Entry for September 10, 2006

The photo of the Naudet brother’s documentary, 9-11, is from a review at Indpendent Critics.

Tonight I decided my one foray into 9-11 coverage would be the updated version of a March 10, 2002 documentary, which which started out to be the story of a new firefighter and ended up with footage of the first airplane crash into the World Trade Center.  

9-11 aired in Roanoke at 11:35 p.m. in response to Donald Wildmon’s Tupelo, Mississippi.-based American Family Association, who has readied its 3 million members to flood the FCC and CBS with complaints of foul language, if the documentary is aired before 10 p.m.  In response to cancellations in some areas, CBS announced on September 9, that it would make the film available on its website for a week.

The film by the French documentary makers, brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, which was rebroadcast in September 2002, was updated for tonight’s rebroadcast.  There had been no complaint after the first two showings.  The BBC featured an interview iwith with the filmmakers after a 2002 broadcast on that station.   At that time Gedeon  explained,

It was a priority for us to show the families of the firemen the truth at the World Trade Center – those 73 firemen who had died on that morning.  It was very important for us to show to their families this footage before anybody would see it, before it would be aired on television.  And it was a very long and hard process to recognise everybody on Jules’ footage but we finally got all the names together and contacted the families and then sent them a tape and they all thanked us because in a way it was seeing their loved one before the last moment.  But not panicking, not in fear, but doing this job that they always loved to do – with this face of courage and I believe it made those families feel a bit better.

In a September 3 story, “Some CBS affiliates worry over 9/11 show” by AP writer Larry Neumeister, Martin Franks, executive vice president of CBS,

We don’t think it’s appropriate to sanitize the reality of the hell of Sept. 11th,” Franks said. “It shows the incredible stress that these heroes were under. To sanitize it in some way robs it of the horror they faced….It was a much more difficult decision five years ago when the emotions were much more raw and fresh.

The film has won an Emmy and George Foster Peabody Award.

According to Neumeister, FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said

We don’t police the airwaves. We respond to viewer complaints,” Lipper said. “We haven’t seen the broadcast in question. It’s up to individual stations to decide what they should air or not air.

While she acknowleded the important historicla context, she would not predict how the commission might view the show if it receives complaints.

Could the hubub against the film be retalliation for the complaint’s about ABC’s docudrama?  At its site, Agape Press, the AFA posted a story defending that program by a former Clinton aide, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Buzz Patterson.

The former Clinton aide says the former president’s desire to cover up the truth about his decisions related to bin Laden will not work. “I think President Bill Clinton is responsible for 9/11 and the war on terror, personally. That is his legacy,” Patterson comments. “I think he’s trying to change that legacy, which is what [he was] trying to do by not having this series shown.” Instead, he believes Clinton will go down in history as the nation’s worst Commander-in-Chief.

AFA fails to mention that Patterson, who calls himself, “the conservative military voice in American politics” is the author of such books as Dereliction of Duty: How Bill Clinton Compromised America’s National SecurityReckless Disregard: How Liberal Democrats Undercut Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers, and Jeopardize Our Security, and War Crimes: The Left’s Campaign to Eliminate the Military and Lose the War on Terror.  I’m not surprised that he would go on record in support of the docudrama.

The AFA was able to wield a cudgel against CBS because of Sam Brownback (R-KS)’s  S. 193, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, passed the Senate May 18, 2006  without discussion or a recored vote.  It passed the House on June 6.  Previously,  the FCC could impose a fine of $32,500 for violating indecency standards. The bill increased the maximum FCC fines for indecency violations to $325,000 with a $3 million cap.

Passed ostensibly as a measure in reaction to Janet Jackson’s wardrobe “malfunction” at the Superbowl, the measure is now being used to silence news coverage.

Wildmon’s website featured an alert :

Do your local CBS affiliate a favor. Ask them to refuse to air 9/11, or at least, air it after 10:00pm local time. The station stands to be fined $325,000 for each indecent incident they air. Your CBS affiliate could end up paying millions of dollars in fines. I know you don’t want that, and we don’t want that. But we also believe that CBS should play by the rules.

According to Wildmon’s website, the Salsbury,  Maryland  CBS  affiliate on the Delmarva peninsula  will not show the documentary.

Rick  Jordan, General Manager and Vice President of CBS affiliate WBOC-TV in Salisbury, Maryland, had this to say concerning the obscene language:

“This program contains elements which CLEARLY violate the Federal Communication Commission’s NEW indecency guidelines and policies. While this program has aired two other times on our station in past years, this program’s content is now in direct violation of the FCC’s recently revised and enacted indecency rules.

“WBOC is granted a license to serve the public by the FCC, and as a federally licensed television station, the station is required to adhere to the rules and regulations set forth by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC has refused to make any exception to their new rules for stations that choose to air this show and violate these new policies. WBOC intends on complying with our requirements as public trustees by airing an alternate program.”

 There is no longer an announcement posted; however Google’s cache for September 8 for WBOC  shows this milder wording.

WBOC-TV has made the decision to not air CBS’s 9/11 documentary scheduled to air Sept. 10, WBOC General Manager and Vice President Rick Jordan has announced.

“Out of sentiment for our viewers and the unclear nature of the indecency rules, WBOC-TV will not air the 9/11 special on Sunday night,” Jordan said.

Kudos to CBS for airing the film. 

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