With the 11th anniversary of September 11th, 2001 just around the corner, we can expect America and our media to look back once again on this turning point in our nation's history.
But like every year before it, we will look back with our eyes half open, not wanting to look at the full complexity of this enormously influential event, preferring to remember and reflect on a simplified caricature of our history instead. It's the story that our government and nation's media settled on quickly in the days and months following the attack, and despite all the new information that has come to light, it is the story that sticks with us today.
It's a story of a great nation taken by surprise, of a country built by a love of freedom attacked by those who hate it. It's a simple story. You know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are immediately. Our government may have been neglectful or incompetent, but it was essentially innocent - a victim of a tragic act as much as the people who died that day. The 9/11 Commission confirmed this, placing the blame nowhere in particular but on Osama Bin Laden and the hijackers that aided him. And a comic book for kids further iconified our story for a whole new generation to help come to grips with this event.
What's most sad, to me, is that this story is a fiction. Not because it doesn't contain some truth, but because it doesn't contain all of it. To do this story justice, you have to tell the whole story, so far as we know it, and it's fair to say that story has never been told.
But to tell the whole story of 9/11 is impossible in our current cultural climate. To criticize this story at all will have you quickly branded a "conspiracy theorist." Because when it comes to 9/11, there is no room for gray area, no room for nuance or complexity (or a deep memory of history for that matter). Those reading this may even be holding their breath for that regrettable moment when I declare that "9/11 was an inside job" simply because this article didn't begin with the implicit acknowledgment of the official story.
And that's the terrible position that most journalists and citizens find themselves boxed into: Either you implicitly acknowledge the official story or you get lumped into the other extreme as a "9/11 truther" - a label which could be associated with the most respectable beliefs among the movement or the most ludicrous and absurd, depending on what media exposure has shaped your opinion of what the label implies. Either Osama did it and our government is blameless or Osama had nothing to do with it and our government staged the whole thing. Really? Is the truth really found in one of these extremes?
I think it's time this black and white thinking is challenged. America deserves a grown-up telling of this story and journalists have a professional responsibility to provide it.
It's true, there is a lot of misinformation on the subject, from official sources and from activist voices. That is why it is the journalist's job to impartially look at all the available evidence, sift out the unsubstantiated claims (no matter the source) and report on the facts as best as they can be discerned. Will this evidence disprove some official claims? Yes it will. Will it disprove some 9/11 truth movement claims? Yes it will. The responsibility of journalists is to weave complex narratives that deal in nuance and gray area.
To say this story can be summed up in a black and white fashion, making our government out to be blameless or the only blame, is a disservice to reality. So that is the tough job Films For Action has embarked on. It is the job all journalists should aspire to, despite that being largely an exception to the rule.
The sad, hard truth of the matter is that, to tell the whole truth, you're going to have to piss off a lot of people.
The government would prefer a black and white conclusion because the "you're either with us or against us" rhetoric makes it easier to promote aggressive foreign and domestic policy without dissent.
The media prefers it because it makes writing stories easier and they don't have to stick their necks out or risk getting fired, as Dan Rather did for a story critical of then-president Bush.
The 9/11 truth movement, while dealing in grey area more than most, can jump to conclusions too quickly, suffers from one-sidedness, and can overestimate their case in an effort to counteract the imbalance of the current debate.
People in general would prefer to think in terms of black and white, because no one would rationally want to consider that their government is anything but universally a force of good.
No matter which way you cut it, it's hard to deal with complexities. And you can't sum that up in a slogan or a soundbite.
Of course, all these words are meaningless unless it can be proved that a critical view of the official story is a credible and principled position to take. And to demonstrate this, this author would point you to one compilation of news stories.
Although widely under-reported by even 9/11 justice advocates, the mainstream media itself has verified and reported on enough contradictory news stories to justify the movement's basic call for a new investigation.*1
Taken together, this 25 page timeline of 9/11 may be one of the best, highly nuanced, full accounts of this story that has been compiled so far. And all of it has been sourced by mainstream news outlets.
The fact that this information has actually been reported on by established, credible news organizations with rigorous fact-checking departments may come as a shock to many. After all, we're led to believe that all the good, honest reporting on the subject unanimously supports the clear-cut 9/11 commission's findings, and that anything critical of this story was put together by amateur alternative media which can easily be debunked. But of course, such stereotypes are false as well.
This is one of the more incredible stories behind the story of how the media has reported on 9/11. The mainstream media has, in the course of hundreds of news stories, written a powerful "unofficial" history of 9/11. It is exactly the story that must be told, and it is anything but black or white.
In fact, it severely undercuts the official story. Some might say it completely "destroys it." But you cannot sum it up with any slogan or simple conclusion. To say "9/11 was an inside job" is as much a disservice to the truth as saying "they hate us for our freedoms." To get the full truth, so much as we know it today, you simply have to read it yourself.
*1 -- It's also worth noting that the 9/11 truth movement is not the only direction this demand is coming from. Dozens of high-ranking government officials have called for a new investigation, and over 220+ senior Military, Intelligence Service, Law Enforcement, and Government Officials have also criticized the official story. This includes 41 U.S. Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Agency Veterans. Considering most Americans are completely unaware of how many high profile government figures have cast doubt on the official story, this alone constitutes one of the most under-reported and ignored news stories in recent memory.
For more on Films For Action official position on 9/11, see our F.A.Q.