With the first reports of trouble at the World Trade Center, Americans began a process of remembering, recovering and trying to understand what can never be fully understood.
In that spirit, many TV networks will mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11 with a wide range of programming that looks back at that terrible day and the aftermath till now.
But in a companion effort, Ted Koppel will be resolutely looking ahead.
In his inaugural project for Discovery Network, the former ABC Newsman will present a two-part program that explores the vexing, vital issue of national security in the future.
Airing Sunday, Sept. 10, at 8 p.m. EDT, it begins with a 90-minute documentary, "The Price of Security," in which Koppel interviews current and former administration members as well as military and security experts to examine challenges still facing the government in its war on terrorism.
Then Koppel will host a live 90-minute town meeting with 9/11 family members, civil libertarians, Bush administration officials and members of Congress.
How to balance national security with the freedoms on which the nation was founded?
One side of the largely sidetracked debate holds that America would be altered forever by another 9/11-scale attack, and that no measures are too drastic to prevent a terrorist's use against the U.S. of a weapon of mass destruction. This fear has largely driven post-9/11 policy — "the conviction of the president and his top aides that they are up against this existential threat, and that they have to avoid it at all costs," Koppel told The Associated Press recently.
On the other side, he says, are those who argue "that America is great because it hews to a set of standards and laws that theoretically, at least, apply equally to everyone. And that once you start to play around with that system, you undermine the very thing that makes us what we are."
It could be a case of destroying America in order to save it, that argument might hold — "and in the long run," Koppel adds, "more damaging to America than even another terrorist attack."
The debate framed by Koppel's program is one the nation "must have before the next terrorist attack happens," he warns. "After it happens, it'll be too late. There won't be room in the conversation to have discussions about privacy and constitutional freedoms."
Koppel's forward-looking program is a worthy companion to many other hours of 9/11-themed coverage (including numerous documentaries) across the networks — most of it dealing with the past and present. Here's a sample:
- "Inside the Twin Towers" (Sun., Sept. 3 at 9 p.m.; Discovery) uses interviews, archival footage, computer-generated imagery and dramatic reactions to retrace the 102 minutes from 8:46 a.m., when Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center's north tower, until its collapse.
- "NOVA: Building on Ground Zero" (Tue., Sept. 5 at 8 p.m.; PBS) probes the conclusions of the government's engineering investigation into the towers' collapse.
- "Metal of Honor" (Tue., Sept. 5 at 9 p.m.; Spike TV) chronicles the New York City ironworkers who risked their lives at Ground Zero to burn through steel to clear paths for emergency personnel while searching for survivors.
- "Five Years Later — How Safe Are We?" (Wed., Sept. 6 at 10 p.m.; CBS) marks the first prime-time special by CBS News anchor Katie Couric, who is scheduled to interview President Bush.
- "Trapped in the Towers: The Elevators of 9/11" (Sat., Sept. 9 at 8 p.m.; A&E) hears from survivors who recount the horrors of being in the burning towers, with their testimony supplemented by film footage, re-enactments and graphics.
- "Brothers Lost: Stories of 9/11" (Mon., Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.; Cinemax) tells of 31 men who lost siblings in the World Trade Center attacks.
- "America Rebuilds II: Return to Ground Zero" (Mon., Sept. 11, 9 p.m.; PBS) picks up where Part I left off (at the May 2002 ceremony marking the end of the site recovery process), covering the uncertain efforts to begin new construction.
- "9/11: The Day that Changed America" (Mon., Sept. 11 at 10 p.m.; MSNBC) finds Chris Matthews asking a number of prominent Americans — including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. Hillary Clinton and actor Samuel L. Jackson — to recall the moment when they heard the dreadful news.
- "Dust to Dust: The Health Effects of 9/11" (Mon, Sept. 11 at 10 p.m.; Sundance) follows some of the first-responders of 9/11 who now are seriously ill and fighting for compensation.
- And in a very different sort of project, ABC presents "The Path to 9/11," a sorrowful but enlightening dramatization based on the 9/11 Commission Report. Airing Sept. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m., this five-hour miniseries turns back the clock to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, then moves forward through the many missed opportunities to prevent the 9/11 terrorism with which the film concludes.