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Prattle of the Network Stars

The increasingly bizarre culture wars we’re living through hit a new low on Sunday night with the airing of two television programs about 9/11.

First, CBS aired the 2002 Emmy-winning 9/11, a brilliant documentary made by two French brothers who just happened to be filming a documentary about the life of a rookie firefighter in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. While filming the fire crew’s routine inspection of a street gas leak, the camera caught the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. The fire crew, with documentarian in tow, was the first responder at the scene. What transpires next is a raw, first-person, you-are-there account of the terrible and tragic day. It is riveting, and it is real.

The week before the scheduled broadcast, dozens of CBS affiliates, mainly in the Midwest and the South, announced that they weren’t going to show 9/11. Why? The stated reason was that the stations were afraid of being fined by the newly pumped-up and Jesus’d-up FCC because the film contained several profane words.

Think about this. I watched the part where the first plane hit. Several firefighters proclaimed “Oh shit!” Would any living, breathing person, standing on the street that day, no matter how pious, have had an appreciably different reaction? This is indecent?

The stations that pulled the show are not only cowards; they are liars. What the stations were reacting to was an e-mail- and letter-writing campaign by extreme religious fundamentalists, so-called Christians who have been battering the FCC and media outlets with absurd complaints about “dirty words” for years. With their discovery of the Internet, their campaigns have intensified. In 2000 and 2001, the FCC received less than 350 indecency complaints from the public. In 2004, there were more than a million, and 99.8 percent of them were filed through religious-fundamentalist action groups.

Yes, the FCC, packed with Bush-Rove acolytes, has started reacting to a few of these spurious complaints. Yes, Congress, reacting to Janet Jackson’s breast, has increased indecency penalties tenfold. And yes, the FCC’s regulations on indecency are so indistinct as to be virtually meaningless, leaving the FCC with almost Star Chamber-like powers to do whatever it wants.

But even in this climate, nobody’s gonna be busting anybody for showing 9/11. We went through this nonsense last year with the network broadcast of Saving Private Ryan, with all the swearing going on among the soldiers. A bunch of stations pulled out of that one, too, and thousands of indignant form-letter e-mails poured in to television stations and the FCC. Nothing happened. Even more remarkably, 9/11 has already aired on network TV twice before without incident.

At the same time ABC/Disney, the same corporation that refused to release Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 two years ago, was airing a two-part miniseries titled The Path to 9/11. This film was made by a group of neo-conservative writers and producers, and featured fictionalized scenes of many things that didn’t happen. The miniseries’ main thrust was that the terrorist attacks would have been avoided if the Clinton Administration (and by extension Democrats in general) weren’t so spineless, and if Bill Clinton wasn’t so busy getting diddled by interns in the Oval Office. To make this point, the ABC/Disney film included several specific misdeeds by the Clinton Administration in failing to kill Osama Bin Laden that have long been definitively disproved, but have been perpetuated by dishonest neo-con bloggers and talk-show hosts. In other words, The Path to 9/11 was something straight out of the Karl Rove playbook of creative disinformation.

Various Democrats, including Bill Clinton, cried foul, and loudly. Many conservatives, as well, complained vociferously at the fictionalizing and politicizing of 9/11. Conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke, appearing on Bill Maher’s show, asked why on earth would somebody fictionalize a current event, when you can just go ask the participants what happened?

ABC/Disney apparently did some last-hour edits prior to airing the show. It also retracted the previous marketing claim that The Path to 9/11 was “based on the 9/11 Commission Report,” which was a lie; Disney subsidiary Scholastic, Inc. dropped plans to supply tens of thousands of copies of the mini-series to high schools. But The Path to 9/11 aired, carrying its propagandist message, albeit now slightly muted, to millions of viewers.

For those of you keeping score, we have a true and brilliant documentary of the actual events of 9/11 being censored because of a coordinated effort of religious fundamentalists, while we have a politically slanted piece of trash showing on Disney/ABC, making false political statements in an election year, and using one of the greatest tragedies our nation has ever experienced as its vehicle. How utterly shameful.

Thank God most right-thinking Americans were watching the Manning brothers battling out on the football field over on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Go Peyton. Go Eli.

—Paul C. Rapp

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