Wednesday, September 06, 2006
The Path to 9/11 and the Destuction of Truth
When the South Tower was hit the broadcast repeaters that the “rabbit ears” attached to my TV relied upon were knocked out, so when I switched on my TV that morning at nine a.m. my first inkling that something unusual had happened was the static on the screen as I began searching for a signal. And then there it was--the WTC billowing smoke.
The only reason I was getting any TV news at all was because there was just one New York station that broadcast via the Empire State Building and that was Channel 7, WABC. As that awful day unfolded Peter Jennings did the most extraordinarily professional job—no one could have done better.
So how does ABC choose to depict 9-11 upon the advent of the fifth anniversary? By airing a “docudrama”called "The Path to 9-11" supposedly based on the 9-11 Commisions report that Bush fought tooth and nail to prevent ? What the fuck do we need a “docudrama” for? The news footage wasn’t dramatic enough?
And it’s becoming evident from pre-release reviews that the “documentary” aspect of this enterprise is riddled with fiction dressed as fact.
It was sickening enough when Bloomberg (who I think is a very practical mayor) pimped Manhattan to the RNC and Bush, back at the scene of his criminal negligence, proclaimed himself a hero as his sycophantic audience spat and shit on New York’s citizens in their applause.
I remember the events of that day and the days and weeks and months that followed well enough and not just through witnessing it on TV.
There was the regular roar of combat jets as they circled overhead providing pointless “air-cover”.
There was the endless convoy of emergency vehicles lighting up the night as they stretched for miles along the Pulaski Skyway that feeds the Holland Tunnel and downtown Manhattan.
There were the photos and fliers and messages that were plastered on the walls at Journal Square Plaza. There was the unusual quiet of my neighborhood as police, fire and ambulance crews abandoned their usual routes past my apartment and concentrated on the Hudson and Manhattan.
There was the shutting-down of the Holland Tunnel to all but official traffic that lasted a year and to this day still disallows commercial vehicles for fear of a massive truck-bomb.
I queued with thousands at Madison Square Garden for half a day, given food and drink by the Red Cross as we all waited for our chance at a couple of hundred jobs.
I went downtown and wandered around Wall Street and Vesey and Church where everything was coated in dust and debris as though a vast overstuffed vacuum cleaner bag had been emptied over the city, turning everything grey.
When I finally found a job I worked pretty much every other week in Manhattan and forced to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel on every trip I could see the vast emptiness of the WTC’s absence. At home, at night, when I went to the local store I could see the huge columns of light piercing the sky that marked where the towers had been. When the WTC PATH station re-opened the train curved around what was once an undergorund mall and was now a rectangular crater open to sky, grey and vacant and as we circled the scene with all the blackberries and cell phones and people packed cheek by jowl, there was no sound.
I wasn’t actually there when the buildings were struck, when they collapsed, I wasn’t on the streets. I knew one person who worked in the WTC, Henry Jennings, who broke his arm trying to squeeze out of a jammed elevator. I wasn’t a victim, I don’t have nightmares or health problems nor was I financially ruined—I was just a peripheral witness.
But if I want to recall 9-11 I have my own memories and the documentary footage stored on my computer. If I want to “understand” it I can re-read the 9-11 Commission report also on my PC along with other documents I’ve saved for reference and review. And I have wealth of visible and invisible reminders of the event and it's aftermath. I for one don’t need some fucking “docudrama” to explain it all for me.
The very fact that ABC has chosen to dramatize the most dramatic and important event the US has experienced for a century and attempted to give the effort some authority by claiming documentary support in the re-telling of the event, its causes and effects, already suggests unnecessary and callous manipulation of a national tragedy that is already a matter of well documented record. Does anyone need a fucking "docudrama" of 9-11? Certainly New Yorkers don't.
With 4 days to go until the first airing, ABC-7 has yet to promote in its 5-7 local news what ought to be a significant program of great interest to New Yorkers as well as to the nation. Is ABC being sensitive? Why, if the show is going to be an honest appraisal five years after the event? Perhaps instead of producing something scholarly and relevant, something to be proud of, they've ended up with a melodrama, a mockery of a reality and fact that still shapes our lives today?
If ever there was an example of how far TV news and analysis has fallen this unnecessary "docudrama" is surely it. Dan Rather was fired, Ted Koppel is retired as is Tom Brokaw a long time favorite of mine and IMHO the best of those three. Phil Donahue was blackballed, Bill Moyers has quit, having nothing to lose but he's still active and David Broncacccio and the NOW team are doing good work. 60 minutes and 20-20 are shadows of their former selves.
On 9-11 I was forced to watch ABC first and then was able to switch between it and WNET Channel 13 who had arranged to piggy-back off the ABC signal. I pretty much stuck with Peter Jennings. He simply amazed me with his insight and inquistion. He functioned as both a real "anchor" and as an investigate reporter functioning "on the fly" as he gathered and applied his personal and professional resources as he quizzed his guests and informed the public calmly, sometimes emotionally, but professionally and responsibly.
So much was damaged or destroyed on 9-11. Symbols, property, lives, families, faith, hope, confidence, freedom, honesty and trust. ABC still promotes itself as "the most trusted" in broadcast news. They owe that claim to Peter Jennings and his team. Though some at ABC still do sterling work with Jennings no longer at the helm there is no one left to champion that claim and there is no more obvious proof than this "docudrama". It''s mere existence is an insult to New Yorkers, to the nation and to responsible journalism. It is theater masquerading as fact, national tragedy made product and maniplated to satisfy a niche market.
I may be wrong but I doubt Peter Jennings would have made a "docudrama'' about 9-11. Like me he wasn't directly involved, but he was there and it was all too real for him, for me, for some 40 million people in the tristate area and Washington D.C.
That's a lot of potential critics with actual experience and intimate knowledge of 9-11, ABC/Disney! I don'tt doubt you'll get great Nielsen ratings ( I'll certainly watch it) , but I'd keep an eye out on the "put" options on your stock if I were you.