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Wolf Blitzer: 'One of those nights you'll never forget'

By Bryan Monroe, editor
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Blitzer: Reporting on bin Laden's death
  • Wolf Blitzer reflects on CNN's coverage of Osama bin Laden's death
  • "I was at home ... watching the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup games"
  • Blitzer: "Privileged, honored and blessed that I was anchoring our coverage last night"

Washington (CNN) -- When the news of the death of Osama bin Laden first broke late Sunday night, much of the nation -- and the world -- heard it first from CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Blitzer sat down with to reflect on how the historic evening unfolded and what it meant to him and the audience around the globe.

Q: How did this all go down last night?

Blitzer: I was at home. I had just started watching the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup games. With a minute to go in the third period, (Capitals captain Alexander) Ovechkin scores a goal, ties it up. It was very, very exciting.

Sam Feist, our political director and senior executive producer, calls me up and says, "How long would it take you to get to the bureau?" And I said, "Not long."

He said, "Hurry!"

I didn't ask any questions. I figured it was really important. He had said that the president was going to be speaking to the nation at 10:30.

Timeline to bin Laden's demise
CNN confirms Osama bin Laden is dead

So this was around 9:40, 9:45, I'm in the car, driving. By 10 after 10, I'm in makeup. We had no makeup artist because we thought it was going to be an easy day, so I just did it myself, put some powder on my forehead, went on the set, and by 10:15, I was on the air.

I was getting e-mails and speaking on the drive in with White House officials, who wouldn't tell me what was going on, but they did say it was going to be really, really important. "We wouldn't waste your time and the president's time."

It's extraordinary that the president of the United States would address the nation without a whole lot of warning at 10:30 p.m. ET.

So I made more phone calls. I learned it was a national security-related issue. I assumed it was Libya: I wondered, was Gadhafi killed? But my White House sources said it had nothing to do with Libya, nothing to do with Gadhafi, it was another part of the world, but it's VERY, VERY important.

At that point, in my mind, I began to suspect that bin Laden is dead. I didn't know it. I didn't have any confirmation of it. I just started to put two and two together: The president making a dramatic announcement, going into the East Room (it wasn't going to be in the briefing room; the pool had been told to go into the East Room, which is a much more formal setting, where you see the president walking down that hallway toward the podium.) So I knew it was going to be very important. They also said it was going to be about a 10-minute address. It wasn't going to be a short little thing, 10 minutes (a relatively long statement for the president).

So, in my mind, I was thinking bin Laden, but I wasn't ready to say that on the air. I didn't want to speculate without having it hard. So I said what I knew, which was not Libya but national security, very important. I was getting e-mails from White House officials saying "You were being very responsible; thank you."

And then finally (CNN's John King confirmed on air), we got the word, "bin Laden is dead."

They kept telling me the president's remarks would be delayed a little bit. Originally it was scheduled for 10:30, then it was going to be 10:45, then 10:50, then it was going to be 11, 11:15. Finally, at 11:30, 11:35, it happened.

It was just one of those nights you'll never forget.

Q: What was the impact on the rest of the world, seeing and hearing this from you?

Blitzer: I got immediate reaction from all over the world. On Twitter, people were tweeting me from all over the world, getting e-mails. I didn't realize until I saw that I was trending on Twitter, CNN was trending, people were watching. Huge, huge numbers. Even though it was late on the East Coast, midnight, one o'clock in the morning, people were watching in huge numbers, and they were glued to CNN.

I was getting a lot of feedback. Most of it was positive. Some people didn't like it, but, you know, you always get a few critics, but that's fine. Most people were thankful for the responsible way, the cool way, we were handling one of the biggest stories of our lifetime: Bin Laden is dead.

Q: What did this story mean for you, personally?

Blitzer: From a personal note, as someone who remembered vividly where I was in my kitchen, when I saw those twin towers being hit and then later when they were going down, I was trying to get to the (CNN) Washington bureau, remembering the 3,000 people killed ... Just from a personal standpoint, I just felt, as a journalist, privileged, honored and blessed that I was anchoring our coverage last night, to report this important news.

From a journalist's standpoint, from an American's standpoint, it was an extremely, extremely moving moment for me. You try to convey that cool, Walter Cronkite kind of dispassionate feel, but if you look closely to what I was saying and how I led that, I think the viewers would agree that it was a moving moment, a very moving moment for me