9/11: More Signs that a Museum Will Be a Whitewash


This morning, the city will stop to remember the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks for the eighth time. Once again, relatives of the slain will journey to Ground Zero and the names will be read and public officials will utter condolences in lofty verbiage. Reporters from elsewhere will once again ask New Yorkers how they feel, and produce another set of teary articles.

Meanwhile, the unbelievably costly struggle over the development of the World Trade Center site goes on. And on. And on.

And the folks involved in the creation of the Sept. 11 memorial and museum have begun to signal just what kind of institution will emerge when it opens (supposedly) in four years.

Back in 2002, Newsday predicted that the rebuilding of the site would take 10 years. Boy, did that turn out to be optimistic.

Right now, one tower is under construction, and the underground infrastructure is coming along. But four others towers that were supposed to be built are still on the drawing board. And the damaged Deutsche Bank building still hasn’t been entirely demolished.

Incredibly, the cost of rebuilding the site is now estimated at more than $15 billion. That’s right: fifteen billion dollars.

The memorial plaza, slated to open in two years, and the accompanying museum, scheduled to open in 2013, will cost hundreds of millions at least. The plan to run Greenwich Street through the site will cost $281 million, and the so-called vehicle security center will cost $633 million. The transportation hub is budgeted at $3.2 billion.

One World Trade Center, an office building formerly called the “Freedom Tower,” is supposed to be finished in 2013, at a cost of $3.1 billion.

Towers 2, 3, and 4, which are the responsibility of Silverstein Properties, are budgeted at $7 to $7.5 billion. At this point, however, there’s no set completion date for them. The funds for those buildings will come from a combination of insurance proceeds, government bonds and construction loans.

Developer and World Trade Center leaseholder Larry SIlverstein and the Port Authority are currently in arbitration (read: “at war”) over the plans for those three buildings. PA officials has proposed building the three sites up to street level, and then waiting until the commercial market improves before approving construction. The Port also has a slate of transportation projects that it wants to fund. Silverstein wants to accelerate that process and wants the PA to help pay an estimated $1.8 billion for construction.

In his version of the story, told once again at a state senate hearing on Wednesday, World Trade Center Properties President Janno Lieber claims the Port Authority misled the public for years.

“After years of the Port Authority insisting that everything was going just fine at the site, the agency admitted the truth,” Lieber said. “That every project had fallen years behind schedule and hundreds of millions over budget.”

Lieber claimed the Port Authority “wants to delay completion of the project until 2037.” That, sources say, is just the worst case scenario.

Lieber went on to essentially waive the flag as justification for continuing with the construction plan. “We owe it to the world, to our country, our city, and our Downtown community to keep our promises to rebuild after the worst terrorist attack on American soil in our nation’s history,” Lieber said.

Last June, the Daily News editorialized that spending public money on private construction at Ground Zero was “excessive.” We tend to agree.

As for the museum, there was hope that the facility would not only wave the flag and remember the dead, but also examine the breakdowns that led to the calamity. But we predict that the museum will present a sanitized version of history, mainly for the consumption of tourists. Call it 9/11-lite.

In a visit this week to the museum’s “preview” site at 20 Vesey Street, less than a block from Ground Zero, and we found a large room containing videotaped remembrances, a slain firefighter’s hat, a very basic timeline, a maps, and a mockup of the building. Those things are arrayed in one half of the room.

The other half of the room is a gift shop. Yes, a gift shop, selling photo books for $8.95, NYPD and FDNY baseballs and T-shirts, and coffee cups and totebags that read “9/11 Memorial.” (To its credit, the shop does sell the 9/11 Commission report.)

Meanwhile, a website produced by the museum offers the barest minimum of information — details pretty much everyone already knows. A “history” page just tells you where the buildings were located. The timeline page presents a very limited picture of the day, and suggests that the government acted totally efficiently and in an orderly manner. Hardly the case.

For example, it mentions that at 9 a.m., local law enforcement and fire agencies had “mobilized at their highest levels.” Missing is any sense of the chaos and failure to communicate that damaged the emergency response on that day.

That’s just one example.

We learn that President Bush addressed the nation at 8:30 that night, but there’s nothing about his confusing travel through the day. There’s also no mention of his appalling decision to wage war in Iraq, a folly he justified using 9/11.

The history of the aftermath mentions that 1.8 million tons of debris were removed from the site in nine months. But it does not mention that in its haste, the city also transported human remains to a landfill. Nor does it mention that the speed of the work likely contributed to all of those Ground Zero workers getting sick. Nor does it mention the boneheaded handling of the dismantling of the heavily contaminated Deutsche Bank building or the fire there which killed two firefighters.

The 9/11 report is described as a document which “issued analysis and recommendations.” In fact, it was a painstaking recreation of all the mistakes that led to the attacks. The process of rebuilding is characterized again in efficient terms, when in fact it has been utterly inefficient to the point of dysfunctional, and a huge burden on taxpayers.

Meanwhile, a consortium of educators has put together what they describe as the first “comprehensive” 9/11 curriculum for 6th to 12th graders. The pilot program will be taught in six schools around the country. It was developed by the Social Studies School Service and the Sept. 11 Education Trust. The curriculum includes part of the 9/11 Commission report, and interviews with 70 survivors, family members, politicians and others whose lives were touched by the attacks.

So how does the curriculum handle the more controversial elements of 9/11? Well, Dave Weiner who helped develop the lesson plan over the past four years, says it takes them head on.

“There are controversial aspects around every part of it and we don’t shy away from them,” he says. “We try to get students to look at all sides of the spectrum and analyze it and ask them what would they do.”

Weiner acknowledged that the curriculum doesn’t touch on some things like the Iraq War, the controversy surrounding the cleanup of the site, or the health issues that afflicted 9/11 workers. But it does look at U.S. foreign policy, the emergency response, the debate over
how to rebuild the site, and other topics.

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