At 9/11 Museum, Site of the Anniversary’s Memorial, Controversies Past and Present

At the official memorial site, rough spots over a board trustee, a recent documentary, and canceled exhibits.,


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At 9/11 museum, site of today’s memorial, controversies past and present.


Sept. 11, 2021, 9:28 a.m. ET

Sept. 11, 2021, 9:28 a.m. ET

“Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning” by the artist Spencer Finch, is on display at the museum.Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, the host of this morning’s ceremony, is no stranger to controversy, whether before its 2014 opening or in recent days.

This week, as they have in years past, local Muslim advocates called for the removal of one of the museum’s trustees, Debra Burlingame, calling some of her comments Islamophobic.

“Ms. Burlingame’s long history of making bigoted remarks about Islam and Muslims are simply antithetical to the purpose of the 9/11 Museum,” said Afaf Nasher, executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a large Muslim civil rights and advocacy group.

Ms. Burlingame, whose brother, Charles Burlingame, was killed when the plane he was piloting, American Airlines Flight 77, was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, was an outspoken critic of a onetime plan to build a mosque and cultural center two blocks from ground zero.

On another issue, museum officials recently announced that they were dropping plans for special exhibitions set for this year, after a budget crisis during the coronavirus pandemic contributed to the nonprofit museum furloughing and laying off a large portion of its staff.

Then there was the flap over “The Outsider,” a documentary released this month about the museum that includes scenes showing museum leaders in conflict over the framing of exhibition storylines.

Steven Rosenbaum, who co-directed the film with his wife, Pamela Yoder, said the museum demanded the removal of numerous sensitive scenes it called defamatory, which the couple refused.

Now the couple, who donated to the museum a vast archive of video footage in exchange for broad filming access, wants the footage back because of museum policies that control the usage of its archival materials by historians and scholars, Mr. Rosenbaum said.

A museum spokeswoman had no comment on the controversies and a message left with her for Ms. Burlingame was not returned.

There have been other disputed moves by the museum, including its decision to sell trinkets at its gift shop and hold a cocktail reception for big donors within its hallowed walls.

After a closure in 2020 during the pandemic, the museum’s attendance has remained diminished. It canceled plans for its annual Tribute in Light last year out of social distancing concerns, but quickly reversed course and restored the display after protests.

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