A subpoena can work like truth serum. Drag waffling officials and dissembling politicians before a serious investigatory body and suddenly secrets start to spill and disclosures mount. Dots are connected. Confessions emerge, and sometimes, indictments follow.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were criminal acts, but with political causes and tragic consequences. Two years later, there is much that we don't know about all that happened on September 11th or its aftermath. That's why we now have a National Commission investigating the attacks.
Lest we forget, the commission was only set up because of pressure from 9/11 victim families, and over the stonewalling objections of the current administration. They didn't want an independent investigation at all, and when one was forced on them, this same administration ironically chose Henry Kissinger to head it.
The creation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 commission) was announced just before Thanksgiving a year ago. President Bush appeared to welcome it saying that the "investigation should carefully examine all the evidence and follow all the facts, wherever they lead (sic)..... It's our most solemn duty."
A year later, what has happened with the implementation of that "solemn duty?"
Conspiracy theories about these events flourish because independently verified information has yet to see the light of day. More importantly no one has been held accountable for any lapses or misjudgments that left our country undefended.
We live in a county where crime scene investigation TV shows are all the rage. Yet, in one of the most serious crimes in this century, there has been no official rush to get all the facts.
If a person was shot in front of the World Trade Center, there would be more of an urgent inquiry into that killing than was accorded the murder of thousands of people in broad daylight. There would be a trial, witnesses giving sworn testimony, evidence presented in public for anyone interested to review and discern.
None of this has yet to happen with regard to 9/11. Is it any wonder that skepticism and suspicion flourish?
Many of us remember spending the summer of 1973 glued to the television, watching Sam Erwin's Watergate hearings. It was public, unrehearsed and very effective. It spotlighted a conspiracy orchestrated by the Oval Office. It helped the public see what was going on in the shadows. Will we ever see such a robust, no-holds-barred inquiry into 9/11?
We encourage the Kean Commission to set an even higher standard. But the latest compromise deal it struck with the White House to limit its own access to documents undercuts its stated mission of a "full and unfettered" investigation.
Commissioner Max Cleland, the former Senator from Georgia said, "If this decision stands, I, as a member of the commission, cannot look any American in the eye, especially family members of victims, and say the commission had full access. This investigation is now compromised." This recent compromise has also been denounced by many family members of 9/11 victims.
The media has also compromised its role as an independent watchdog. Until recently, there has been minimal media coverage of the 9/11 commission. This apparent media indifference leads us to ask the media and our fellow Americans the following question: Which event has greater historical importance, a paranoid Nixon White House attempting to insure political victory, or the death of nearly 3000 people, unparalleled change in U.S. foreign policy, and a war on terror likely to change American life for generations? It leads us to wonder about why there is so much ho-hum follow-up.
What happened to a media that went into wall-to-wall patriotically-correct flag-waving mode after 9/11? Virtually all mainstream outlets have downplayed the issue, across the spectrum from right to left. We are not sure why.
Neither is Eric Alterman of the Nation who did some analysis of the numbers of stories airing on the Fox News Channel, which has built its reputation by stridently covering 9/11 and terrorism.
He concludes: "Fox has treated viewers to a virtual news blackout on commission-related news. And if this has been an accident, it has to be one of the most amazing news-gathering coincidences in cable history." His research on program content led him to conclude that the coverage overall was "closer to zero"
Alterman did credit the AP, the Dallas Morning News and the Newark Star-Ledger for breaking through the silence that surrounds the commission's work. But few television networks are picking up their lead or sending investigative reporters out to critically examine the administration's own case for an al Qaeda conspiracy.
The networks seem too busy refuting the Kennedy Assassination critics to look into the likelihood of White House incompetence and even complicity in the events of 9/11. We owe the victims the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Isn't it time for our media to wake up and do its job if the government won't do the same?
Colleen Kelly lost her brother Bill Kelly Jr. at the World Trade Center. She is a founder of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Danny Schechter, editor of Mediachannel.org, is making a film about the unanswered questions of 9/11. He is the author of "Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception: How the Media failed to cover the war on Iraq." (Prometheus Books, 2003)