Before it could air on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a small handful of television critics and reporters managed to pressure HBO and Spike Lee into removing a half hour of the final episode of NYC Epicenters 9/11 → 2021½, in which the filmmaker questioned how the Twin Towers and Building 7 came down on 9/11. Then they celebrated the censorship.
Conveniently omitted from almost all of their reporting was the fact that the censored half hour included not only a dozen technical experts affiliated with Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth but 9/11 family members, first responders, and survivors.
Also in the past few months, The Atlantic and The Washington Post published lengthy pieces sympathizing with 9/11 family member Bob McIlvaine and Loose Change producer Korey Rowe, respectively — but dismissing their views with little-to-no basis for doing so. Meanwhile, The New York Times published a hit piece making empty claims about how Loose Change was a precursor to QAnon and other current-day “conspiracy theories.”
Now that The Unspeakable has been out for a month and features four people who were in the censored half hour of NYC Epicenters — 9/11 family members Bob McIlvaine and Drew DePalma, architect Bill Brinnier, and engineer Tony Szamboti — and was directed by Loose Change creator Dylan Avery and edited by Korey Rowe, these journalists should be called upon to write about the stories and the filmmaking of the people they have silenced and denigrated.
Will these journalists have the decency to review an “extraordinary, deeply moving film” about the 9/11 family members they helped censor, made by the filmmakers they and their colleagues have been defaming for 15 years? Or will they ignore this film — which relates directly to their earlier reporting — because it doesn’t fit their narrative?
If they don’t write about it, we will be putting them on record as refusing to cover this film because it reflects positively on the good people they have painted as “conspiracy theorists.” Moreover, if any of them do watch the film and are capable of introspection, it should plant seeds of doubt about whether they are on the right side of history when it comes to 9/11 — seeds that could blossom the next time a major story like Lee’s HBO series forces them to write about 9/11 Truth.
Please take a bit of time this week to email these journalists individually or as a group and urge them to write about The Unspeakable. All the information you need is below.
Reggie Ugwu and Julia Jacobs, The New York Times
Ugwu ignited the controversy in an interview with Spike Lee, published on August 23, 2021 (“Spike Lee, Exultant at the ‘Epicenter’”), in which he asked the filmmaker why he included the perspective of “conspiracy group” Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Lee answered that he still had questions and that he hoped the film would lead to a congressional hearing.
Ugwu and Jacobs then wrote two articles covering the controversy as it evolved (“Spike Lee Re-Edits HBO Sept. 11 Series That Features Conspiracists”; “Spike Lee Removes Conspiracists From HBO 9/11 Series After Criticism”). Like Ugwu's interview with Lee, their reporting conveniently omitted the fact that 9/11 family members, first responders, and survivors were included in the censored section. They also presented as fact their opinion that the controlled demolition theory has been “debunked.” And they repeatedly referred to members of AE911Truth as “conspiracy theorists” rather than as “architects” and “engineers,” yet reverently described Dr. Shyam “We’ve-Had-Trouble-Getting-a-Handle-on-Building-7” Sunder and Ronald “It-Appeared-to-Me-that-Charges-Had-Been-Placed-in-the-Building” Hamburger as “scientists” and “experts” who had conducted a “yearslong investigation” and “hundreds of hours of analysis.”
James Poniewozik, The New York Times
Poniewozik is the chief television critic for The New York Times. In his roundup of TV documentaries that aired around the 20th anniversary (“Is 9/11 a Day, or Is It an Era?”), he claimed that the final episode of NYC Epicenters “flows better” without the “bizarre section” featuring “the conspiracists.” (I argue the opposite: It is glaringly incomplete.) He ended his column by lamenting that “the most artful of this season’s Sept. 11 documentaries became an example of one of the very problems it diagnosed” — i.e., conspiracism — while breathing a sigh of relief that the media was able to “make a difference.”
Jordan Hoffman, Vanity Fair
Unlike most critics, who omitted the fact that 9/11 family members were included in the censored half hour, Hoffman (“Spike Lee’s 9/11 Doc Didn’t Just Include Conspiracy Theories—It Promoted Them”) essentially bemoaned that Lee’s case for controlled demolition was too compelling because it included sympathetic figures like Bob McIlvaine. Praising Lee’s “directorial panache” and remarking how “eloquent” members of AE911Truth were, Hoffman offered little reason why anyone should disagree with Lee’s thesis, other than feebly asserting that “journalists have been debunking 9/11 conspiracies since 2005.” But he found it “terrifying to think how close HBO was to broadcasting the original version on such a wide platform.”
Doreen St. Felix, The New Yorker
St. Felix is The New Yorker’s television critic. Referring to members of AE911Truth as “hoax junkies” (“The Messy Introspection of Spike Lee’s ‘NYC Epicenters’”), she derided Lee for “practically vibrating with curiosity and conviction as he fraternizes with the truthers” and for nearly committing what would have been a “career-defining offense” had he not removed the half-hour section.
Charles Bramesco, The Guardian
Like many others, Bramesco (“Why is Spike Lee’s 9/11 docuseries so controversial?”) reduced the censored half-hour section to “30 minutes featuring conspiracy group Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth.” He asserted, without basis, that it contained “unfounded theorizing.” And he invoked the allegedly debunked catchphrase “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams.” Bramesco is evidently unaware, as are most journalists, that there was molten metal both in the rubble and gushing out of the South Tower — and its presence is why informed people talk about the inability of open-air fires to melt steel. He also exaggerated the backlash against Lee — “The public reacted in a small uproar” — apparently forgetting that the public had not actually seen the censored half hour and that the uproar was mainly from members of the media.
Chris Vognar, Vulture (New York Magazine)
In a short Q&A-style primer on the series, Vognar (“What Is Going On in Spike Lee’s 9/11 HBO Docuseries?”) twice used the term “conspiracy group” to refer to AE911Truth and twice asserted that the controlled demolition theory has been “thoroughly debunked,” citing pop science magazine Popular Mechanics. As if it were totally inconceivable that Lee would want to advocate the view that the towers were brought down by controlled demolition, Vognar asked, “What was [Lee] thinking, and how did the segment make it into the final cut to begin with?”
To his credit, Vognar at least mentioned the statement issued by Bob McIlvaine and Drew DePalma “decrying the series’s ‘censorship.’” However, he incorrectly referred to DePalma as the parent of a 9/11 victim rather than as a son. He also did not make it clear that McIlvaine and DePalma were in the censored half-hour section — and thus were responding to being silenced — nor did he provide a link to their statement.
Jennifer Senior, The Atlantic
Senior is the author of a lengthy article in the September 2021 issue of The Atlantic that intimately profiled the grieving McIlvaine family (“What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind”).
A family friend of the McIlvaines, she treated Bob with dignity. But she ultimately dismissed, on flimsy circumstantial grounds, his interpretation of how his son died. And she dismissed the controlled demolition theory based on superficial and misguided ideas, such as her grossly mistaken claim that fire can melt steel. (She wrote: “Crucial to Bob Sr.’s understanding of September 11 . . . is the work of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, which popularized the idea that jet fuel couldn’t burn at a high enough temperature to melt beams into molten steel. This is, it should go without saying, contrary to all observable fact.”)
Kevin Roose, The New York Times
At this point, articles like Roose’s “How a Viral Video Bent Reality” are so commonplace and formulaic that they need no elaboration. Perhaps realizing it would be a stretch (if not totally false) to say that Loose Change “caused” the newer “conspiracy theories” of the present, Roose conveyed the same idea in a more slippery way: “Its DNA is all over the internet.”
Jose Del Real, The Washington Post
Del Real and the editors at The Washington Post apparently thought a great way to celebrate Veterans Day would be to publish an in-depth story about Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran Korey Rowe (“A veteran helped spread viral 9/11 conspiracy theories. Can he start over?”). Del Real’s constant pivoting between sympathizing with Rowe and admonishing him for the “widely debunked,” “fantastical claims” he “peddled” as the producer of Loose Change is a masterclass in the trendy style of journalism I like to call “compassionate debunking” (though it is neither compassionate nor actual debunking).
Del Real says his “job is about truth and, at the highest level, empathy.” Now is his chance to prove it.