men were fine, with Roberts returning home to Philadelphia later Tuesday night.
Many cable executives had already arrived in New York Monday to attend the annual Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner Sept. 13, when the terrorist attack forced the cancellation of the dinner and created travel headaches for executives trying to get out.
Kaitz Foundation president Art Torres said that as of press time Friday, there were no plans to reschedule the dinner. He said he would sit down with the Kaitz board of directors to determine the next course of action.
But Torres said that the dinner is not the foremost concern of cable executives, given the tragic developments.
"The dinner is [secondary] compared with finding out where our family and friends are," Torres said. "There were probably lot of people that I and other people in the industry knew involved in the terrorist attacks."
Reactions from cable executives ranged from sheer shock to disbelief at the incredible events that unfolded during the day. Others sought to make sense of the horrific tragedy.
NAMIC conference co-chair and Urban Communications Transport president Eric Cunningham said the tragedy puts the industry's week-long celebration of diversity in perspective.
"What it does is let us know that in the height of our learning process, we're still vulnerable to the actions of the rest of the world," Cunningham said. "We often focus on issues within our cable world, but incidents such as this teach us that there are other consequences in the world that we have to deal with."
Mediacom Communications Corp. chairman Rocco Commisso said the attack brought back frightening memories of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
"I'm sorry to hear what happened downtown," he said. "I remember seven or eight years ago going to a meeting at the World Trade Center, and [while] I was going to the escalator bank, this huge bomb exploded. I hope nobody got hurt. It's tough to speak."
Many executives also revealed some of the tragic losses and experiences that they were suffering through last week.
The horror of last week's terrorist attacks really struck home for Lindsay Gardner, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for the Fox Cable Networks Group, who had traveled to New York early last week for the Kaitz activities.
One of Gardner's neighbors in Santa Monica, Calif., was a passenger on the ill-fated American Airlines flight 11, one of the two jets that hijackers commandeered and crashed into the World Trade Center. Gardner said that the woman, 48-year-old filmmaker and producer Carolyn Beug, lived just two houses away from him.
Beug had flown to the East Coast to bring her twin daughters to the Rhode Island School of Design, and was en route to return to Los Angeles from Boston when the hijacking took place.
Last week, a TV camera crew came to Gardner's home, asking his wife about Beug. Gardner said he and his wife didn't really know Beug, since they had just moved into that neighborhood.
Back east, Gardner had a meeting set for last Tuesday in Stamford, Conn., with Time Warner Cable senior vice president of programming Fred Dressler. He then planned to go to Manhattan for the week's Kaitz activities.
But Gardner and two of his key executives wound up staying at a hotel in Stamford for the rest of the week, taking some additional meeting time with Dressler after the terrorist attack and the cancellation of all the Diversity Week events.
Other L.A.-based Fox Cable executives, stranded in New York, opted to rent a car and drive across the country to get home, a trip estimated to take four days. That group was led by Sol Boten, vice president of affiliate marketing for Fox Sports Net, who also gave a lift home to Tony Maldonado, director of marketing for Cox Communications Inc. in Phoenix.
New Scripps Networks vice president of communications Cindy McConkey was waiting in Dulles Airport in Washington to fly to New York for Kaitz Week activities last Tuesday when the terror attack took place. When all air travel was shut down, McConkey and another traveler she met, a NASA employee trying to get home to Florida, tried to rent a car to drive home.
Car-rental companies were restricting auto rentals, so McConkey and her fellow traveler were forced to rent the only vehicle available: a yellow 12-foot Penske moving truck. It took about nine hours for McConkey to get home to Knoxville, Tenn., where Scripps is headquartered.
E-MAILER: 'I AM FINE'
Last week, Disney Channel general manager Rich Ross sent an e-mail to his friends to basically inform them that he was alive and kicking. Ross said he decided to send the message after his assistant got a call from someone who saw the name Richard Ross — a 58-year-old from Newton, Mass. — on the list of passengers for Flight 11.
In his e-mail, Ross wrote, "I just wanted to ensure you that I am fine. It is odd probably to hear from me about this matter, but I thought it was better to be safe then to worry anyone."
Ross said that after sending the e-mail, he got phone calls from a half-dozen friends who had seen the name Richard Ross, listed without an age or residence, and had feared it was him.
"They told me, 'What relief,' when they got my e-mail,'" Ross said.
Last week's tragic events — and the fact that three of the hijacked planes were bound for Los Angeles — will probably make cross-country business travel more tense.
"This is so wrenching," Gardner said. "We live on airplanes. We fly to lots of different cities. My department spends a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year just on flying."
Mike Farrell contributed to this story.