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Story of the Pentagon gets stuck on Sept. 11

Sunday, June 30, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

At a January press conference, "Inside the Pentagon" executive producer John Bredar promised his documentary, which began production before Sept. 11, would present a "fairly broad perspective" on the history of the Department of Defense stronghold.

But the two-hour program that will air this week on National Geographic Channel returns to Sept. 11 time and again, which isn't entirely bad. But it does so at the expense of a comprehensive look at the Pentagon and its history.

(National Geographic Channel is not listed in TV Week due to space constraints. It's carried on most AT&T Broadband systems as digital Channel 273 and on Adelphia's digital tier as Channel 120.)

"Inside the Pentagon" gets off to a bombastic start, with a narrator saying the Pentagon "can't stand still, for the world around it seethes with the fires of conflict and the tides of history."

Anyone with a radical distrust of the federal government or dislike for the military will not appreciate this program. It's not a recruiting film, but it is a relatively positive portrait of the world's largest office building, which houses 23,000 employees, and the work that goes on inside.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, which Bredar called "perhaps the most significant chapter in Pentagon history," is juxtaposed with the building's creation, which, in a bit of tragic irony, began with groundbreaking on Sept. 11, 1941.

Portions of "Inside the Pentagon" deal with the building's evacuation last year and its subsequent reconstruction, and it does provide some details that might not be familiar to viewers. The reconstruction project is especially ambitious, with a Sept. 11, 2002, completion date set.

 
 
TV REVIEW

"Inside the Pentagon"

When: 8 p.m. (repeats at 11 p.m.) Thursday on National Geographic Channel.

Narrator: Kyf Brewer.

   
 

Lee Evey, program manager for the renovation, explains how the attack informed their rebuilding and helped designers make improvements to the structure. Several people detail their involvement in rescue operations last September.

"Inside the Pentagon" shows the differences between fighting a war in the 1940s vs. the current conflict of the new millennium. It attempts to follow several people who work there, threading their daily activities throughout the program, but viewers don't get to know any of them or their duties particularly well.

The film also spends a lot of time outside the Pentagon, looking at various military maneuvers and possible future weapons of war. It's understandable that producers would stray from inside the Pentagon; it is, after all, essentially a drab office building. But more details about the facility and its culture could have been included.

National security interests probably precluded cameras from going into some areas of the Pentagon, but that needn't have dampened reportage on the building's unique military culture. A segment on military acronyms is particularly interesting but far too short with few concrete examples.

Interviewees include chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. John Shalikashvili, who sounds the most discordant note about the military.

In a segment on Vietnam and how reports from the field were cleaned up as they rose up the chain of command, Shalikashvili speaks of the military mire.

"At some point, the leadership of our country understood perfectly clearly that this war could not be won in Vietnam and yet they continued to send in young men and women and went to bed at night and slept well," he said. "I hope to God we never do that again."

The program's most valuable interview subject isn't featured nearly enough. Washington Post military writer Tom Ricks helps explain the Pentagon culture with several clear, concise descriptions that left me wanting to hear more from him.

"Inside the Pentagon" was written, produced and directed by Nancy LeBrun, who, with husband Ed Castner, run Roundabout Productions. Castner, a Pittsburgh native who graduated from Point Park College, served as director of photography for "Inside the Pentagon." He recently won his seventh White House News Photographers' Award (third place in TV documentary) for "Thoroughbreds," a series that aired last year on Animal Planet.


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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