On Sept. 12, 2001, Mike and the Mad Dog host Mike Francesa drove to his local gas station to fill up the tank before coming into work. The station was owned by an “Arabic family,” and he said he could tell that the man working was understandably nervous given the previous day’s events, so he “gave him a slap on the back” before leaving the station.
Francesa related this anecdote on the air later that day, as he and partner Chris “Mad Dog” Russo spent the six hours of their WFAN afternoon drive radio show occasionally discussing sports, but mostly the 9/11 attacks, and how they happened, who was responsible, and, critically, who should be blamed.
That broadcast, and the broadcasts on the days that followed, entered into a shadowy sports-radio infamy because of what was supposedly said. The Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to WFAN program director Mark Chernoff denouncing how Francesa and Russo spoke about Jews and Israel, New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick wrote a number of critical columns about the duo’s 9/11 takes, and Francesa and Russo even addressed it for an upcoming 30 for 30 documentary.
But the actual tapes of the Sept. 12, 2001 Mike and the Mad Dog broadcast were seemingly not preserved and never made available. Mushnick asked WFAN for them and was stonewalled. The director of the 30 for 30 couldn’t locate them. Chernoff told us that WFAN doesn’t have them in an archive.
According to former WFAN employees, at the time the Mike and the Mad Dog show was recorded onto six-hour long VHS tapes. The video track was from a station security camera. But these tapes would only be stored for six months, at most, before they were re-used and recorded over. Only certain portions—say, an interview with a coach that might be replayed—were transferred off of VHS onto audio cassettes. In the days before the huge capacity of external hard drives, WFAN didn’t keep an archive filled with endless physical tapes.
Rumors continued to suggest that the tape was somewhere out there, however, and Deadspin was able to confirm that in the years afterwards there were—at the very least—two copies of the Sept. 12, 2001, broadcast of Mike and the Mad Dog.
One of the copies was held onto by a longtime station employee “as a bargaining chip,” as one former employee put it. When asked why anybody would need a bargaining chip, this former employee wrote that “FAN management liked to bend the rules with employee rights.” Unfortunately, this copy was thrown out some years back.
The other copy is sitting in plain sight, where anybody can go listen. It’s at the Paley Center for Media, a museum established by longtime CBS president William S. Paley in 1975 to preserve television and radio history.
The Paley Center’s archive of WFAN broadcasts isn’t particularly deep, consisting of a smattering of broadcasts, mostly Don Imus, and mostly from the 1990s. But it also contains Mike and the Mad Dog broadcasts from Sept. 11 and 12, 2001. A Paley Center librarian explained that they only accept broadcasts from their copyright holders, meaning that at some point WFAN must have directly given the Paley Center the 9/11 Mike and the Mad Dog broadcasts. The most likely explanation is that the Center made a concerted effort to obtain as much media as possible relating to the 9/11 attacks, understanding its historic value.
The Paley Center doesn’t own the rights to the programs they archive, and so recording things from their collection is not allowed. But you can listen to them, and so we did, taking in all six hours of the Sept. 12, 2001 broadcast of Mike and the Mad Dog.
The tapes are alternately revealing, intriguing (in a historical sense), and insulting, but ultimately, the show, which ran commercial-free from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., was not quite the Jew-bashing trainwreck that New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick described when he penned “Mike & Mad Dog Exposed As Frauds”:
“I’m sitting there, a third-generation American, my late father a Naval lieutenant who served in two theaters during WW II, four people I know, including a fireman, are missing and presumed dead, and Francesa and Russo are inviting me to take a loyalty test designed for American Jews to prove their virtue to two sports-talk knowit-alls.”
Having listened to the afternoon’s full slate, we can say definitively that at no time during the broadcast did either Francesa or Russo discuss loyalty tests. (To be clear, we were only able to listen to one afternoon’s show, while both the ADL and Mushnick took issue with several Mike and the Mad Dog broadcasts, not just the Sept. 12 edition.) The pair did, though, frequently approach the line where nationalism turns into something much darker.
They first approached said line around 3 p.m., a couple hours into their shift. Francesa and Russo were detailing their shock at how the United States national defense system could not proactively catch and prevent such an attack, a common theme throughout the day’s show. In an incredible back-and-forth that can only be described as unintentional self-parody (a real-life version of that Stephen A. Smith Holocaust tweet) the pair discuss how the freedom of American citizens is the real culprit:
Mike Francesa: Here’s the problem, Dog, and there’s not much you can do about it: We live in a free society. We let anybody come into this country, and we let in people who are obviously supporters. And they house them and they help them.
“Mad Dog” Chris Russo: Democracy gets you in trouble there.
Francesa: There’s nothing we can do because we let anybody in and you don’t know if the guy who’s running a business next door, or a local business in your town, if he happens to be a Bin Laden supporter, how would you know the difference. You don’t know the difference between a guy who’s a hard-working person from the Middle East and the guy who came here to cause destruction. How do you differentiate in a country where we believe in everybody being free?
Russo followed this by expressing a flash of empathy for the Arab-American population unrelated to the attacks—the 99.99 percent, he said—which is when Francesa regaled the audience with his tale of comforting a gas station worker.
It was the first of two times on the broadcast they explicitly questioned the loyalties of American citizens. The second came during one of the few caller segments. (The phone lines were opened only toward the end of the show’s six hours.) While it’s still a mystery as to why listeners chose to tune in to WFAN the day after the most devastating terrorist attack in American history, it was thanks to Brian in Yonkers, who called in around 5:45 p.m., that Francesa and Russo veered onto the topic of Israel.
Russo: Let’s go to Brian in Yonkers.
Brian: I lived in Israel for three years, so you mention that Israelis have very good defense, but they’d be left holding the bag. America made Israel stop when they had an opportunity in Lebanon to stop the PLO and their whole military capabilities. And America stopped Israel from being able to take care of a situation. And at the same time, America stopped itself from attacking in Iraq and finishing the job.
Russo: Oh we’ve said that already. America always wants peace there, but it’s not possible to have peace on that West Bank.
Francesa: America has spent 50 years—more than 50 years—
Russo: 1948, right?
Francesa: Late ‘40s. Trying to figure out how to cause anything positive in that area.
Russo: And it never works!
Francesa: History can be a great guide. There’s never going to peace the way that place is set up.
Russo: They both feel they have the right to the land.
Francesa: There’s never going to peace in that region. It’s never going to happen. You can take it to the bank. It hasn’t happened in 50-plus years.
Neither Francesa nor Russo ever asserted that American Jews should be subjected to loyalty tests. They did, however, intensely question the following caller, Ellie in Brooklyn, and his decision to rank his religion above his country when suggesting that he and other Jewish Americans would be partial to Israel should they ever have to choose between defending the United States or Israel.
Russo: All right, we’ve got Ellie in Brooklyn.
Caller (Ellie in Brooklyn): I think the majority of the problem has to do with the immigration process. Seven percent, I don’t want to be frank, seven percent of the immigrants are Muslims. It has to do about belief. Just as if you were to ask the Jews, say in New York City to choose between Israel and the US—it’s at a point where it’s just not safe to live anywhere anymore. Ninety percent of the Jews would go support Israel.
Francesa: Now wait a second. Are you American, or not?
Caller: I’m American, but it has nothing to do with that.
Francesa: Why not? Do you protect one country? Which country would you protect first?
Caller: Israel, without a question.
Francesa: Israel over the United States?
Caller: That’s correct.
Francesa: I have a problem with that. I mean, do you live in the United States?
Francesa: Are you a United States citizen?
Francesa: Are you an Israeli citizen?
Francesa: Then how can you tell me you’d protect Israel rather than the United States?
Caller: The basis of our lives is our beliefs.
Francesa: Then you know what, you shouldn’t live in the United States.
Russo: Go live in Israel, Ellie.
Francesa: How come you don’t live in Israel?
Caller: That’s a practical question, but—
Russo: Well, it’s not fair. You, you gonna live in a country you don’t—
Caller: People don’t live their lives on an ideological wavelength.
Francesa: You can live it on any level you want—religious, ideological, anyway you want, I would not tell you how to live—but I would think you have to protect the country that you live in. They have to come first, the country that you live and you’re a citizen of and you were born in. It would seem to me that’s the country you have to protect.
Caller: Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be interested at all about protecting the United States—
Francesa: But not at all costs?
Caller: Right, but—
Francesa: If it came down to sacrificing the United States or Israel, you’d sacrifice the United States?
Caller: Right, but thank God it’s not at that level.
Francesa: Well, you know what, sometime, hopefully it never comes to that, but to me, I understand your religion, but if you’re an American, you’re an American. I understand if you’re gonna say, “I’m a Jew before I’m an American,” I understand that. But now you’re dividing the line between religion—okay, that’s like me saying I’m going to protect the Vatican before I protect New York. Sorry, not happening. Maybe I’m a bad Catholic, but I’m gonna protect my homeland before I protect the Vatican.
Russo: Totally agree. You shouldn’t do that. Here’s Eddie in Washington Heights.
During the rest of the show, Francesa and Russo conversed about a variety of subjects, ranging from what they perceived as lax airport security (“Do what the Israelis do—put federal marshals on every plane!”), the forthcoming search for Osama Bin Laden (“They can get all the side guys they want. Get the quarterback!”), and the SEC’s decision to play football that coming weekend (“The SEC should not be playing football this weekend, Mike!”).
Multiple times, the show dedicated segments to airing press conferences, including those held by White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer and by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Both Francesa and Russo were critical of Fleischer for attempting to spin the story surrounding President Bush’s whereabouts on 9/11—both believed Bush should have gone directly to Washington, D.C., after all air-traffic was grounded. They also criticized Bush for the shortness of his address that evening, as they didn’t think four minutes was long enough for a wounded nation. Mad Dog also appeared to sneak in a jab against then-New York Senator Hillary Clinton (“I hear Hillary Rodham Clinton found the World Trade Center”) but Francesa tugged the leash, refocusing the conversation by naming all the politicians that had appeared by what is now known as Ground Zero.
Francesa and Russo also conducted interviews of their own, lobbing questions at a Yale professor, an NBC correspondent, and an airline pilot by the time they signed off. They gave the latest news updates stemming from the attacks, and speculated on the state of airport and cockpit security, how long Bin Laden had been planning the attacks, and why the United States government established policies in the 1990s that shied away from attempting to internally control groups of national concern.
“We are great with satellites,” Russo said about a minute into the start of the show. “But what we don’t do, which a lot of other countries have done well—especially Israel—is they integrate and infiltrate these groups with people. We don’t do that!”
(Mad Dog was not satisfied when the Yale professor said, to paraphrase, that the U.S. fucked up when it very publicly tried and failed to employ that method in various Latin American countries throughout the 1980s and 1990s.)
In all, the six-hour show offered its fair share of inane, knee-jerk political takes to pair with its steady flow of war-ready, pro-America rhetoric. It’s a perfect time capsule of an unthinkably terrible time. Listening to it was a swift reminder of just how it was that Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” shot up the Billboard charts. But Mike and the Mad Dog neither called for loyalty tests on 9/12, nor did they question the loyalty of all Jewish-Americans—just of Ellie in Brooklyn.
But did they ever? (We shared our findings with Phil Mushnick, who told us, “What I heard—and it was several days after the attacks—was just Russo and Francesa free-forming.”) We would need to listen to about 40 more hours of Mike and the Mad Dog from the ensuing week to know for sure, and those tapes aren’t held by the Paley Center. If you have those tapes or know where they can be found, please let us know. We would also appreciate if you had a transcript; listening to six hours of Mike and the Mad Dog cosplay as national security commentators was more than enough for one lifetime.