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
April 14, 2004; Page A14
"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." --
* * *
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
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
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
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.