Were You ‘Outraged’ at 9/11 Panel?


The looming five-year anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks has triggered new efforts to fill in the gaps (or twist the facts) of the well-studied history of that day. My current/former colleagues Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins have penned a book looking critically at Mayor Giuliani’s performance. Sen. John McCain and Popular Mechanics are “debunking” claims made by the 9-11 truth movement. And now Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton are hyping a sure-to-be-bestseller about how their 2004 bestseller, The 9/11 Commission Report, was in many important ways a whitewash.

This isn’t news to anyone who was at the May 2004 hearings in NYC. When Kean told former Mayor Rudy that, “New York City on that terrible day in a sense was blessed because it had you as a leader … Have you got any thoughts about what kind of recommendations we could make . . . so that we could tell mayors of other cities who are good mayors but not you?” it was clear that the thick veneer coating America’s Mayor would go unscratched. When an angry audience member shouted, “What about the bunker?” little more needed to be said. Nor, apparently, asked: Mayor Bloomberg didn’t face any questioning questions.

Kean and Hamilton now admit that the Rudy love-a-thon was a low point for the commission. “It proved difficult, if not impossible, to raise hard questions about 9/11 in New York without it being perceived as criticism of the individual police and firefighters or … Giuliani,” they wrote.

The Daily News remembers the May 2004 hearings, too. Sort of. On Saturday the News wrote that at the event, “Commission member John Lehman scolded [Giuliani’s emergency service officials], saying the lack of command and control was ‘not worthy of the Boy Scouts.’ The remark infuriated New Yorkers . . . ”

But did it infuriate New Yorkers, or just the people who make tabloids?

On May 19, 2004 the News ran an editorial titled “Second-Guessing Our 9-11 Heroes,” that opined that ” . . .Too many [commission] members endlessly second-guessed NYPD and FDNY readiness for the next act of premeditated mass murder. Most offensive was former Navy Secretary John Lehman, who used the word ‘scandal’ a half-dozen times to describe the city’s emergency command and communication system. ‘It is not worthy of the boy scouts, let alone this great city,’ he said slanderously.” In a May 20, 2004 piece headlined “Shameful Showboating Ex-Navy Secretary Insulted Heroes To Raise His Own Profile,”News columnist Richard Schwartz wrote that Lehman, “should get down on his hands and knees and beg forgiveness of the public servants he insulted if he wants to preserve a scrap of his reputation.”

Not to be beaten to the bottom, the New York Post at the time called Lehman’s charge “over-the-top” in its news pages, and on its edit page wrote: “Now come the nitpickers from the national 9/11 Commission, working personal and political agendas by second-guessing men and women who came through when it counted.”

According to USA Today‘s account of their forthcoming book, the commission took those scathing reviews to heart: “Commission members backed off, Kean and Hamilton said, after drawing criticism in newspaper editorials for sharp questioning of New York fire and police officials at earlier hearings.” Man, those commissioners were tough customers!

Oddly enough, the News—which isn’t shy when it comes to taking credit for the buzz generated by its excellent 9-11 health series—doesn’t mention its role in the 9-11 commission’s tone-down. The Post hasn’t reported on the new book yet.

Lehman must be totally outraged.