Reviewed by Harry Reynolds
The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11
By Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins HarperCollins New York, N.Y. 390 pages $25.95
Rudolph Giuliani was sworn mayor in 1994 within a minute’s walk of the World Trade Center bombed in 1993. Reviewing Giuliani’s mayoralty in 2000, Wayne Barrett, one of America’s great investigative journalists, saw Giuliani as a cruel, unstable, destructive hypocrite, a man judged by the press to be barely human and inwardly empty. Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani (2000)
In September, 2001, the arc of Giuliani’s political life was in the descendant; his second marriage had crashed publicly and his senatorial plans had been aborted by prostate cancer. With an eye on the approaching end of his mayoralty, he had begun planning a consulting business, a natural refuge for unskilled, former office holders.
On September 11th, Giuliani was at breakfast in a midtown hotel when two planes that had just flown overhead made him speed downtown to a Hell where he would see men and women, not long from their breakfasts, holding hands and jumping to their deaths from the flames of the110-story towers of the World Trade Center. There 2,150 would be killed in the Twin Towers alone. Three hundred forty-three firemen would die. We, transfixed by our television screens, stunned by what it all portended, would be calmed by Giuliani’s words, credit for which, few know and let history note, belongs to Michael Cohen, a psychologist expert in handling crisis communications who was summoned the night of 9/11 and early the next morning carefully instructed Giuliani on what to say and not to say to the public, after which Giuliani appeared before the media and spoke to us.
And so it was that Giuliani, for a brief moment in our extremity, became us, and we, him. Thus out of 9/11 arose the myth of Giuliani, a myth exhaustively challenged in Grand Illusion, by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, who by daunting proof show that the myth of Giuliani arose out of a Hell in the creation of which he himself had had a hand, a myth from which he now profits, for he travels the nation, self-declared expert on terrorism, redemptor of New York City, receiving tens of millions in his expanding consulting business, eagerly seeking the Presidency with a genuinely commercial smile. If the facts in Grand Illusion are true, a beguiled public may see that their mythical Giuliani is a quick change artist given to the practice of an economy of truth.
Though Giuliani claims to have been obsessed with terrorism almost eight years prior to 9/11, and to have held many meetings concerning it, we know of no one with whom he shared his obsession and no one who recalls having met with him about it, though it was their business to do so. Giuliani had acted during those years as if the 1993 bombing had never happened. As John Miller, an acute City Hall observer of Giuliani, said of Giuliani’s claims, “Hello, history. Give me rewrite.”
When Giuliani claims that the police and fire departments had been prepared prior to 9/11 to act in coordination in a terror attack, we wonder first over his memory, and then over his integrity, for the operational chiefs of those departments do not recall it, to say nothing of the 9/11 Commission’s finding that as of 9/11 those departments “were not prepared to comprehensively coordinate their efforts in responding to a major incident.” As Giuliani must recall, the city did not even have a formalized Incident Command System. Bizarre as it sounds, the city on his watch actually suffered from mutually antagonistic fire and police departments, an ongoing scandal in itself . If the police and fire departments had had a joint post, the fire chiefs would have received the police helicopter warnings of the imminent collapse of the South Tower and many lives would have been saved in those nine minutes.
On 9/11, there was no central command position to control our reaction to the attack, for, mysteriously, Giuliani, against all advice and in a highly questionable exercise of judgment, had insisted that the Office of Emergency Management be located within walking distance of City Hall in the predictably targeted 47-story 7World Trade Center, 23 floors over a Con Ed substation and its 106,000 gallon fuel tank, the world’s first bunker in the sky that was instantly evacuated on 9/11 and that collapsed, leaving the city without any command center and, as the 9/11 Commission noted, without any “backup site”. Picture the mayor stumbling through a choking, blinding chaos looking for his police commissioner, the learned Bernard Kerick, who in the police department had never been higher than a third grade detective, thereafter chauffeur and bodyguard to Giuliani, later to be unforgettably recommended by Giuliani to President Bush as the head of Homeland Security and overseer of its billions of dollars, such is the nature of chance and opportunity in our wonderful democracy. Giuliani looked too, for his politically selected fire commissioner, Tom Von Essen, once head of the firefighters union who had never achieved any rank above that of a uniformed fireman but had thoughtfully delivered firefighters as political campaign workers for Giulianni in 1993. As fire commissioner, Von Essen failed to create a substantial plan for the handling of high-rise fires. These intellectual stars wound up in Giuliani’s post-9/11 consulting business.
As for the hundreds of our dead firemen, they and their wives and children must haunt Giuliani, for he knew that they were equipped by his administration with notoriously ineffective”walkie-talkies” condemned as dangerous to firemen and public as early as 1990. They caused the deaths of those firemen and many others in the towers. The departmental brass did not know that civilians below the fires were told to stay in place after the chiefs had ordered full evacuations. One cannot but think that there was a glacial silence when Giuliani before the 9/11 Commission said that the command and control breakdown on 9/11 “was not a major problem”, a breakdown in which fire chiefs relied on runners for messages. He even suggested before the Commission that it was “unpatriotic” to discuss mistakes. This from the mayor whose heroic firemen were sent to their deaths to extinguish fires that their superiors knew were uncontrollable. This mayor in his uniquely hidden eight-year obsession with terrorism never had room for a plan for handling mega fires in one of the largest citys on earth, no plan for aircraft striking the towers, no holding of even one multi-agency coordinated drill for a mega high attack, no systematic approach for the rescue of the 200 people trapped in elevators where they died. This the mayor who, as his myth widened, thoughtfully wrote a book entitled “Leadership”, the leader who failed to inform workers at Ground Zero, and the public, of the hazardous toxicity of the air proved by the city’s own test results.
Grand Illusion marks the point at which Giuliani’s political life should have been over, when the piano player stops, the lights are turned out, and the fat lady sings.
However, since this review was written in 2007, one cannot turn on a television news program without seeing the grining Rudy Giuliani dancing with the fat lady on one arm, and his client, the morally deranged President-elect Trump, on the other. Still, as every monk knows, goodhearted fat ladies go to heaven but coldhearted conartists linger in the Hell of despair.