A loyal reader has pointed me toward this NYT letter, published Oct. 29, 2001, which I regard as conclusive:
To the Editor:
“The Manhattan Skyline’s ‘Phantom Limb’ ” (front page, Oct. 24) quoted the film producer Michael Mailer as saying that it was “execrable” to remove footage of the twin towers from a movie and that “to ignore the towers is to pretend they were never there.” That was not my intention or that of my collaborators on “Zoolander.”
I envy Mr. Mailer, who is now, six weeks after the tragedy, deciding on his course of action; we had to make an immediate decision on Sept. 12.
The appropriateness of releasing a comedy at all at that time was under serious discussion. In deciding to go ahead, I had to make an immediate judgment about the skyline shots, which were indispensable to the story. I decided to edit out one shot, and to obscure the towers in another.
I felt that people who chose to see the movie as escapist entertainment were not looking for another reminder of tragedy.
In hindsight, it turns out that to some the omission of the towers was disconcerting. I make no claim that mine was the right decision; I only assert that I was trying to do the right thing, in a circumstance for which there was no precedent.