‘The Looming Tower’ Learning Curve

What the creative team behind the series learned about Washington

Hulu’s new series “The Looming Tower” shows just how D.C. infighting can have tragic consequences. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

Welcome back to Political Theater, Roll Call’s newsletter and podcast on the spectacle of politics and how it fits, or doesn’t, into the nation’s culture. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

HULU’s new mini-series “The Looming Tower” traces the rising threat of al-Qaida in the runup to the 9/11 attacks and is adapted from Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

For today’s audience, the series shows eerie parallels to conflicts within our government today.

Actor Jeff Daniels plays FBI Special Agent in Charge John O’Neill, a bull in a china shop who equally charms and offends as he fights for his way of dealing with the growing threat posed by Osama bin Laden.

O’Neill, a larger-than-life character in real life, eventually left the FBI and took a job as head of security at the World Trade Center. He died there on 9/11, a poignant historical twist. 

Interviewed recently in Washington on the same day the nation’s intelligence chiefs were on Capitol Hill warning lawmakers about contemporary threats the country faces, Daniels wonders if the people in power have learned the hard lessons that came out of the aftermath of the attacks. 

“What have we learned? And I’m not just talking about getting on an airplane,” he says. 

Listen to the full podcast:

Wait There’s More!

The creative team behind “The Looming Tower” was generous with their time, and sometimes it doesn’t all fit in the same podcast. Lucky for us, we have a newsletter!

Some notable nuggets from our interviews with the series’ squad:

  • Lawrence Wright, producer and writer: “Floating down the Niagara River. Everybody knows what’s going to happen. And it creates an internal tension that you can’t otherwise produce as a writer.”
  • Peter Sarsgaard, actor portraying Martin Schmidt, the head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit: “I’m someone who lived a lot of different places growing up. My parents are from Mississippi; I lived in Southern Illinois; I lived in Missouri; I lived in Oklahoma; Tennessee, Mississippi, Connecticut. I have a real sense of what all of America looks like. How unbelievably diverse it is, in terms of opinion and everything.”
  • Dan Futterman, showrunner and writer: “I realized I was going to have to do a lot of studying.”
  • Tahar Rahim, actor portraying FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan: “It’s impossible to imitate Ali.” 
  • Wrenn Schmidt, actor portraying CIA analyst Diane Priest: “I feel like one of the things that was really eye-opening for me, both in doing some research and also speaking to a former CIA operative, was how much the CIA might change course or direction based on who the president is, and how that person sees the world.”

To check out our full conversation with these folks, listen here:


Capitol Farewell

 The honor guard carries the Rev. Billy Graham's casket up the Capitol steps to the Rotunda where he will lie in honor on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The honor guard carries the Rev. Billy Graham's casket up the Capitol steps to the Rotunda where he will lie in honor on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional leaders, dignitaries, family and President Donald Trump paid tribute to the late Christian evangelist Billy Graham on Wednesday. Graham will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda this week. 

Roll Call White House Correspondent John T. Bennett was there, and he writes that Graham’s presence in the Capitol presented both graceful and dissonant moments, capping a career of a “towering and sometimes-polarizing American religious figure.” 

Desert Duel

Former state Sen. Debbie Lesko. (Campaign material screen shot)
Former state Sen. Debbie Lesko. (Campaign material screen shot)

Normally, a rock-solid Republican district based in the Phoenix suburbs would be no sweat for the GOP. But, as Roll Call elections analyst Nathan Gonzales writes, “Republicans seem to find new ways to make these special elections competitive.” 

Voters in Arizona's 8th Congressional District chose Republican Debbie Lesko and Democrat Hiral Tipirneni on Tuesday night to advance to the special election to replace Republican Trent Franks. But a combination of alleged campaign violations and the Donald Trump-fueled atmosphere prompted Gonzales and his Inside Elections analysis to move the race from Solid Republican to Likely Republican. 

Voters will choose between Lesko and Tipirneni on April 24.

The Kicker

Carie LeMack, whose mother died in 9/11,held a copy of the 9/11 commssion report and a picture of her mother today at press conference urging Congressial committee reform recommended by the 9/11 commission.

Carie LeMack, whose mother died in the Sept. 11 attacks, holds a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report and a picture of her mother at a press conference in 2005 urging congressional action on the commission’s recommendations. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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