When Rudy Giuliani — who went from middling near-retirement pol to Republican Party superstar following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — strode to his party’s convention stage Wednesday night, viewers expected a reprise of his famous rhetorical displays once described as “a noun, a verb and 9/11.”
It was rather a surprise, then, that the former New York mayor only once mentioned the fateful day in his bitter tirade against all things Democratic. Few realized at the time, though, that Republicans already had planned a full-on technicolor extravaganza as “tribute” to the day that briefly made their president among the most popular in history. (With George W. Bush’s approval ratings now cemented among the lowest in history, perhaps the GOP thought a good dose of terror-porn was just what was needed to rouse their troops.)
The three-minute video, which featured graphic, disturbing images of a plane flying into the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers’ collapse, attempts to conflate all of America’s struggles in the Middle East into a singular crusade against a uniform enemy.
“The first attack occurred in Iran,” the narrator says over photos of hostages held there in 1979. According to the video, it was the same enemy who bombed US embassies, the USS Cole and the Twin Towers and Pentagon.
Republicans are fond of speaking of “Islamic terrorism” as a unified threat, and right-wing media have attempted to conflate links between Osama bin Laden, a Sunni Muslim, and the Shiite-controlled Iranian regime. As of last year, Iranian citizens overwhelmingly rejected bin Laden.
Perhaps we should cut them some slack, though. The party’s nominee has some trouble keeping the differences between Sunnis and Shiites straight.
The video was the most deliberate and graphic use of images from 9/11 in a political context. Along with the montage of the collapsing towers — which is already seared into the consciousness of anyone who saw it happen on that day — is followed by video of a burning Pentagon, of police and firefighters combing through wreckage and of mourning families and missing persons posters.
Notably absent from the video is President Bush, who aside from addressing the convention via satellite Tuesday was largely unmentioned during the proceedings. The video did feature an image of Giuliani and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at Ground Zero.
Television anchors and commentators were shocked by the brazen use of the attacks as political argument.
“The September 11 precedent was one of the few surviving campaign-season taboos,” wrote the Boston Globe‘s Sasha Issenberg in a mock obituary of the taboo’s death. “It is survived by direct comparisons of one’s opponents to Hitler.”
MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann was even more incensed, delivering an impromptu special comment and apology immediately after the video aired.
“I’m sorry, it’s necessary to say this and I wanted to separate myself from the others on the air about this. If at this late date, any television network had of its own accord showed that much videotape, and that much graphic videotape of 9/11, and I speak as somebody who lost a few friends there, it, we, would be rightly eviscerated at all quarters, perhaps by the Republican Party itself, for exploiting the memories of the dead and perhaps even for trying to evoke that pain again. If you reacted to that videotape the way I did, I apologize. It is a subject of great pain for many of us still and was probably not appropriate to be shown.”
While Olbermann may have a point about the GOP’s exploitation of 9/11 victims, it should be noted that his own network just last year re-aired it’s entire day of coverage from Sept. 11, 2001.
CNN’s anchors noted the potential controversy of airing such a graphic video. Anchor Campbell Brown asked if “fear” was “the message that Republicans wanted to convey” just before their nominee’s speech. The GOP strategist featured as a guest suggested maybe just that video wasn’t enough.
“You know, I think a lot of Republicans here think that video should run every day, because we — somewhere out there, there may be a terrorist with a nuclear weapon thinking about going into an American city,” Alex Castellanos told the CNN panel. “This is not just politics. Politics is a means to an end. It’s how we govern ourselves.”
This video is from C-SPAN, broadcast September 4, 2008.
Keith Olbermann apologized for airing the Republican’s video “tribute” to 9/11.
This video is from MSNBC, broadcast September 4, 2008.