Journalists Who Covered Ground Zero Seek Compensation For Resulting Cancers

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People gather around stones that are part of a new memorial glade at ground zero after a dedication ceremony in New York, Thursday, May 30, 2019. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the new memorial glade at the World Trade Center site

NEW YORK(Vosizneias) — Journalism is not usually considered a dangerous trade unless you’re a war journalist in Iraq or some other battle zone. But for the journalists who covered the 9/11 attacks at ground zero, it is becoming increasingly apparent nearly twenty years after the event that they intentionally endangered their lives to cover the story without realizing the possible consequences. Many of these journalists breathed in the noxious fumes, the dust and the debris. Some have contracted cancer and even died as a result of their exposure to the deadly carcinogens.

Now the surviving journalists are banding together to attain compensation and special insurance for all those who suffered for their zealousness to report on 9/11 from the scene of the attack.

“As a journalist, the main motive is just to get the story, get those pictures, never thinking years later you’re going to end up dying from it,” says Bruce David Martin (65), a former news operation manager and photojournalist for WWOR-TV, who is now suffering from liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

“We had a job to do,” said Vincent Novak, who was working at NBC at the time of the attack. Novak(71) is now suffering from prostate cancer.

Martin and Novak spoke with CNN Business to spread the word that the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund‎ and the World Trade Center Health Program are available for members of the media who covered the terrorist attack.

“I hesitated contacting the fund, because we weren’t there to save lives,” Novak said. “But the media did do a service, by showing the actuality of the events and that there were no more attacks. We helped the public to cope.”

Novak and Martin’s applications for the Victims Compensation Fund were handled by Michael Barasch, a managing partner at Barasch & McGarry, a law firm that serves survivors of 9/11. “My law firm alone represents 53 journalists,” including newspaper journalists, TV reporters, and photojournalists, Barasch said.

Members of the media are considered responders, he said, since they were on the scene with the first responders. “They were breathing the same toxic dust as the New York City firefighters and cops,” he pointed out.

Barasch estimates that thousands of journalists — now scattered around the world — might need to know about the available programs. To qualify for the WTC Health Fund and the Victims Compensation Fund, he said journalists need two people who can vouch for them by signing an affidavit that essentially says “This person was down there covering 9/11.” But those signatures are harder to come by as time passes, Barasch said.

“The challenge is proving you were there, and every day, witnesses are dying,” he said.
But thanks to recent lobbying by 9/11 survivors and comedian and activist Jon Stewart, the Victim Compensation Fund has been extended through 2090.

Novak completed the process of applying for the fund just last week. He received a letter confirming his eligibility on Saturday but insisted that he was not looking for the money but mainly for the recognition that he put his life on the line while doing his job in covering 9/11 for the public.

Martin had always kept a video camera in his apartment, so on the morning of 9/11 he started walking from his West Village apartment toward the Twin Towers.

“I did interviews and eventually found myself walking into the white dust,” he recalled. “At that point, you’re just not thinking about it and what’s going to happen later.”

During a routine exam in 2008, Martin’s doctor discovered a tumor in his abdomen. That was the beginning of a decade-long medical ordeal. Martin said he is now in the “final stages” of the disease. “I’m inoperable right now. So pretty much just living my life,” he said matter-of-factly.

There’s no official count of how many journalists have already died after being exposed to the dust and debris, but when former CNN cameraman Michael Gittelman died last year, his former colleague Steve Kastenbaum remarked wryly that “9/11 has claimed another victim.”

Kastenbaum wrote on Facebook that Gittelman “developed a cancer that ravaged his body as a result of covering the terrorist attacks and the aftermath for many weeks afterwards from a vantage point near Ground Zero. For helping to tell the story to the world, he paid the ultimate price. We will miss Mike greatly.”

Novak reported that on 9/11 he was hit by debris — “small rocks, dust, bits and pieces” — when 7 World Trade Center came down.He recalled being told by the authorities that “the air was okay even though it looked bad, smelled bad and tasted bad. You could taste the metallic taste of the dust. We were breathing that air in for a couple of weeks.”

Novak says that when his PSA level first went up in 2012 or 2013, he didn’t take immediate action because his wife Elizabeth Sweetnam, an editor for “60 Minutes,” had breast cancer and “we had to deal with once cancer at a time.”

Sweetnam died in 2014. “We lived on Canal Street and I have to wonder if the air we were breathing in didn’t cause her cancer as well. Our AC was covered in the white dust,” he said.

Novak later had a prostate biopsy that showed the cancer.”Without my telling the doctor I had been at ground zero, in 2016 he told me the first cancer cell probably showed up 15 years earlier, which would be 2001. I found that pretty amazing,” Novak said.

Novak said his cancer is contained at the moment. He called his status “active surveillance.” His union encouraged him to sign up for the compensation fund and set an example for others.

Novak said he understands that some members of the media “feel guilty doing so because you’re not a cop or a fireman… but as people were leaving the area, we were going in, so I think they should take advantage of the compensation they deserve.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. how many of them put down their — cameras and helped someone
    its like Midos of sodom i see bad happening but i do nothing to stop it

    if LEFT up to them
    they would rather sit by and report a live murder then even try to prevent it

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