The media may have gotten their way when they succeeded in pressuring HBO and Spike Lee to remove the half-hour section of NYC Epicenters in which the acclaimed filmmaker questioned how the Twin Towers and Building 7 fell. After their triumph, these so-called journalists rejoiced and patted themselves on the back for “making a difference.”
But they didn’t manage to completely censor the truth out of Lee’s four-part, now seven-and-a-half-hour docuseries.
Watch Episodes 3 and 4 carefully, and you will see that Lee was laying the foundation for his eventual controlled demolition exposé in the penultimate section of the finale. Some of the building blocks are subtle, while others are more obvious.
For starters, early in Episode 3, Lee features an archival short film called Building the World Trade Center by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the interstate government agency that constructed the Twin Towers and operated them until mid-2001. Set by Lee to Aaron Copland’s majestic Fanfare for the Common Man, the Port Authority film becomes a showcase for the humanity of those who built the towers as much as it is for the enormity of the structures themselves. After the film ends, Lee pays homage to the 60 workers who were killed in construction accidents during the erection of the two skyscrapers — a staggering and almost unconscionable death toll.
Whether by design or not — and I suspect it was by design — Lee’s use of the Port Authority film also serves to impress upon viewers the incredible robustness of the towers and the vast amount of steel and concrete that went into them.
But the bigger building blocks for Lee’s exposé start to be put in place when we meet survivors Daphne Carlisle and William Rodriguez.
Carlisle, then an employee of the Port Authority, was on the 82nd floor of the North Tower that morning and managed to make it all the way to the last flight of steps to the lobby just as the South Tower came down. Lee cuts back and forth between his current-day interview with Carlisle and archival news footage of her from that day. In Episode 3, we see portions of the archival footage that convey the emotional agony and physical toll of her escape.
Viewers probably would have found out in the now-excised half-hour section that Carlisle also described witnessing a “big explosion” when she reached the North Tower lobby. Carlisle is among many people who were in or near the North Tower lobby when the South Tower came down and who described it as a major explosion. The account of Port Authority police officer Sue Keane is the most vivid and best-documented example of that. (Keane’s chapter from Women at Ground Zero is required reading for all who wish to understand how the Twin Towers came down.)
In Lee’s interview with Rodriguez, we actually get to hear the former World Trade Center janitor describe what he witnessed when he got to the 39th floor of the North Tower as he was aiding the evacuation effort: a “baaah!” followed by “bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah!” This could very well have been the South Tower’s destruction that Rodriguez heard from the North Tower, given its similarity to the accounts of firefighters who were in the North Tower stairwells when the South Tower came down. It could also have been a series of explosions in the North Tower.
Earlier in the morning, Rodriguez was in one of the basement levels of the North Tower when he and his co-workers felt a massive explosion beneath them, followed by a series of explosions above them. Rodriguez has long claimed that the initial explosion occurred a few seconds prior to the airplane hitting the building, which he distinguished as a noise coming from far above. Given how often we see Rodriguez in earlier parts of the series and how he is used in the finale to segue to the politics and policies of the Bush administration post-9/11, his account of the massive explosion in the basement of the North Tower was almost certainly included in the censored half-hour section.
Lee also includes a clip of a speech given many years later by Rodriguez’s supervisor, Anthony Saltalamacchia. In the speech, he recounts the two of them having made it outside to the plaza between the two towers, at which point Rodriguez decided to go back into the building to rescue more people. (Not mentioned in Lee’s film is that they were outside because they had carried a man severely injured by the subterranean explosion to an ambulance.) In another part of Saltalamacchia’s speech — not featured in Episode 3 but likely shown in the censored half-hour of Episode 4 — he corroborates Rodriguez’s account of a massive explosion below them followed by a series of explosions above.
We also meet retired FDNY Lieutenant John Coyle in Episode 3. Coyle was a fire marshal on 9/11 who said in his FDNY oral history, “I thought it was exploding, actually. That’s what I thought for hours afterwards. . . . Everybody I think at that point still thought these things were blown up.”
Midway through Episode 3 (and in his oral history transcript), Coyle recollects having learned in fire marshal school that “in terrorist attacks, there is frequently a secondary device to kill the first responders.” Given his eyewitness account and his comment about secondary devices, it is likely that he also appeared in the censored half-hour section.
Further from the disaster but still intimately connected to it, architect Bill Brinnier in Episodes 3 and 4 tells the story of Frank DeMartini, his best friend from their days at Pratt Institute who went on to become construction manager for the World Trade Center. Brinnier has been a signatory to the petition of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth since 2008 and is featured in our forthcoming film, The Unspeakable.
Brinnier was surely one of the many architects and engineers who were prevented from making their case in Episode 4. But he still got to say his piece loud and clear in Episode 3 while talking about the death of his best friend. Shortly before Lee shows the North Tower’s explosive destruction, Brinnier says of DeMartini and his co-workers, “Best guess is that they made it down to about, somewhere between the 25th and the 15th floor, before that building was demolished.”
As I watched from my living room, I was just happy to see that Bill (a friend of mine for 11 years) was still getting to tell most of his story. But I have to admit that I jumped off my couch and pumped my fist several times when I heard Bill say those words of truth: “That building was demolished.”
While critics managed to get the ostensibly reprehensible half-hour section featuring building experts, 9/11 family members, first responders, and survivors cut from the series, I suppose that Bill’s statement was too small and isolated for them to target. Furthermore, bringing attention to an architect whose best friend was the deceased World Trade Center construction manager might lend too much credibility to “the truthers.” Best to just ignore it.
Another person introduced earlier in the series who was then going to reappear in the censored half-hour section is Bob McIlvaine, a father who believes that an explosion killed his son as he was entering the North Tower lobby.
Only one critic, Jordan Hoffman of Vanity Fair, dared mention that Bob (my friend of 12 years) was featured in the forbidden half-hour section. Hoffman revealed this information to the public while essentially bemoaning that Lee’s case for controlled demolition was too compelling, because it featured likable people like Bob and because members of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth were so “eloquent” while the government’s lead investigator, Shyam Sunder, was “an absolute bore.”
But that exception aside, Hoffman and other members of the media dutifully failed to mention that there were several sympathetic and heroic individuals introduced earlier in the series who then appeared in the censored half-hour section. The media’s goal, needless to say, was to paint everyone in that section as distasteful, deranged, and (most importantly) debunked conspiracy theorists. It takes a special disregard of the horror and pain these people have experienced — not to mention a ready willingness to twist reality — to want to smear and silence them in this way.
The final building blocks for Lee’s exposé were the graphic footage and audio he used in Episode 3 to show the destruction of the Twin Towers — and the fact that he showed the destruction of Building 7 at all.
Indeed, it would be hard to find better footage to illustrate the explosive nature of the “collapses.” For the South Tower, Lee starts with Paul Berriff’s video of firefighters who hear the initial massive explosion at the onset of the building’s destruction and look up to see a wave of explosions traveling down the face of the building. Lee then cuts to footage taken by a CBS2 chopper, which provides a perfect view of the South Tower mushrooming outward.
For the North Tower, Lee uses an NBC4 clip that gives a straight-on view of the explosive initiation of the “collapse.” He then cuts to an unidentifiable clip that shows the same explosive initiation from the northwest. Next, he cuts to a CBS clip, taken from a similar angle to the previous one, showing disparate lines of explosions running down the building in a pattern that lays waste to the notion of the top of the building crushing the bottom.
Just when a typical 9/11 documentary would end its chronicling of the day’s events, Lee shows the destruction of Building 7 to his viewers — a majority of whom are surely seeing it for the first time.
Lee also includes footage before the collapse of a police officer warning the cameraman filming him: “Be careful. Because they said the building, if it does drop, it’s going to come in this direction.” With this clip, Lee gives the audience a glimpse of the precise foreknowledge of Building 7’s destruction that could only have been possible if one or more officials at the scene knew the building was going to be brought down. (This video, shot by CNN cameraman Joe Cantali, is no longer available on his YouTube channel.)
Lee’s use of graphic footage of each building’s destruction clearly had its intended effect on many viewers. While watching Episode 3, my wife’s co-worker — who has barely looked at footage of the event since it happened — texted my wife this:
“I am watching the spike doc and dude re watching the first tower come down…there is NOOOO WAY there weren’t explosives in that building. Like NO WAY.”
In the wake of the controversy and now-public knowledge that Lee questions how the towers came down, I have little doubt that many thousands of people, if not millions, will have the same reaction as my wife’s co-worker when they watch Episode 3.
As for Building 7, if our polling of the American public is at all representative of the NYC Epicenters audience, we can surmise that half of those who watch Episode 3 will come away suspecting that Building 7 was brought down in a controlled demolition — and only 20 percent will suspect it was caused by fires.
The reality is that, despite the half-hour section being censored from the final episode, Lee has put the demolition of the Twin Towers and Building 7 in plain sight for all who are not wearing blinders to see.
Of course, the mainstream media will continue to cheer the censorship of NYC Epicenters. They will claim the series “flows better” with the half-hour section removed. But they fail to see or acknowledge that Episodes 3 and 4 were a trail leading inextricably to the now-missing culmination of Lee’s eight-hour docuseries.
As released to the public exactly 20 years after that horrible day, NYC Epicenters is a stirring and informative but glaringly incomplete documentary whose tragic censorship will forever be a monument to the media’s suppression of the truth about 9/11.
Ted Walter is the director of strategy and development for Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. He has authored several publications and writings on behalf of the organization, including the 2020 request for correction to NIST's final report on the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, which is now the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against NIST.
Photograph courtesy HBO.