Hearing Atmosphere

by Andrew C. McCarthy

It is once again time to broach the delicate subject of whether it
is really helpful for the 9/11 Commission to have public hearings at
all. The Giuliani testimony was interrupted twice by cat-calling — no
doubt heartfelt but also rude and distorting — from victims’ families.
(“Three thousand people murdered is not leadership” was the harangue at
Rudy — whose exemplary leadership cannot objectively be disputed — as
he left the auditorium.)

The public hearings are being broadcast to the entire nation, but
they do not take place in front of an audience representative of the
nation. Instead, they take place largely in front of a group of loved
ones of those who were murdered. Obviously, if it were one of our
husbands, wives, children, parents, etc., who were killed on 9/11,
chances are we would never be satisfied with the performance of the
involved public officials, no matter how well and heroic their
performance was — and no matter that it was in many instances performed
at great risk to their own lives. But the hearings are a television
event, and the crowd is as much a part of it as the witnesses and the
commissioners — who would not be human if their performances at the
hearings were not affected by what they have to know will be the
reaction in the room to the things they say. (And as we know, some of
the Commissioners and witnesses have at times succumbed to the
temptation to pander.)

It can’t seriously be argued that the real important work of the
Commission is taking place in the public hearing. The truly important
work is being done by the Commission staff in hours upon hours of
private interviews — undergone not only by all the people who testify
publicly, but the many, many more witnesses who have been interviewed
and who have provided tangible documents and other evidence. What goes
on in public — which is how the country forms its general impression of
the Commission — is really not representative of the Commission’s total
product. Analogously, the reactions of the audience at those public
hearings are really not representative of how the general, objective,
interested public would take the same information. It is as if the
Super Bowl were being played in front a crowd of the players’ families
instead of regular football fans — the game would look and feel much

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