The Corner

Hearing Atmosphere

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

different.

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