CBS plans to air the remarkable documentary 9/11 this year on September 10th, to mark the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and United flight 93. It is by far the best film about 9/11 that I have seen, featuring remarkable and often very upsetting footage taken in New York as the attacks were happening. Two French brothers, filmmakers, happened to be following the story of a rookie firefighter that morning when the planes smashed into the twin towers. Their film contains the only known footage of the first plane hitting the tower. In addition there is several minutes of footage taken inside the South tower before it collapses. There is video and sound footage of bodies hitting the ground, jumpers who were trapped on the highest floors, above the fires and unable to escape any other way. Like I said, it’s upsetting. It’s also one of the most remarkable films ever made. Watching it pulls you right back to that day, you relive it from the inside.
Today, the AP reports that several groups, notably the American Family Association, have announced their intention to flood the FCC with complaints from its 3,000,000 members if CBS airs the film as planned. A dozen network affiliates have taken the threat seriously and refused to air the film, fearing financial penalties from the FCC. Another dozen stations have opted to delay the broadcast until after 10 p.m., when the Federal fines are not as steep. Is it due to the extreme emotions aroused by this documentary, the bad memories it will revive, the potential it has to upset many of the people who watch it, that the AFA has pledged to protest its broadcast? No. Their beef is over the profanity some of the firefighters featured use. Not wanting to dilute or sanitize this important film, CBS will air the film without censorship of any kind, no cuts and no bleeps. For AFA official Randy Sharp, who is quoted in the story, this is simply intolerable. “This isn’t an issue of censorship,” he says, “It’s an issue of responsibility to the public.” The responsibility he refers to is apparently the responsibility to not show to the public the finest account of the defining event of this generation. Nevermind the heroism of the rescuers, or the tragedy of the victims – they’ll get their concrete monuments. Showing people what actually happened, well . . . that will just offend people, especially if those foulmouthed firemen are allowed to say “fuck” and “shit” on television.
But here’s the punchline: This will be the third time CBS has aired the film in this way, with no cuts. The first time was on March 11, 2002 – six months after the attacks.