To kick off this new series I’m joined by Ginny Buckingham – the quietly spoken, devoted mum-of-two who for a period of her life faced the frankly unfathomable trauma of being publicly blamed for thousands of deaths.
Ginny was the boss of Boston’s Logan Airport where, on the morning of September 11th 2001, a group of terrorists boarded American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, airliners that of course very soon after take-off, they would hijack and later fly into New York’s World Trade Centre.
Ginny led a daunting, frankly unprecedented crisis management operation at Logan but within 48hours of the attacks, the blame game began.
It was wrongly claimed that the terrorists had targeted Logan because of its weak security systems and links to Boston politics.
There were angry demands for Ginny to resign and, as one newspaper put it – ‘atone’ for the massacre. Her political bosses – as so often happens in crisis – saw the opportunity for a scapegoat. Blame, as Ginny puts it, gave them the opportunity to get control of an uncontrollable situation.
Six weeks after the attacks, she was forced to resign but faced years of continued accusations and a personal legal claim from the wife of a 9/11 victim. As the second anniversary of the atrocity approached, Ginny sat alone in her car and considered suicide.
This is a conversation about blame, the psychological impact of public scandal, guilt and recovery. Of how when crisis, politics and media collide, those in the crosshairs can find themselves in the most brutal of positions.
In her book On My Watch (and indeed during this pod), Ginny stresses time and again that her difficulties are nothing as compared to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and the families they left behind.
But hers is a story of how public crisis can so often create powerful tides of misplaced retribution and blame that wreak havoc on those unfortunate enough to be in the way. That even after she was very publicly exonerated by the 9/11 commission, the psychological damage, continued, demonstrating I think, that crisis can have a very long, unseen but very damaging tail.
Ginny hopes that by telling her story, our leaders might think twice before reaching for the scapegoat button when trouble comes – and I hope she’s right. Huge thanks to her for joining us and I hope you find this podcast useful.
Host – Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
Full transcript and links available at: https://www.crisiswhatcrisis.com/podcasts/virginia-buckingham-on-9-11-the-unbearable-burden-of-blame-and-moving-forward/
Ginny's Crisis Cures:
1 – Make a room in your home a haven for you during crisis and while you’re healing. I have a sitting room in the corner of my house that has my candles and my artwork and my books – that’s where I curl up in the corner, take a breath and say, “Okay. Go at this again tomorrow.”
2 – Find a purpose outside of yourself and your current situation to devote yourself to. In my case I was very lucky that I had two little children to take care of and devote myself to outside of what was happening. But whether it’s parenting or taking care of your dog or your neighbour – it gives purpose and meaning to your day to day.
3 – Do good with something bad. In my case, I took my story and I put it in a book and I put it out in the world. So don’t just let the bad things sit. Take advantage of the crisis and do good with it.
Ginny's Crisis Track: Bruce Springsteen ‘The Rising’