of the Network Stars
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
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
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
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
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.