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Linda Ellerbee Explains 9/11 to Young Viewers -- And Keeps It Brilliantly Simple
September 1, 2011  | By David Bianculli

Linda Ellerbee, by now, really, really knows what she's doing. After carving out one distinguished career in TV news as an anchor and commentator, she's spent decades establishing another, as the anchor, and heart and soul, of Nickelodeon's Nick News, which explains complex issues and news events without resorting to insider doublespeak, verbal duels or flashy visuals.

Thursday night at 9 ET, she takes on 9/11, in a Nick News special aimed at an audience that was in grade school, if that, when America was attacked. It's a program all young people should watch. And all older people, too...

The approach of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: "What Happened: The Story of September 11, 2001" is exemplified in its title. Instead of using the now-universal 9/11 shorthand to refer to the date of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, the program takes that date and literally spells it out. Similarly, it spells out everything else just as clearly, often getting youngsters themselves to pose the questions. And what questions:

Who was responsible for it, and where were they from?

Do the majority of Muslims feel this way towards America?

What were the terrorists trying to prove?

What did 9/11 have to do with the invasion of Iraq?


To answer the questions, this Nick News special seeks out, and presents, an impressive range and caliber of interviewees, from 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to homeland security and Islamic studies experts. There's even a visit with someone who has been almost entirely under the radar for the past decade: Aaron Brown (pictured), the memorable, emotional anchor who presided over much of CNN's 9/11 coverage and aftermath.

Even better, though, is that this Nick News special talks with, as well as to, young people -- ones with various ties to the tragedies.


One young man, who was seven years old in 2001, was in the classroom that morning as President George W. Bush first heard the news from a whispering aide.

"His face just went dead," the young man recalls.

A woman who was 14 years old a decade ago tells of realizing her sister was aboard Flight 93, the aircraft whose crew and passengers thwarted the hijackers' plans by crashing the plane en route to its target.

Other young adults who, when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, were 10 and 11 -- and mere blocks from the site -- share what they saw, and who helped and protected them.


Ellerbee hears their stories, and gives her own account of 9/11, patiently (and without any hint of condescension) defining such terms as Newark and hijacking. After watching the special, and hearing her conclusions about what lessons young people should take away from the event, I felt hopeful, not sad.

I don't expect to feel the same after watching many too other 9/11 anniversary shows the next 10 days...




Alexis Moore said:

Hello David,
Thanks for the heads up on this program. Now that I'm at the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker based peace and social justice organization, I appreciate more than ever "plain speaking" and simplicity.

Comment posted on September 1, 2011 2:26 PM

wilberfan said:

I used to watch Linda on her very-late-at-night program. ("Overnight"?) She was wonderful.

Thanks for the heads-up on this program!

[Good memory. It WAS Overnight, on NBC -- and she WAS wonderful. Still is. -- DB]

Comment posted on September 1, 2011 5:36 PM

Mac said:

Thanks for the heads up. Excellent show. Loved how they handled the question still bugging me: Bush's leap to Iraq.
One thing I would do in any documentary, especially one aimed at kids: always show the name of the speaker and the reason why they are speaking (e.g.-Tom Kean-Head of 9/11 investigative commission). Kids need a constant reminder of these newly introduced talking heads, especially as the story unfolds. And BTW, Kean is great at what he brings to the show, and this praise comes from a far left winger.
Alas, Nick's website is very poor at promoting this show in particular and Nick News in general. You have to know what you need to know to get to what you need to know. Also, very difficult to find any additional times for replaying this program. My tween grand child is home tomorrow and her Grandmom will be visitng.This would be a good time to watch together, but no way to find out if it's on (evidently it's not - a shame).

[I agree completely. It's ridiculous that Nick doesn't have it scheduled for a lot of repeats between now and Sept. 11. -- DB]

Comment posted on September 1, 2011 9:55 PM

Walter Donach said:

There are no repeats? Preposterous.
I was hoping to be able to record it, missed it the first time.

Comment posted on September 3, 2011 12:31 PM

Robert said:

I just read this story and searched the guide and the show is no where to be found??

This was last week?

No re-airings?

Is a Friends marathon really more important that this????

Sigh... why do the networks make is so hard to watch what little good TV is out there.

[I know, know. It hurts. But you can watch each episode of Jersey Shore 121 times... - DB]

Comment posted on September 5, 2011 11:58 AM

Pete said:

The show can be seen here:


[Hooray for this! Thanks, Pete. The Internet gives back what the network taketh away! If you want to watch Ellerbee's wonderful 9/11 Nick News special, now you can. -- DB]

Comment posted on September 6, 2011 5:22 PM
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