WTC lease holder Larry Silverstein’s reference to ‘pulling’ Building 7 on a PBS documentary in 2002 remains in the spotlight in 2008.
by Jeremy Baker
Mis-uttered words, ill-chosen and fleeting, no matter where they appear, make lousy courtroom evidence. When Larry Silverstein first recounted a joint decision he is alleged to have made with “the [FDNY] department commander” to ‘pull’ World Trade Center Building 7 on 9/11—citing safety concerns and the “inevitability” of its forthcoming collapse—those who felt that there was always something fishy about the attacks took notice.
Recently, Silverstein did it again commenting in a speech given earlier this year that the North Tower’s antenna caused the enormous gash on the south face of WTC 7. This perfectly straight, narrow hollowed out shaft runs from the building’s lower floors all the way up to its roofline. NIST scientists describe the gash in their “current working collapse hypothesis for WTC 7” but don’t include a single word about the North Tower’s antenna.
This patently absurd claim is also easily refuted by video evidence that shows the antenna falling off in the exact opposite direction from Building 7. And since this claim is so easily refuted, it’s hard to interpret it as anything but obfuscation; yet another outrageous and, some would say, desperate attempt on Silverstein’s part to cover up something that might cause him some inconvenience.
But it’s the word ‘pull’ and its disorienting use by Silverstein six years ago that we’re reminiscing about here. Anyone who’s seen the short video segment snipped from the 2002 PBS documentary America Rebuilds finds it hard to interpret Silverstein’s comments any other way; he and the FDNY made a decision, pushed a button and brought the building down. They had to. It was going to collapse anyway, possibly onto neighboring structures. It was also surrounded by firefighters and rescue workers.
When this attempt by Silverstein to explain the bizarre collapse of his building created more suspicion that it dispelled, he later claimed that he used the word ‘pull’ as a synonym for evacuation which, for a number of reasons, has only added to the confusion. If this convoluted scheme worked to Silverstein’s advantage, it’s hard to see how. Six years later, the story has appeared in books, articles and documentaries by the score. It’s also become a web sensation. Evidence that Silverstein’s little scheme actually backfired badly is everywhere.
I’ve always felt an affinity towards this story, but not just because it’s such a hoot to watch these guys trip over themselves after perpetrating a dirty trick like 9/11. It’s for an entirely different reason. The story began in my living room.
So much has been said over the years about this word and its meaning (as it relates to the building demolition trade) that we do well to take a look back and see exactly how Ill-chosen and mis-uttered these words may actually have been. Just because we’ve had a hard time making sense of them, doesn’t necessarily mean they were not very carefully chosen. Just because they may never appear as evidence in a trial doesn’t mean that they might not do quite well in other more meta-physical courtrooms (i.e. the court of public opinion).
Much of what theorists claim connects the word ‘pull’ to the act of demolition has to do with the subtleties of its use in the two sentences that Silverstein growled that day six years ago. Inflection, cadence, even body language have all been analyzed and evaluated. Since there is no dictionary for demolition euphemisms and slang, it’s been difficult to formally define the term. But then again, a dictionary may not be necessary. All we need do is take a quick look back.
After I first heard Silverstein say what he said, I videotaped America Rebuilds, the documentary in which Silverstein’s comments appeared, and carefully reviewed every scene with purpose. Those who are unfamiliar with the details of this story mustn’t forget that Silverstein wasn’t the only one who used the word ‘pull’ in the program. About three quarters of the way through, a clean up worker on a cell phone says to a caller “Oh, we’re gettin’ ready to pull Buildin’ 6” just before we see the burnt out carcass of the nine story building come crashing to the ground.
On its face, the comment seems fairly self-explanatory. Let’s go over this short scene in detail. Here’s a transcript:
Narrator Kevin Spacey: “By mid-December, the Department of Design and Construction had leveled World Trade Center Buildings Four and Five.” Cell phone rings; unidentified demolition worker answers: “Hello? Oh, we’re gettin’ ready to pull Buildin’ 6.” Luis Mendes, Dept of Design and Construction: “We were worried about the Building 6 [sic] coming down and then damaging the slurry wall so we wanted that particular building to fall within a certain area.” Different DDC worker: “There’s a certain excitement in the air about bringing the last structure down at the World Trade Center.” Video shows WTC 6 being demolished.
Spacey’s lead in, “By mid-December, the Department of Design and Construction had leveled World Trade Center Buildings Four and Five,” frames the scene very clearly. The subject of the segment is the demolition of the remaining low rise buildings. WTC’s 4 and 5 are specifically mentioned. The comment by the demo worker, “…we’re gettin’ ready to pull Buildin’ 6” adds WTC 6 to the clearly defined thought stream. When DDC man Luis Mendes follows up with “We had to be very careful how we demolished Building 6...”, the word ‘pull,’ as it’s used in this segment, is completely surrounded by the subject of demolition; not even a slight implication that ‘pull’ might mean evacuation is present anywhere in the scene.
The comment preceding the video of the demolition of WTC 6’s carcass— “There’s a certain excitement in the air about bringing the last structure down at the World Trade Center”—ends the scene with not just demolition related commentary but with an actual video clip of WTC 6 being demolished.
Although some debunkers have claimed that there is no proof that demolition workers use the word ‘pull’ as a synonym for demolition, it’s hard not to take this scene (the second scene in the documentary to associate the word ‘pull’ with the act of demolition) as a clear statement to the contrary.
So, if we apply the same formula to the segment featuring Larry Silverstein, what do we come up with? Here is a transcript of this short scene appearing earlier in America Rebuilds:
Kevin Spacey: “Pelted by debris when the North Tower collapsed, [WTC] Seven burned until late afternoon allowing occupants to evacuate to safety.” Larry Silverstein: “I remember getting a call from the fire department commander telling me they were not sure they were going to be able to contain the fire. And I said, 'you know, we've had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is, is ‘pull’ it, and they made that decision to ‘pull,’ uh, and we watched the building collapse.”
Immediately we see that, unlike the segment mentioned above, this scene is not framed in reference to demolition. In fact, Spacey’s comment “…Seven burned until late afternoon allowing occupants to evacuate to safety” actually does refer to evacuation, and does so immediately prior to Silverstein’s statement. Since evacuation is the alternate definition of the word ‘pull’ used by Silverstein to explain his comments, Spacey’s reference to it certainly must be noted.
But briefly mentioning evacuation is hardly a frame, and it cannot be said that Spacey’s brief reference necessarily sets the agenda for the segment. And how a scene may or may not be framed at all is only one part of the equation; the words themselves are the main attraction—and it’s the words that Larry Silverstein said, regardless of the context, that have drawn the world’s attention.
The Filmmaker’s Craft
I spoke with one of the producers of America Rebuilds on the phone for about twenty minutes in 2004. He predictably supported the claim that Silverstein used the word ‘pull’ to mean evacuation and our brief discussion yielded few helpful insights.
He did, however, confirm what should be obvious; that Silverstein’s comments were culled from a much longer, more in depth interview, standard practice for video documentaries. So, if this was indeed the case, this is my question: Of all the subjects covered in Silverstein’s interview by the producers of America Rebuilds, why would quality, educated documentary filmmakers use only these two vague and ambiguous sentences in their final cut? Why would they choose to include commentary that contains esoteric industry slang that no lay person has a hope of defining for themselves? Of all the many interesting subjects that Silverstein could have shed light on as leaseholder of the entire WTC complex on the darkest day in American history, the one brief reference that the producers included in the 90 minute documentary was one innocuous and utterly bland comment about a well known decision made by whomever that WTC 7 was evacuated before its collapse on 9/11?
Found in Translation
When it comes to translating this two line quote, it’s what Silverstein doesn’t say that has always been more interesting than what he does say. Fully aware that his interview would be included in a television documentary viewed by millions of people who likely don’t have a clue what the word ‘pull’ might mean in this context, Silverstein would presumably want to adjust. But instead he presents us with a riddle. Instead of saying something to the effect of “maybe the smartest thing to do is, is ‘pull’ it, you know, pull the rescue workers and firefighters out of the area…”, he confuses us with a code word for what? We’re not told.
Nor do the producers make sure that Kevin Spacey clarifies the issue in his comments by saying something like “Seven burned until late afternoon allowing the authorities to ‘pull’ out occupants to a safe perimeter.”
The fact that Silverstein and the producers both neglect to define the vague meaning of the word ‘pull’ is strange enough, but Silverstein uses the word twice and still no clarity is offered.
It’s as though the word itself has become the focus of the segment. It’s like ‘pull’ is the tag, the encryption that the rest of Silverstein’s comments and the scene itself orbit around. And, as such, it seems incumbent upon the producers to make sure to define the term for public consumption. Instead, six years later, we’re still scratching our heads about a word that has taken on iconic status among those who doubt the official story of 9/11.
“…that decision to ‘pull’…”
But what has attracted interest to this issue more than anything has undoubtedly been the simple matters of cadence, composition and inflection; subjective points to be sure but no less intriguing for being so.
It’s always been that last part, when Silverstein says “…and they made that decision to ‘pull,’ uh, and we watched the building collapse” that has drawn people in, and it’s done so for good reason.
Without meaning to get too Clintonian about it, there just simply isn’t enough room between “…and they made that decision to ‘pull’…” and “…and we watched the building collapse.” If we attach the meaning of demolition to the word ‘pull’, it sounds all too clear and unambiguous. If you push the button on an explosive system in a building, the result is pretty much immediate, and that’s how the statement reads; “we” made a decision and “they” pulled the building.
It’s when ‘pull’ is defined as evacuation that everything goes pear shaped. The evacuation of a building the size of WTC 7 and its immediate vicinity would take a long time, and Silverstein’s short closer just doesn’t sound right when applied. Again, it’s not what Silverstein says, it’s what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say something like “…and they made that decision to ‘pull’, you know, pull out personnel from the building. And it was good that they did because it wasn’t long before the building collapsed.” What he says instead is something quite different in rhythm, meaning and construction.
Of course, ending the segment with these words just as a video of WTC 7 falling in a perfect vertical implosion is played in the background doesn’t help either. This fateful juxtaposition of video and commentary is surely the spark that ignited this fire. And, intentionally or not, this short video clip does end the scene with the suggestion of controlled demolition and associates it closely with the comments that preceded it; comments that use the curious verb ‘pull’ like few people have heard it used before.
Isn’t this a fairly basic discipline for any writer or filmmaker, especially ones that produce documentaries on extremely serious subjects; reducing to a minimum confusing, ambiguous references? Getting one’s facts straight and presenting them responsibly? Of all the comments Silverstein made in his lengthy interview, these were the ones they just happened to present in a particularly ambiguous way?
If these were extemporaneous comments made on live TV, we could forgive such a lapse, but this is big budget, documentary-style, information based filmmaking. Production and post-production are lengthy processes that leave plenty of time for careful oversight. This particular program is about the attacks of 9/11, one of the gravest, most disturbing spectacles in human history. One would think that a commensurate reverence for the issue would heighten even more the researcher’s commitment to due diligence.
The most common question asked by the curious after this story exploded across the internet in the fall of 2003 was: Why would Silverstein admit to demolishing his own building on TV? Good question. Slip of the tongue? Unlikely. If you were a successful, media savvy Manhattan real estate tycoon with years of practice schmoozing with the press, would you commit such an unthinkable gaff? Probably not. If you were a producer on an experienced, professional filmmaking team, would you mistakenly edit into your film such a confusing and disorienting reference? I suppose it’s possible but still, under the circumstances, it seems unlikely.
So, if it wasn’t a mistake then what was it? If Silverstein’s statements were not chosen because the producers thought the whole issue of the evacuation of WTC 7 was indispensable to their story, then why did they choose these two bewildering sentences as Silverstein’s sole contribution to the project? Could there be something else going on, some sleight of hand; something we just don’t see?
Is it possible that there is something subtle hidden within his words that was meant to produce a certain effect? Could there be a Madison Avenue, gimmicky ingredient contained therein that might shape public perceptions towards a particular point of view and, more importantly, away from something suspicious? Could Silverstein’s statements have had a profound cryptic meaning that may pertain directly to one of 9/11’s most compelling and disturbing mysteries?
Silverstein’s most recent and transparent lie, the one about the North Tower’s antenna, proves that he is absolutely capable of inventing falsehoods in order to misdirect attention. The incredible notion that Building 7 was clearly demolished with what could only have been an explosive system pre-planted in the building prior to 9/11 has turned some of the most sane and sober heads of our time. If Silverstein really did destroy his own building as part of a role he played in the most monstrous crime and cover up in human history, wouldn’t he want to offer the public some simple (albeit intentionally misleading) accounting for the bizarre way his building just fell out of the sky?
The Why of it
This is what I think happened:
When the North Tower fell at 10:28 AM on the morning of 9/11, a huge cloud of white demolition dust slowly rose over lower Manhattan until the entire area was shrouded in a thick, heavy layer of debris. When the cloud had risen to more than twice the height of Building 7, the 9/11 conspirators detonated its explosive system from a remote location. The heavy cloud of debris would completely hide any visual indication that WTC 7 was being intentionally demolished.
Afterwards, the stories about debris from the North Tower striking the diesel fuel tanks (placed in several locations throughout the building) and the Con-Edison substation in its basement, causing the building to catch fire and possibly even explode, would have made good sense to most observers in the absence of visual evidence to the contrary. The intentional but unseen demolition of WTC 7 would also be utterly upstaged by the unthinkable collapses of the iconic Twin Towers. To a shell shocked public, Building 7’s destruction would be barely an afterthought when the smoke had cleared.
But what happened instead was this: When the debris cloud finally dissipated, Building 7 was still standing. The explosive system had failed and the building, which sustained only minor damage from the North Tower’s wreckage, was still intact. When the conspirators fixed the problem, the building was brought down later in the day. But, instead of demolishing it under the cover of a debris cloud, it was done in front of the eyes of the world in what was obviously a controlled demolition.
In the months that followed, Silverstein was increasingly the object of doubts and suspicion regarding the bizarre and unprecedented collapse of his 47 storey building. More and more, people from all quarters voiced suspicions that the building seemed to fall just like the ones in the demolition videos we’ve all seen on TV since we were little, and things started getting hot for Larry Silverstein.
Finally, Silverstein took action. He made a few calls, pulled a few strings and, shortly thereafter, there he was on TV being interviewed in a slick, classy documentary narrated by Kevin Spacey. To whatever extent the producers themselves might have been part of the scheme is unclear, but Silverstein had to make sure that his well oiled comments would be included in the final cut. When all was said and done, his attempt to “hang out” one of the biggest and most shocking stories of all related to the attacks of 9/11 was in the can and on its way to primetime TV.
When Silverstein says “I remember getting a call from the fire department commander telling me they were not sure they were going to be able to contain the fire,” we’re immediately hit with the image of brave, heroic officials getting something important done. When he adds “And I said, 'you know, we've had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is, is ‘pull’ it…’”, we’re led to believe that Silverstein, in particular, is up to something gritty and compassionate.
But the next part is the key. When he ends with “…and they made that decision to ‘pull,’ uh, and we watched the building collapse” just as the building is seen collapsing in the video, viewers have the commentary about ‘pulling’ Building 7 fused together with the video, much like a TV ad that shows a girl in a bikini drinking a Budweiser. Budweiser becomes sex; ‘pull’ becomes a building falling to the ground—a neat solution to a sticky problem, just like the video tells us.
At the end of the day, we, in our post 9/11 shock and horror, are, with all the skill of an ad campaign, manipulated into believing that 1) brave, heroic officials, 2) with the aid of one particularly on-the-spot individual, 3) made a tough choice on 9/11 4) to do something that’s hard for us to figure out but it’s being done by heroes who gave it the name ‘pull’ so don’t worry about it, 5) that resulted in the strange looking collapse of WTC 7.
There is one final point that needs to be addressed. Silverstein specifically points the finger at the FDNY as the ones who performed the actual ‘pulling’: “…and they made that decision to ‘pull,’ uh, and we watched the building collapse.” But the “Department Commander” that day, Daniel Nigro, has no recollection of speaking to Silverstein about ‘pulling’ anything on 9/11. In the same speech in which he delivered his antenna comments, Silverstein was pressed for the name of the department commander he claims to have spoken with. He ignored the simple question and pushed on to the next subject.
Given Silverstein’s history, it’s easy to see him as someone quite capable of attempting to deflect suspicions elsewhere, much like the Bush administration scapegoated the FAA for the numerous air emergency protocols that went haywire on 9/11. Bottom line, his comments linking the FDNY to the bizarre collapse of his building certainly cannot be relied upon as being hard evidence of complicity by fire officials in the unprecedented collapse of WTC 7 on 9/11.