9/11 - the CBS documentary.
March 5, 2002 2:46 PM   Subscribe

9/11 - the CBS documentary. Okay, so we've heard of, and discussed the footage of the attacks before, and many of us know that this will be airing on CBS (in the U.S.) this Sunday (interestingly from 9-11 pm). I wonder if anyone (or everyone) will watch? Some people have tried to halt or delay the showing, but CBS is going ahead, and promising not to show 'graphic footage'. I'm really torn between curiosity and a fear of "too much too soon", and really don't know whether I'm going to watch or not.
posted by kokogiak (49 comments total)
[graphic description ahead]

I can't watch because I don't want to accidentally see another glimpse of people clinging to the burning wreckage or, worse, jumping. Again.

Too soon.
posted by jragon at 2:55 PM on March 5, 2002

Here's my take on it. If you don't live in New York you don't know what it's like. The whole 9/11 thing is a distant abstract concept to those of us who just don't know what it's like. For those of us not on the East Coast (or maybe even in New York), the World Trade Center is akin to a terrorist attack in Israel. It is a little closer to home but it still feels distant.

During World War II, gruesome war footage was released when the public attention began to wane. People were beginning to think that it wasn't that bad, so they began to release footage of mulilated bodies, etc.

I don't think we need to go that far but if this is the actual footage of people "right in the action", I think it would be good for those who are willing to get something out of it. A few months ago C-Span did a really nice program where they went through the site of the WTC and were actually there with the men who were excavating. It was my first "wow this really happened" because up until that point, I (like most of the country) had only seen far away shots of the buildings collapsing.

Really, if the CBS documentary can connect at the human level, of people scared, terrified, etc. it would do a lot of good for people to understand what actually happened. There's a difference between looking at two cold, steel buildings collapse and looking at dazed businessman run in horror. It may not be the nicest thing to watch, but not everything can be cleaned up and get the same effect.
posted by geoff. at 2:59 PM on March 5, 2002

For what it's worth, the reviews definitely point out that there is no significant graphic imagery (AP story here), but it seems that the sounds and circumstantial images (and the hindsight knowledge of what's going on) may pack just as much punch.
posted by kokogiak at 3:07 PM on March 5, 2002

When I was in NYC a couple months ago, I had no problem missing the guided tour of Ground Zero - but you wouldn't believe the eyeglazed, lip-licking excitement the possibility spawned in some of my colleagues. It was ugly.

I'll similarly have no problem missing this show. I suppose flaming death and mass graves are not really my idea of entertainment.

Truth be told, I'm getting kind of sick of ER, too.
posted by UncleFes at 3:10 PM on March 5, 2002

I was a bit skeptical, (on some levels it seems like a cheap ploy for ratings), but I think DeNiro adds a bit of assurance it won't be in poor taste (no bad DeNiro movie comebacks need apply, you people know what I'm saying). It it's too much, don't watch it.
posted by dig_duggler at 3:10 PM on March 5, 2002

Just because everyone has taken the flags off their car antennaes doesn't mean it's time to show us the same thing from a slightly different angle.

How about show us something we haven't seen a zillion times, CBS, like the "war" in Afghanistan. I thought this was the friggin information age.

I have close to 200 channels and in the last month I've seen more hours women's curling than I have of the war this country is still involved in.

So, no, I don't need to see those buildings falling down, again, right now. I need to see what we're doing about it.
posted by tsarfan at 3:14 PM on March 5, 2002

My biggest problem lies in the program's being "presented" by Nextel.
posted by brittney at 3:21 PM on March 5, 2002

I won't be watching. I plan on being here.
posted by crunchland at 3:31 PM on March 5, 2002

I don't watch that much TV to begin with. I don't see why I would make an acception for the privilige of seeing the same airplanes crash into the same buildings the networks/media/big corps are trying to convice us never existed anyways.
posted by Nauip at 3:37 PM on March 5, 2002

Well, I wish that I could dismiss my curiosity as easily as that Naiup, but I can't. It feels like a natural human response to wonder what it was like to be there as it happened - and this documentary appears to be unseen footage, far more than just the 'same airplanes'. I'm just trying to balance that curiosity with the level of emotional damage I might find if I do watch.

And britney - why the problem? Is it because Nextel so boldly sponsors this questionable program, or because there are sponsors at all? Or something else? If I do watch, I'll at least be glad for no commercial breaks because of the sponsorship.
posted by kokogiak at 3:45 PM on March 5, 2002

Given that the first time this videotape was mentioned, there were many saying they believed it must be shown, the choice of venue is merely an incidental concern. I believe it should be shown as widely as possible, and that means a broadcast network, rather than (say) C-SPAN. The filmmakers were initially concerned with telling the story of a fireman, and by merely being present, they apparently have succeeded beyond anyone's expectations in collecting footage of some exceptional heroism and suffering, while avoiding gore and overtly disturbing imagery.

As for Nextel, the WTC was the site of their most important broadcasting tower in the region, and following the attacks they donated some 12,000 telephones for use by rescue workers, even though they themselves lost no employees.
posted by dhartung at 4:11 PM on March 5, 2002

Here's Michelle's take on the documentary: she saw an advance copy.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:11 PM on March 5, 2002

jesus. what a bunch of wimpy wuss-people!
'oh, it's too soon!' 'oh i might see something horrible!' 'oh! i think i have the vapors!'
here. have a lollipop and go watch the muppets. let those who can deal with the reality.
posted by quonsar at 4:19 PM on March 5, 2002

If the footage is made public by CBS in order to "bring it home" to those outside NY, as others suggested, then their motives are only somewhat questionable.

If they do so, by their First Amendment rights, in order to show Americans the "whole truth" of the tragedy, again I would be prone to pause.

However, that fact is that there is money being made from the release of this footage on the part of CBS--I find that downright deplorable.

And by the way, it is Brittney. The two Ts make all the difference. :)
posted by brittney at 4:24 PM on March 5, 2002

If you don't live in New York you don't know what it's like.

I know you didn't mean for this to be condescending, but it is. It's like saying that no one outside of New York that day really felt what was happening -- that we somehow need our grief boosted a bit. Not to lessen the horror that the Ground Zero people experienced, but that is survivor's guilt talking. It was a difference experience, I'm sure, seeing the television footage as opposed to live, but the fact that NY gets all the coverage and the Pentagon doesn't is a testament to the power of actual footage of death. That was the first time since the Space Shuttle disaster (that still makes me queasy) that everyone in America saw people die in real life on tv, without knowing it was coming. I still can't look at pictures of the planes going into the towers and I will be nowhere near the channel when that show is on. I take no pleasure or consolation in reliving the grief I felt that day -- certainly one of the most horrible days I've ever had in my life. People handle tragedy in different ways so I don't doubt that some people will find it therapeutic, but I think it's probably too soon for most people. I personally would rather see another good show on Afghanistan.

what a bunch of wimpy wuss-people!
Yep. I'm afraid so. Something about hideous deaths of normal people that makes my stomach turn...
posted by dness2 at 4:28 PM on March 5, 2002

that fact is that there is money being made from the release of this footage on the part of CBS--I find that downright deplorable.
yah. first there were those greed-driven newspapers publishing extra editions screaming PEARL HARBOR ATTACKED and then there was the king of filthy lucre himself ernie pyle. i don't blame you for being offended. give me a break. are you people from earth?
posted by quonsar at 4:37 PM on March 5, 2002

caryn james has a really thoughtful piece in the ny times about the film, examining questions of appropriateness and timing. as a former new yorker, and as someone who lost a friend on the 100th floor, i hope people watch. i hope that people stop with the angel pins and the flagwaving and actually confront the horror of what happened. at this six month distance, people seem to have abstracted themselves from it, and think of what happened merely as fodder for superbowl halftime. it is my hope that showing the film makes it less of an entertainment proposition rather than more.
posted by judith at 4:49 PM on March 5, 2002

thank you judith.
posted by quonsar at 4:53 PM on March 5, 2002

To quonsar's point I don't fault anyone for sponsoring this - as long as it's done appropriately. For me, the sponsorship plays out like Nextel being associated with a grave but serious service. I'd hope most people wouldn't view this as profiting on the backs of the dead.

And quonsar - much as I'd like to dismiss my curiosity like Naiup - I'd like to be able to watch this without apprehension, but you know, it's there. I didn't always have problems with horrific imagery, in fact I used to like it in a creepy sort of 'faces-of-death' way. But these days, I'm a sap with a young family and that's really changed my view of the world - my empathy dial got turned up to eleven.
posted by kokogiak at 4:53 PM on March 5, 2002

(Minor rant) quonsar, you sometimes make good points, but you consistently make them in such a shitty, adolescent manner that I am more likely to be swayed in the opposite direction, just because I loathe the idea of agreeing with you.
posted by Optamystic at 5:03 PM on March 5, 2002

Optamystic, you articulated what I couldn't...ummm...articulate
posted by vito90 at 5:16 PM on March 5, 2002

I ask you, why does CBS *need* a sponsor for this "grave but serious service"?
posted by brittney at 5:26 PM on March 5, 2002

Well, not being from CBS, all I can answer is what seems obvious to me - CBS has to pay their bills just like anyone else. Yes, CBS could have shown it commercial-free and sponsor-free, in effect being their own sponsor, but it looks like Nextel is helping defray the cost in return for being associated with the show. Seems fair. I'm sure Nextel knows the risks and decided to go ahead anyhow.
posted by kokogiak at 5:34 PM on March 5, 2002

It seems icky to me.

Perhaps I'm a cynical fool, but my guess is Nextel paid a lot of money in hopes of landslide ratings. CBS gladly takes said money, thereby, advertantly or inadvertantly, making money on the deaths of thousands.

I'm going to go with the ethical absolutists out there and call this one Just Wrong.
posted by brittney at 5:44 PM on March 5, 2002

brittney, is it then your contention that nothing should ever be shown on TV that shows -- even in an oblique way -- people dying? Or is it instead that this should never be sponsored or profited from in any way, but only done as a public service? If so, what will become of the news, and how will the public stay informed? Should the "Here Is New York" exhibit be sponsored? Should the New York Times stop running "Portraits of Grief"? Your absolutism is based on a very, very gray dotted line.
posted by dhartung at 6:02 PM on March 5, 2002

It isn't my contention that nothing should ever be shown that depicts dying. Nor do I think NYTimes should stop running "Portraits of Grief." I don't believe prior restraint.

I do wish however, that our news sources (television, newspapers, or otherwise) were not supported by advertising. It is easy to see how objective news can be obstructed or contorted to please big sponsors.

It is equally easy to see how without advertising, many of us wouldn't get the news at all, so we are left with the perverbial lesser of two evils.

I am not against the airing of the 9/11 program on CBS, although I doubt I'll be watching. My initial reaction is that it will be exploitative. As exploitative as making money on the morbid curiosity of a wounded nation.
posted by brittney at 6:30 PM on March 5, 2002

I would have to say too soon, especially for those of us, in the tri-state area. No direspect to the sincere pain I'm sure those in the rest of the world feel over what happened, but geoff is correct, for us it was different somehow, like mushroom clouds were rising in the back yard or something. I spent most of that day frantically checking news reports and websites for the names of specific people whom I knew were in the area. My uncle used to work in one of the towers, he personally knew about 20 people who died that day. The only comparison that I suppose would make sense is to say that being in and around NYC that day was like being in San Francisco during the great quake as opposed to reading about it in the paper or seeing it on TV. I don't deny that the footage contained in these shows should someday be viewed but for me at least, it's too early for any historical perspective.
posted by jonmc at 6:57 PM on March 5, 2002

Tangentially, the (I assume accidental) neologism in the piece that RJ Reynolds linked above, 'abhorable', is actually quite felicitous and appropriate here, evoking as it does 'abhorrent' and 'horrible'. I might spell it 'abhorrible', but I like it.

With regard to the TV show, well, it's TV, isn't it? How much can you expect? The most jarring thing, I'd think, would be if they run it interspersed with commercials, with all those white-toothed happy people achieving fulfillment through their aquisition of brightly-coloured products.

I expect it will probably run with ads.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:00 PM on March 5, 2002

What will we see that we have not seen already? It was an awful, horrifiying day for me. I'm not in New York, I'm in Atlanta. I was watching when it started. After the plane crashed in Penn. the news started speculating that Atlanta might be a target (primarily because of the CDC being here). They evacuated downtown. My mother calls screaming for me to get out now, I was paralized with fear. My son was in Ill. and he heard this at school. He couldn't get to a phone to reach me and it scared him to death.

I think that it is too soon. Every anniversary (3mo, 6mo, and soon 1yr) that we over hightlight not only gives future terrorists (foreign and domestic) a target date to shoot for but it rips the scab off of the wound that may just have begun to heal for the victums' families. At this point I'm sure that they are still in pain but they probably have started to return to as normal a life as they can. These images are redundant and painful. I won't watch.
posted by bas67 at 8:14 PM on March 5, 2002

CBS gladly takes said money, thereby, advertantly or inadvertantly, making money on the deaths of thousands.

CBS (NBC and ABC too) lost tens of millions of dollars in the days following the attacks, when they were running nonstop news and their regular commercial programming was suspended. They are not possibly recouping their 9/11-related losses with Nextel's sponsorship of a single hour (or is it two?) of programming.

here. have a lollipop and go watch the muppets. let those who can deal with the reality.

There's no need to be dismissive. Everyone in this nation has had to move forward in their own way, and for many (like those who are suffering from diagnosable PTSD) there is a very reasonable need to avoid exposure to more images of terror and death. That doesn't indicate a lack of maturity, lack of acceptance of reality or any other deficiency. It's simply a difference in personal coping strategy. Why such hostility for people who have made a the choice which works for them?
posted by Dreama at 8:25 PM on March 5, 2002

Although the commercial context is lamentable, I would vote for airing the thing (I'm not sure If I'll watch it; I suspect I will feel compelled).

I really don't know if being in/from NYC makes that much of a difference in how the event was experienced. Of course, it was experienced more intensely by those close to it, but that's just a question of degree.

As for me, the shock and depression wore off, for the most part, some time in December, I think. It might be good to reminded what happened (assuming that's possible from television) because, apparently, there are tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in the world who would like to do it again, perhaps in the same way, perhaps with a nuclear device.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:32 PM on March 5, 2002

It may be hard to watch, but no more so than the Zapruder film of JFK taking a bullet to the head. I was just a little kid in 1963, so the actual event didn't really have much impact on me, but just the same, no matter how many years go by, it's still a very grim visual.
If I can manage it, however, I'll probably watch the WTC footage. It's almost impossible to look away, just like passing a bad traffic accident or seeing Dale Earnhardt hit the wall. Some call this looking at things we'd rather not see "morbid," but maybe it's just that death demands our attention because it commands our darkest fears.
posted by StOne at 8:47 PM on March 5, 2002

If you don't live in New York you don't know what it's like.

After listening to this conversation, I probably will watch the show. Perhaps I will regret it. I will disregard the advertising and the tearjerk b.s. like I do with all T.V.

I have to disagree with my neighbor ParisParamus. I do think the 11th was radically different here. I don't mean to be dramatic or discount anyone's trauma, but I rather think that being woken up by my neighbors screaming, sleeping with a bandanna over my face in my smoke-choked apartment, hosting stranded foreigners, closing down my business for a week, waiting in a line with hundreds of sobbing people to file missing persons reports, and living in a scary and angry military-run checkpoint zone is slightly more extreme than living in the fear and intimidation that the rest of America put up with.

Mostly, there is no underestimating the power of that smell. So, I'm sure empathetic people can imagine quite well what it was like, and I don't begrudge them, but the imagination will never come close to capturing that experience.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:59 PM on March 5, 2002

I agree that smell was the part which I dread the most (still fear it in the Broadway/Nassau stop). I just don't think anything you described will be conveyed by television.

For itsight, it might be useful to contrast our reaction to what happened at the Pentagon. Or Pennsylvania. These are but a shadow of the World Trade Center. But again, watching something on television will not alter this disparity.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:04 PM on March 5, 2002

Given the controversy surrounding the showing of this documentary, and the general state of "news" being broadcast in this country (e.g. this NY Times op-ed about the current state of the free press), I'm relieved it's even being broadcast. It's one thing to chose not to watch the documentary because you find it too upsetting, it's another when it's decided you shouldn't see it at all.
posted by megnut at 9:14 PM on March 5, 2002

I was working just outside of Queens when it happened. The 2nd day we started to get a "whiff" of the smell. It was awful. Will I watch the program? Absolutely and I hope others do, especially the people that think we are wrong for being at war. Granted, some people shouldn't watch it--but they can change the channel. I do agree with Stavros, though in reference to commercials. I hope it runs without commercials. It would be inappropriate.
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 9:29 PM on March 5, 2002

CBS (NBC and ABC too) lost tens of millions of dollars in the days following the attacks, when they were running nonstop news and their regular commercial programming was suspended. They are not possibly recouping their 9/11-related losses with Nextel's sponsorship of a single hour (or is it two?) of programming.

It would be silly to suggest that CBS could recoup the enormous amount of money they lost by respectfully and selflessly cutting out all ads in the course of a single program. That was never insinuated.

That said, I was touched to see the Big 3 suspend advertising in the days following, and I applaud them.

However, that hardly makes it appropriate now, in this case. Just because it is a little later (the operative word here being "little"), doesn't mean it is less exploitative. Or any less tacky.
posted by brittney at 9:49 PM on March 5, 2002

Do we know for sure that there won't be commercials? If Nextel is sponsoring and *if* there are no commercials it would be because Nextel paid for what would otherwise be advertising money (thus sponsoring it). IMHO this would be more appropriate. Who wants to see commercials for toothpaste or diapers during this??? I don't see how it's exploiting anything. Many documentaries are out there on many subjects. Change the channel if you don't want to watch it.
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 10:14 PM on March 5, 2002

Everything I've read says there will be no commercial interruptions. Now, that leaves open ending and closing commercials, but those are easily skipped. It would be interesting to know what Nextel paid for this.

I'm glad there's at least spirited discussion about this. I've decided to TiVo the show, but still am not sure whether I'll watch or delete it. Bless TiVo for allowing me to procrastinate.
posted by kokogiak at 10:23 PM on March 5, 2002

Thanks for the info. about no commercials, kokogiak!
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 10:58 PM on March 5, 2002

For itsight, it might be useful to contrast our reaction to what happened at the Pentagon. Or Pennsylvania. These are but a shadow of the World Trade Center. But again, watching something on television will not alter this disparity.


Why do you consider the Pentagon or Pennsylvania just a shadow? Because fewer people died in those places?

For those of us that lost loved ones at the Pentagon or in PA it is not just a shadow at all. It doesn't matter where they died on September 11, 2001, just that they died at the hands of terrorists.
posted by SuzySmith at 2:29 AM on March 6, 2002

SuzySmith: I think you misunderstood what I wrote. People were discussing whether 9/11 "feels different" to those not in New York, and I was using the other prongs of the attack to gauge such, since I live in Brooklyn. But of course, there's the overlay of the other events not taking place in Media City, and involving Big Buildings, so it's hard to know whether how much of the difference is due to that.

In any case, I wasn't attempting to minimize what happened in Pennsylvania or Washington--quite the contrary.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:15 AM on March 6, 2002

Of course, more and more the media treats DC/Pennsylvania as if it never happened. Pennsylvania gets press because of the "Let's Roll" but how often have you heard anything about the Pentagon? My perception of that is skewed because I'm from that part of the world and pay extra attention to it. I know some of it comes from the Pentagon being a military establishment, but I can't shake the feeling that most of it comes from standard issue NYC myopia in the mediasphere.
posted by owillis at 5:14 AM on March 6, 2002

No commercials? The CBS promo only said "limited commercial interruption." A minor point, admittedly.
owillis may be onto something about the emphasis on NYC, but it may also be the more "spectacular" imagery of the WTC destruction dominating the video landscape.
posted by StOne at 6:01 AM on March 6, 2002

I have to agree there hasn't been near the publicity about PA or the Pentagon. But to my knowledge, neither the Pentagon or PA crashes were caught on tape, either. Could it maybe just be that simple? More going on in NY meant more cameras rolling anyway that day, like the tape we are talking about?
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 6:56 AM on March 6, 2002

The New York Times article that judith linked to says that:
Sunday's program will have only three breaks (taking seven and a half minutes out of the two hours), probably to be filled with public service announcements from the program's sponsor, Nextel.
Robert DeNiro is the host, presumably because he played a fireman in Backdraft.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:26 AM on March 6, 2002

"Television is the first truly democratic culture; the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what the people want."
- Clive Barnes

I want to see the footage. All of it. News footage, amateur video, security cameras, you name it. Every angle, every frame. I want to see what happened. I want to see how people survived, and even how they didn't. I want to know how an organism as mind-bogglingly huge and complex as NYC handled a trauma of this magnitude with such humanity.

I sympathize with those who lost family and friends, and I don't wish to offend anyone who would rather not watch, but I for one prefer to know the details because they are never nearly as haunting as my unchecked imagination.
posted by johnnyace at 9:42 AM on March 6, 2002

Mostly, there is no underestimating the power of that smell.

Not to indulge in metooism, but that stench was something like I have never smelled. I was up there for business two weeks to the day (lived in Philly then, in NJ now, my wife just started working on 19th street). That was, of course, long before the fires went out.

Do I like the idea of this footage being shown? Not really. Will I watch? Probably. Can I explain why? Fuck no.
posted by adampsyche at 9:57 AM on March 6, 2002

I'll be watching. Wouldn't miss it. I'm glad CBS is doing this. (And while I'll reserve my right to judge the appropriateness of Nextel's corporate sponsorship until after I've seen the program, I wouldn't be surprised if their breaks are seen not only as welcome [albeit brief] relief, but as actually adding to the viewing experience in a sensitive way.)
posted by verdezza at 12:44 AM on March 7, 2002

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