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Profile: Alessandra Stanley
Alessandra Stanley was a participant or observer in the following events:
While television news anchors and analysts continue to follow the lead of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in comparing the toppling of the Firdos Square statue to the fall of the Berlin Wall (see April 9, 2003 and April 9, 2003), press reporters and editorial writers begin to express some skepticism. An unphotogenic photo of the statue being covered by an American flag prompts the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley to note that this was a “powerful reminder that, unlike the Soviet empire, Iraq’s regime did not implode from within.” Noting that an American tank had been required to eventually push the statue over, Stanley adds, “In 1989, East Germans did not need American help to break down their wall.” The Washington Post’s Tom Shales observes that “of all the statues of Saddam Hussein scattered throughout the city, the crowds had conveniently picked one located across from the hotel where most of the media were headquartered. This was either splendid luck or brilliant planning on the part of the [US] military.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 83] Two days later, the Toronto Star will report, “Never mind how that video was tightly framed, showing a chanting crowd, when wider shots would have revealed a very different picture: a very large, mostly empty square surrounded by US tanks.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]
The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’ [Source: Internet Movie Database (.com)]Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003; New York Times, 9/5/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26] New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” [New York Times, 9/5/2003]
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26]
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003] Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26]
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” [New York Times, 9/5/2003]
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” [Salon, 9/8/2003]
Entity Tags: Charles Krauthammer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, Showtime, Alessandra Stanley, Tony Blair, Bob Woodward, Morton Kondracke, Lionel Chetwynd, Timothy Bottoms, Kristen Breitweiser, Donald Rumsfeld, Clinton administration, Fred Barnes, Frank Rich, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Linda McQuaig, Jim Hightower
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
Image from the ‘Saving Jessica Lynch’ poster. [Source: Satellite Imaging Corporation]NBC’s television movie, Saving Jessica Lynch (see August 5-8, 2003), airs, attracting mediocre ratings. The film is based on the dubious account by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief as published in his book Because Every Life is Precious, and actually makes al-Rehaief, not Lynch, the central figure. Lynch and her family refused to take part in the movie’s production; Lynch even refused to meet with al-Rehaief when he journeyed to her hometown in West Virginia. Days before its airing, Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker, after previewing it, lambasted it as “odious,” slammed its “assiduously bland storytelling,” and said that it “represents everything that’s wrong with this genre,” a subdivision of TV docudramas that he calls the “so-called women-in-jeopardy telefilm.” The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley calls it a “shameless attempt [by NBC] to capitalize on [a] real-life horror stor[y].” A later Times review will note, “An inordinate amount of poetic license is taken with the events surrounding Jessica’s rescue, with a plethora of ridiculous coincidences and serial-like thrills and chills thrown in to pep up the story.” [New York Times, 11/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; New York Times, 2008] (NBC airs a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie: “This motion picture is based on a true story. However, some names have been changed and some characters, scenes and events in whole or part have been created for dramatic purpose.”) [Salon, 11/13/2003] In a review for the Deseret News, Scott Pierce writes, “If I thought NBC executives were capable of feeling shame, I’d suggest that they should be ashamed of themselves for foisting Saving Jessica Lynch off on viewers.” He calls the movie “a simple case of a network investing itself and its money in a project designed to grab ratings without pausing to find out what the real story was. And then not really worrying too much about getting its facts straight.… Never mind that the original story Americans were told about the rescue turned out to be largely bogus. Never mind that independent news organizations have called into question al-Rehaief’s version of events. This was ‘created for dramatic purposes.‘… [W]hat makes the telefilm nothing short of reprehensible is that, disclaimer or not, it presents fiction as fact and exploits the facts for ratings. I can’t help but think of how the families of the soldiers who died must feel about this.” [Deseret News, 11/8/2003]
The documentary uses an actor and computer effects to simulate McVeigh’s actions during the interviews, which were recorded on audio tape, and of his carrying out the bombing. [Source: MSNBC]MSNBC airs a documentary about convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), who before his execution (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) confessed to bombing the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) to Buffalo News reporters Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck. Michel and Herbeck went on to write a 2001 biography of McVeigh, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, based on their interviews with McVeigh. The MSNBC documentary, The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist, features excerpts drawn from the 45 hours of audio recordings made by Michel. The documentary will be broadcast on April 19, the 15th anniversary of the bombing, and features film of the bombing and its aftermath; computer-generated recreations to augment the actual audio recordings (with an actor playing McVeigh); and interviews with survivors of the bombing and family members of the slain. McVeigh told of his childhood in upstate New York (see 1987-1988), his experiences in the 1991 Gulf War (see January - March 1991 and After), his relationship with convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, December 23, 1997, and June 4, 1998), and of the meticulous planning and execution of the bombing. [MSNBC, 4/15/1995; MSNBC, 4/15/1995] One of the few moments when McVeigh’s voice became animated was when he described the moments before the bomb went off, saying, “I lit the two-minute fuse at the stoplight, and I swear to God that was the longest stoplight I’ve ever sat at in my life.” [New York Times, 4/18/1995] The documentary is narrated by MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. Herbeck says he understands that the documentary will evoke strong feelings. “Some people will say they don’t want to hear anything about Timothy McVeigh and we respect their feelings on that,” he says. “But others are interested in hearing what made a terrorist tick.” Michel says, “[It’s an] oral blueprint of what turned one young man into one of the worst mass-murderers and terrorists in American history.” Herbeck says their book drew similar mixed reactions: “A few of the victims were outraged by our book, and they went public with their feelings. They felt it was wrong to tell the story of a terrorist.” Maddow says she is not worried that the documentary will somehow glamorize McVeigh or make him into a martyr figure: “McVeigh is profoundly unsympathetic—even repugnant—on his own terms, you don’t need to work to make him seem that way. There’s a huge distance between the hero he is in his own mind, and how basely unheroic he seems to anyone hearing the tapes now. I personally am not a supporter of the death penalty… but hearing him talk, it’s hard not to wish him gone.” In the documentary, Jannie Coverdale, who lost her two young grandchildren in the blast, says: “I was glad when he died. I will never forgive Timothy McVeigh.” Oklahoma City Police Department official Jennifer Rodgers, one of the first responders to the bombing (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995), says her feelings are “still raw.… It just doesn’t seem like it was really that long ago.” Maddow says the story is important even 15 years later: “The Murrah Building bombing is the worst incident of domestic terrorism we’ve ever experienced as a nation. We owe pure remembrance of the date, and commemoration of the lives lost and changed. I think it’s also an appropriate occasion to talk about the threat of domestic terrorism. How strong is the threat now, 15 years after McVeigh? Are we heeding warning signs that may be out there now?” Former President Clinton, who oversaw the federal efforts to respond to the bombing, has recently warned that ugly and frightening parallels exist between the current political tensions and the anti-government rage that preceded McVeigh’s attack, saying: “We can disagree with them [elected officials], we can harshly criticize them. But when we turn them into an object of demonization, we increase the number of threats.” Michel says: “There’s no question that the militia movement is on the rise again. Some of the same factors that caused McVeigh to believe he had become disenfranchised from mainstream society are again in the mix: growing government regulations, lack of employment. Those are things McVeigh would cite if he were alive.” [MSNBC, 4/15/1995; MSNBC, 4/15/1995] In the documentary, Maddow says of the date of the airing: “On this date, which holds great meaning for the anti-government movement, the McVeigh tapes are a can’t-turn-away, riveting reminder.” Washington Post reviewer Hank Steuver calls the documentary “chilling” and McVeigh’s demeanor “arrogan[t]” and unrepentant. “Maddow and company wisely decline to draw too straight a line from 1995 to 2010, but, as she indicates, it might be helpful in crazy times to study this sort of crazy head-on,” he writes. “Watching this, it’s easy to feel like that fuse is still lit.” [Washington Post, 4/18/2010] New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley says the use of an actor and computer effects “blunts its impact by relying on stagy computer graphics.… Scenes of this domestic terrorist in shackles during a prison interview or lighting a fuse inside a rented Ryder truck look neither real nor completely fake, but certainly cheesy: a violent video game with McVeigh as a methodical, murderous avatar.” [New York Times, 4/18/1995] The documentary is later made available on YouTube. [911Blogger (.com), 4/20/2010]
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