A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Bomb threat at CNN NYC
Honestly I’m reluctant to start off this edition of the newsletter with Thursday night’s bomb threat at CNN NYC, because these attempts at intimidation are infuriating and unacceptable. Most bomb threats don’t get much if any news coverage. But Thursday night was different for three reasons. One, the phoned-in threat to CNN came six weeks after the mail bombs targeting CNN and numerous Democratic officials. Two, the offices were evacuated, meaning that CNN had to halt its live programming due to the threat. And three, the NYPD shut down a city block and searched every floor of CNN’s offices as a result.
It was a false alarm. There was no bomb. But unfortunately this bomb threat was still newsworthy. Let me take you through it step by step.
Per a law enforcement source, a caller indicated there were five devices in the building. The call came in at 9:47 p.m. ET, according to building security. Officials with CNN’s parent company were alerted. Law enforcement agencies were contacted. “CNN Tonight” went to commercial at 10:26. Don Lemon and his producers were told to grab their coats and evacuate the building. At the exact same minute, two floors below, Rob McLean was told the same thing. He edits this newsletter at night… He promptly headed home to keep working from there. Meanwhile the “CNN Tonight” staff gathered at a restaurant across the street and tried to figure out what to do next.
CNN’s master control in Atlanta started to show a rerun of “AC360.” Alert viewers wondered: What happened to Lemon’s show?
How we went live
While Lemon’s staff was evacuating, I was downstairs at Whole Foods. CNN NYC is part of a sprawling complex, the Time Warner Center, containing a mall, grocery store, event spaces, hotel, restaurants, apartments, and offices. I heard the sirens and saw an alert on my phone. So I came out to the street – already roped off police – and found staffers from the New York bureau. We tried to connect to CNN Atlanta through my laptop, but it didn’t work, so we set up a live shot signal via my iPhone and the Skype app. It was shaky, but good enough.
CNN International anchor John Vause began to anchor from Atlanta. He showed the iPhone live shot, then brought in Lemon by phone. A few minutes later we used the iPhone as our “stand up position,” to use some TV lingo, and stayed there for the rest of the 11 p.m. hour. Pro tip: Make sure your phone battery is always charged. I was at 10%, so I had to borrow a colleague’s mobile