9/11 Press for Truth: Film Review
“Scoop” Independent News
Washington, DC 9/11/06
The new documentary 9/11 Press for Truth premiered on September 10th in Washington, DC. The film played at the nearly packed Landmark E Street Cinema just around the corner from FBI headquarters. While the irony was not intentional, it was clearly appropriate.
In the film’s first five minutes, we hear FBI Director Robert Mueller tell us that the agency simply had no idea that terrorists would ever use planes to attack the United States. Apparently, he also had no idea that one of his top agents sent reports of suspicious Middle Eastern men in commercial flight schools well before 9/11. He had no idea that a 1996 plot was foiled involving the use of planes as weapons against the United States. He also forgot that at the G8 conference of world leaders in Italy just before 9/11, defenses were set up to meet the threat of airplanes used as weapons. This sequencing in the film typifies the skillful presentation of information and themes throughout 9/11 Press for Truth.
This film is a powerful, moving and intelligent exposition of the impact of 911 in the words of survivors and through the carefully collated, analyzed, and connected stories appearing in the press here and overseas. Much of the content is based on author Paul Thompson’s The Complete 9/11 Timeline.
The press for truth begins after a brief and respectful sequence showing New Yorkers reacting to the attacks, the collapse of the North Tower, and memorial ceremonies. At that point we meet the Jersey Girls. Patty Casazza, Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken, and Kristen Breitweiser all lost their husbands on September 1, 2001. They came together initially for mutual support. Quickly, they formed the core of a larger group of 911 survivors demanding an investigation. Casazza describes the frustration when she realized that there would be no formal investigation. “That’s when I went into angry,” she says.
Their demands for a thorough investigation, the many unanswered questions, and the resistance of the information gatekeepers form the narrative that carries the film forward. The twists and turns offer a fascinating and compelling collection of major stories (or dots) that have never been connected.
The first question is why it took two hours before any air defense was mounted on 9/11? The failed response that day is shown. We then we see a 1999 newscast describing the rapid response by six Air Force Jets to a suspicious private plane over Florida. This type of response is standard operating procedure. The point is obvious; the question devastating. How can a mystery jet over Florida get a quicker response than an attack on the United States?
The next question is introduced by the widow of a New York fireman who died on 9/11. She asks how a skyscraper could collapse due to fire when fire has never been the sole cause of a sky scraper collapse. Seeing and hearing this widow express such an obvious question in plaintive terms has a power that creates both sympathy and outrage.
The film continues with the formation of the 9/11 Commission. The Jersey Girls are immediately incensed when the ultimate gatekeeper, Henry Kissinger, is appointed to head the commission. When they meet with him, a Jersey Girl asks if Kissinger’s consulting firm has any Saudi Arabian clients named bin Laden. This question had the intended effect. Kissinger announced he could not take the position.
During commission hearings, we see the vivid reactions of 9/11 family members as Condoleezza Rice down plays the August 2001 President’s Daily Briefing: Bin Laden determined to strike in US. Then we see their relief and open armed reception of Richard Clarke. Clarke was in charge of the White House response group on 9/11. He tells the commission and families that both he and the government failed that day and then offers the first apology for that failure. The contrast presented between Clarke’s humility and dignity and Rice’s insouciance approaches the poetic
The 9/11 Commission’s behavior helps expand the notion of gatekeepers. They are officials and major agencies and institutions who dole out information on as limited a basis as possible. This term was not used explicitly but it serves to describe well a key point made in the film. Major players in our society, those in and near government and the press, serve the function of regulating the flow of information for their benefit and the advantage of their patrons. They have a difficult task however.
Author, activist, and former CIA official Ray McGovern appears briefly to make a key point. In any intelligence investigation, McGovern tells us, 80% of the information is freely available and in the public domain. The process of connecting the information and making it meaningful is the task that often goes undone. That challenging task has been undertaken by the 9/11 survivors and motivated citizen-researchers.
The questions continue. They are presented through a combination of survivor statements, news clips, comments from reporters like Dan Rather, and press from around the world. This results in highly provocative and revealing questions on the story of our time. While there are no clear answers, there are clear paths to knowledge.
What relationship did the 9/11 attacks have with the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan? While this seemed like an interruption in the flow of the film, it quickly turned into a gold mine of dots that began to form a pattern. Why did the chief of Pakistan’s intelligence service, in Washington, DC on 9/11, wire $100,000 to terrorist figure connected to the 9/11 plotters? Why are Pakistani and al Qaeda training camps almost indistinguishable? Why was bin Laden essentially allowed to walk away form Tora Bora, Afghanistan when he was about to be captured? Why were thousands of Taliban members airlifted to Pakistan after their defeat? Why did a key CIA commander in Afghanistan resign two years before his official retirement in order to tell his story about the failure to capture bin Laden?
The film concludes with an edited sequence counter posing an ABC television producer talking about the restrictions on investigative film making with Leonard Downie, Executive Editor of the Washington Post. We’re told by the ABC producer that good stories are often either discouraged or spiked (not shown). We then hear Downie make the remarkable argument that the job of the working press is to present discrete stories. He tells us that the act of connecting those stories is really an “editorial” function and the responsibility of the public. As Executive Editor of the Washington Post, wouldn’t that be his responsibility? This was a truly eye opening moment.
In this case, the public is gathering information, connecting the dots, and speaking up. The 9/11 survivors and their supporters continue to speak forcefully. More and more citizens are asking questions about the seeming gaps and contradictions in The 9/11 Commission Report. They openly question the obvious lock down of White House and other government information sources. They won’t go away.
The film was directed by Ray Nowosielski and written by John Duffy and Kyle Hence. Paul Thompson’s book formed the basis for much of the narrative and Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story was a key consultant. They offer us a remarkable artistic statement that transcends ideology and operates at the highest level of intellectual honesty, humanity, and patriotism.