CBS stations fearful of airing 9/11 documentary

Several CBS affiliate stations delayed or replaced a powerful documentary on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, even though it has been aired before. They were fearful of FCC fines for perceived indecency.

“This is example No. 1,” said Martin Franks, executive vice president of CBS, of the decision by two dozen CBS affiliates to replace or delay “9/11” — which has already aired twice without controversy — over concerns about some of the language used by the firefighters.

“We don't think it's appropriate to sanitize the reality of the hell of Sept. 11th,” Franks told the Associated Press. “It shows the incredible stress that these heroes were under. To sanitize it in some way robs it of the horror they faced.”

The documentary, which was set to run on CBS between 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT last Sunday, contains profanity used in the story of a rookie fireman who found himself at the World Trade Center on the Sept. 11.

The reluctance of CBS stations to run the program was a part of the testimony presented by Carter G. Phillips, a lawyer for Fox, in a federal court proceeding on FCC indecency rules.

Contending that the FCC was chilling free speech rights, Phillips noted the stations’ reluctance to show the court how timid broadcast companies had become since the FCC toughened its position toward profanities after the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show on CBS, in which Janet Jackson's breast was flashed.

It was an easy decision not to edit the language in the documentary, especially since it has won a George Foster Peabody Award, among others, Franks said.

“It was a much more difficult decision five years ago when the emotions were much more raw and fresh,” Franks told the AP. He said it seemed “dishonest somehow” for the network to cover up the real language five years later because of the current regulatory environment.