Published on Thursday, May 13, 2004 by the New York Daily News
Wall Street Journal vs. 'Jersey Girls'
by Lloyd Grove
Wall Street Journal pundit Dorothy Rabinowitz - who last month penned an acid assault on the "Jersey Girls," four 9/11 widows who've dared to criticize the Bush administration - received some payback yesterday at the hands of "Jersey Girl" Kristin Breitweiser.
The 33-year-old widow of portfolio manager Ron Breitweiser, who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, gleefully shared with the Daily News Rabinowitz's intemperate and insulting response to Breitweiser's recent op-ed submission to the Journal enumerating "systemic" problems with government efforts to meet the terrorist threat.
In a message meant for Journal deputy editorial page editor Tunku Varadarajan, but was instead accidently E-mailed to Breitweiser on Tuesday, Rabinowitz wrote: "total and complete - not to mention repetitive - nonsense from people given endless media access to repeat the very same stupid charges, suspicions, and the rest...
"but this is just an opportunity for these absurd products of the zeitgeist - women clearly in the grip of the delusion that they know something, have some policy, and wisdom not given to the rest of us to know - to grab the spotlight. again. and repeat, again, the same tripe before a national audience.
"My thoughts - we don't publish nonsensical contentions that offer no news, no insight - solely on the grounds that those who feel attacked get a chance to defend their views. For that we have the letters column."
Shortly after getting that E-mail, Breitweiser received another one: "Rabinowitz, Dorothy would like to recall the message, '9/11 Widows' Response - the 'jersey girls.' "
Yesterday Breitweiser told me: "Frankly, I think it's shocking and atrocious. What kind of operation are they running over at The Wall Street Journal?"
Rabinowitz explained (this time via a deliberately sent E-mail): "The note was intended for internal consumption, and not for the recipient - all the result of hitting the wrong computer key."
Varadarajan, by the way, did Rabinowitz's bidding, advising Breitweiser to submit her essay to the letters editor.
© Copyright 2004 Daily News, L.P.
Wall Street Journal - April 14, 2004
The 9/11 Widows
By DOROTHY RABINOWITZ
"I watched my husband murdered live on TV. . . . At any point in time the casualties could have been lessened, and it seems to me there wasn't even an attempt made." -- Monica Gabrielle
"Three thousand people were murdered on George Bush's watch." -- Kristin Breitweiser
* * *
No one by now needs briefings on the identities of the commentators quoted above. The core group of widows led by the foursome known as "The Jersey Girls," credited with bringing the 9/11 Commission into being, are by now world famous. Their already established status in the media, as a small but heroically determined band of sisters speaking truth to power, reached ever greater heights last week, when National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice made her appearance at a commission session -- an event that would not have taken place, it was understood, without the pressure from the widows. Television interviewers everywhere scrambled to land these guests -- a far cry from the time, last June, when group leader Kristin Breitweiser spoke of her disappointment in the press, complaining to one journalist, "I've been scheduled to go on 'Meet the Press' and 'Hardball' so many times, and I'm always canceled."
No one is canceling her these days. The night of Ms. Rice's appearance, the Jersey Girls appeared on "Hardball," to charge that the national security adviser had failed to do her job, that the government failed to provide a timely military response, that the president had spent time reading to schoolchildren after learning of the attack, that intelligence agencies had failed to connect the dots. Others who had lost family to the terrorists' assault commanded little to no interest from TV interviewers. Debra Burlingame -- lifelong Democrat, sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III, captain of American Airlines flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, did manage to land an interview after Ms. Rice's appearance. When she had finished airing her views critical of the accusatory tone and tactics of the Jersey Girls, her interviewer, ABC congressional reporter Linda Douglass marveled, "This is the first time I've heard this point of view."
That shouldn't have been surprising. The hearing room that day had seen a substantial group of 9/11 families, similarly irate over the Jersey Girls and their accusations -- families that made their feelings evident in their burst of loud applause when Ms. Rice scored a telling zinger under questioning. But these were not the 9/11 voices TV and newspaper editors were interested in. They had chosen to tell a different story -- that of four intrepid New Jersey housewives who had, as one news report had it, brought an administration "to its knees" -- and that was, as far as they were concerned, the only story. * * *
A fair number of the Americans not working in the media may, on the other hand, by now be experiencing Jersey Girls Fatigue -- or taking a hard look at the pronouncements of the widows. Statements like that of Monica Gabrielle, for example (not one of the Jersey Girls, though an activist of similar persuasion), who declared that she could discern no attempt to lessen the casualties on Sept. 11. What can one make of such a description of the day that saw firefighters by the hundreds lose their lives in valiant attempts to bring people to safety from the burning floors of the World Trade Center -- that saw deeds like that of Morgan Stanley's security chief, Rick Rescorla, who escorted 2,700 employees safely out of the South Tower, before he finally lost his own life?
But the best known and most quoted pronouncement of all had come in the form of a question put by the leader of the Jersey Girls. "We simply wanted to know," Ms. Breitweiser said, by way of explaining the group's position, "why our husbands were killed. Why they went to work one day and didn't come back."
The answer, seared into the nation's heart, is that, like some 3,000 others who perished that day, those husbands didn't come home because a cadre of Islamist fanatics wanted to kill as many of the hated American infidels in their tall towers and places of government as they could, and they did so. Clearly, this must be a truth also known to those widows who asked the question -- though in no way one would notice.
Who, listening to them, would not be struck by the fact that all their fury and accusation is aimed not at the killers who snuffed out their husbands' and so many other lives, but at the American president, his administration, and an ever wider assortment of targets including the Air Force, the Port Authority, the City of New York? In the public pronouncements of the Jersey Girls we find, indeed, hardly a jot of accusatory rage at the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. We have, on the other hand, more than a few declarations like that of Ms. Breitweiser, announcing that "President Bush and his workers . . . were the individuals that failed my husband and the 3,000 people that day."
The venerable status accorded this group of widows comes as no surprise given our times, an age quick to confer both celebrity and authority on those who have suffered. As the experience of the Jersey Girls shows, that authority isn't necessarily limited to matters moral or spiritual. All that the widows have had to say -- including wisdom mind-numbingly obvious, or obviously false and irrelevant -- on the failures of this or that government agency, on derelictions of duty they charged to the president, the vice president, the national security adviser, Norad and the rest, has been received by most of the media and members of Congress with utmost wonder and admiration. They had become prosecutors and investigators, unearthing clues and connections related to 9/11, with, we're regularly informed, unrivalled dedication and skill.
The day of Ms. Rice's appearance before the commission, a radiant Gail Sheehy, author of "Hillary's Choice," beamed gratitude as she congratulated the host of "Hardball" for bringing the women on as guests. She had been following the New Jersey moms for two years, Ms. Sheehy said, and they were always leaks ahead -- of everyone. She wanted to note, too, "how the moms kept making that point that it was her [Ms. Rice's] job" to inform the president. Another indicator of their expertise.
Ms. Sheehy was hardly alone in her faith in the widows and their special skills. Their every shred of opinion about the hearings last week was actively solicited -- as will be true, no doubt, this week. Asked what question she would put to Ms. Rice, if she could, one Jersey Girl answered, after some thought, that it would be, What did she know and when did she know it? The answer wasn't the first to suggest that the nation now confronted a new investigation of government malfeasance, and coverups on the order of Watergate, and that we'd been brought to this cleansing by the work of four New Jersey widows. One NBC journalist ended his summation of Ms. Rice's testimony with an urgent coda: The issue of real significance that day, he explained, would be how the families of the 9/11 victims reacted to her testimony. There would have been no doubt, in the mind of anyone listening, which families he meant.
Really? How can that be? -- is the only reasonable response to that claim, which would not have been made in a saner time. How could it be that the most important issue emerging from an inquiry into undeniable intelligence failures, at a time of utmost national peril, was the way the victims' families reacted to the hearings?
Little wonder, given all this, that the 9/11 Four blossomed, under a warm media sun and the attention of legislators, into activists increasingly confident of their authority -- that, with every passing month, their list of government agencies and agents guilty of dereliction of duty grew apace. So did their assurance that it had been given to them, as victims, to determine the proper standards of taste and respectfulness to be applied in everything related to Sept. 11, including, it turned out, the images of the destroyed World Trade Center in George Bush's first campaign ad, which elicited, from some of them, bitter charges of political exploitation.
Out of their loss and tragedy the widows had forged new lives as investigators of 9/11, analysts of what might have been had every agency of government done as it should. No one would begrudge them this solace.
Nor can anyone miss, by now, the darker side of this spectacle of the widows, awash in their sense of victims' entitlement, as they press ahead with ever more strident claims about the way the government failed them. Or how profoundly different all this is from the way in which citizens in other times and places reacted to national tragedy.
From August 1940 to May 1941, the Luftwaffe's nightly terror bombings killed 43,000 British men, women and children. That was only phase one. Phase two, involving the V-1 flying bombs and, later, rockets, killed an additional 6,180. The British defense, was, to the say the least, ineffectual, particularly in the early stages of the war -- the antiaircraft guns were few, the fire control system inadequate, as was the radar system. Still, it would have been impossible, then as now, to imagine victims of those nightly assaults rising up to declare war on their government, charging its leaders, say, with failure to develop effective radar -- the British government had, after all, had plenty of warning that war was coming. It occurred to no one, including families who had lost husbands, wives and children, to claim that tens of thousands had been murdered on Winston Churchill's watch. They understood that their war was with the enemies bombing them.
Nor, to take an example closer to our time, did the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing give rise to a campaign of accusation (notwithstanding a conspiracy theory or two) against the government for its failure to prevent the attack.
* * *
Yesterday's session of the 9/11 Commission brought an appearance by Attorney General John Ashcroft -- a reminder, among other things, of various intriguing questions posed by some of Ms. Breitweiser's analyses (delivered in her testimony before the 2002 congressional committee) of the ways the Sept. 11 attack might have been foiled. If the Federal Aviation Administration had properly alerted passengers to the dangers they faced, she asked, how many victims might have thought twice before boarding an aircraft? And "how many victims would have taken notice of these Middle Eastern men while they were boarding their plane? Could these men have been stopped?"
A good question. One can only imagine how a broadcast of the warning, "Watch out for Middle Eastern men in line near you, as you board your flight," would have gone down in those quarters of the culture daily worried to death about the alleged threat to civil rights posed by profiling and similar steps designed to weed out terrorists. Consider, a veteran political aide mordantly asks, what the response would have been if John Ashcroft had issued a statement calling for such a precaution, prior to Sept. 11.
This week, as last, there will be no lack of air time for the Jersey Four, or journalists ravenous for their views. CBS's "The Early Show" yesterday brought a report from Monica Gabrielle, attesting that her husband might have escaped from the South Tower if the facts about the Aug. 6 "PDB" memo had been shared with the public. The saga of the widows can be expected to run on along entirely familiar lines. The only question of interest that remains is how Americans view the Jersey Four and company, and how long before they turn them off.