The real story behind the search for the dollar value of 9/11 victims
Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci in Netflix movie Value. The new film is based on the incredibly difficult but very real task of giving monetary value to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Keaton plays Kenneth Feinberg, the man responsible for finding this value. He wrote the thesis What is life worth? : The unprecedented effort to compensate the victims of September 11 based on his experiences, revealing how he crafted his eight-part plan to define the value of every life lost.
Feinberg has been asked to create compensation funds for a number of similar purposes in the past. He organized settlements, funds and compensation plans for the victims of 9/11, the BP oil spill, the bank bailout, the GM car recall and other monumental news events. As he said in a public lecture presented by Hyatt, the thing he finds the most difficult “is not to design them” or “to define the conditions of eligibility”, the most difficult part is “the emotion you are facing from innocent people”.
Value, written for the screen by Max Borenstein (Godzilla), focuses on the emotional implications that Feinberg faced when he was appointed Special Master of the U.S. Government’s 9/11 Compensation Fund by President George W. Bush in 2001.
After reading What is the value of life? Per Feinberg, Borenstein says he felt passionate about developing the story in a movie. He said: “Ken’s memoir is really interesting. In some ways it’s a very dry account of the administration of the fund that’s factual and interesting but dry people, anonymized to protect them but with their permission.
“It’s incredibly moving and heartbreaking,” Borenstein said.
Feinberg’s 8-part plan
In Feinberg’s book, he explains in detail each step of his eight-part plan that he applied to the 9/11 compensation fund and figured out how much a person was getting. Here’s a quick summary of his plan:
- Identify people with broad and sufficient experience in legal affairs.
- Support and follow the law regarding proportional compensation of victims based on loss of future income.
- Accumulate reports and requests to start the direct compensation process.
- Ensuring that 85 percent of the money does not go to the 15 percent of the “richest” claimant families by closing the gap between the largest compensation payments and the smallest paid.
- The program process should be maintained as a precedent that future courts could use in similar circumstances.
- There should be “no substitute for hard work and legal know-how” of rigorous intellectual honesty.
- Acknowledging the support of Senator Edward Kennedy throughout.
- Prosecutions were to be discouraged because they were contrary to the spirit of the law establishing the compensation fund.
See the situation through Feinberg’s eyes
Value Writer Borenstein believes that witnessing this period of American history through Feinberg’s eyes ultimately allows the public to see the large-scale implications and unexpected complications caused by 9/11.
He said, “It’s not Ken’s story. It’s an American story but it’s a story where he’s an ordinary man in a way. Faulty but he’s going through an emotional shift.
“He [Feinberg] sees loss and sorrow and then finally the beginnings of healings from a human place. He’s a witness to it and he’s obligated to engage with it and there are times when he stumbles, but there are countless ways it could have gone wrong. “
Criticism of the Victims Compensation Fund
While Keaton plays lawyer Feinberg, Stanley Tucci plays his foil, Charles Wolf. Wolf lost his wife Katherine on September 11 and initially did not like the system in place for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. He created his own website called Fix The Fund.
Talk to Fox News, Wolf recalled his problems with the first fund which is seen in the film Value. In 2019, he said: “The first incarnation (of the fund) had a two-year nomination limit but no monetary limit, Congress had to appropriate the money.”
A second fund was eventually established and continued to campaign for financial compensation for the families of the victims and for those who suffered long-term health repercussions from the injuries and illnesses developed as a result of the events of the 11th. September.
Jon Stewart led the campaign for years until President Donald Trump eventually signed the Never Forget The Heroes Bill, permanently re-authorizing the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund which now supports firefighters, the first responders and survivors of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Wolf’s long-standing Fix The Fund website now says “The fund is fixed” when you log in. According to Fox News over 51,000 victims have applied to the fund, and over $ 5.5 billion has been donated to those in pain.
On November 17, 2003, Wolf published a letter which he sent directly to Feinberg. After the pair initially clashed, a change of mind from Feinberg was greeted with open arms by his former opponent.
Wolf wrote: “For you this must be a rewarding time to have one of your sharpest critics keep a promise and not only join the program he was criticizing but promote it to his peers,” says long on you and how you’ve adjusted both the program and your attitude. Today I have complete confidence in you.
The dramatization of the events can be seen in the new film Value, streaming now on Netflix.