Reviews 9/11: Press For Truth

9/11: Press for Truth, brought to us by the fine people at Disinformation, first takes us into the lives of five women who lost family members on September 11, 2001, and the triumphs and disappointments they share with other family members who, in the years following the attacks, found themselves in the position of very publicly calling on the administration to investigate the events and take steps to prevent further attacks. The documentary is a bit scattershot in moving from topic to topic, but it's a much needed reminder that the 9/11 Commission was never inevitable, and that many, many questions still remain.

The "Jersey Girls," as the five widows came to be known, were able to get media attention by playing up their status as widows. They were perfect fodder for the type of human interest pieces that the media was so hungry for in the months after the attacks. This was their in: by getting the press to cover them as victims, they were able to begin pressing the type of questions they had been developing: what exactly brought the buildings in New York down? Was there any warning? Who was involved? Their most important question, though, and the main subject of the film is: Why had there been no investigation? Remember, it was over a year after the attacks before President Bush, under intense media pressure, would relent and allow for the empowering of an independent investigation. The Jersey Girls and the families of other victims were tireless in keeping the issue in the forefront. The 9/11 Commission was born, but it was hobbled from the beginning. The initial budget was $3-million dollars (compared to, as the narrator reminds us, over $100-million for the Monica Lewinsky investigation), less time was given than was requested, confidential documents were kept from review, and the commission was to be headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose close ties with the Bush administration, and business ties with Saudi oil and the bin Laden family in general, left him a controversial choice who was eventually replaced.

The Commission was stonewalled from the beginning. Documents were withheld, and top administration officials initially refused to testify. It wasn't until the testimony of former White House Terrorism 'Tsar' Richard Clarke testified that, the Jersey Girls note, anyone had taken any responsibility whatsoever for the failures of intelligence leading to the attacks. The bipartisan accolades accorded the final 9/11 Commission Report belie the many, many outstanding questions it left with the victim's families.

About mid-way through, the doc switches gears a bit and discusses the work of Paul Thompson, who put together The Complete 9/11 Timeline, an exhaustive and thoroughly researched and sourced chronology of the events leading up to the attacks. Thompson scoured major media sources and publicly available documents to put facts together in ways that the newspapers and cable news channels haven't done. Most interesting, and chilling, is his cataloging of threats from the months before the attacks. According to Thompson (backed here by newspaper clippings and news footage pre-9/11), at least 14 nations and a variety of other sources provided the US with surprisingly specific warnings: almost all mentioned al-Qaeda, and most included variations on a planes as weapons/hijacking/Word Trade Center theme, and it appears in hindsight that government officials were aware of these threats and taking specific precautions. From there we travel to the border regions of Afghanistan, and the offices of Pakistani intelligence, and are also left to wonder why so fewmajor al-Qaeda figures have been captured in these five years. If it sounds like there's a whiff of conspiracy to the proceedings, well, there is, but it's all laid out rather credibly, and it's difficult to know exactly what conclusions we are meant to draw - I say this to the credit of the filmmakers. At the very least, Press for Truth paints a portrait of stunning and tragic incompetence, and the will to conceal. There's too much that just still does not make sense.

Final Comments
Though it jumps around a bit, Press for Truth does a great job of first documenting the lengths to which the families of 9/11 victims were forced to go in order to secure any sort of investigation into the events of that day, and then begins to connect dots in ways that suggest motivations for those who weren't interested in digging too deeply. In fact, it feels like two documentaries, and as a production I wish it had a little more focus, or maybe just a little more time. Still, it offers a lot to chew on. There's plenty of grist for conspiracy theorists here, but the doc thankfully doesn't draw many conclusions. It's a generally credible reminder to keep asking questions.