A Los Angeles Times article on the DVD release of ABC's The Path to 9/11 reported that the original miniseries "ignited a political firestorm, almost entirely from high-profile Democratic leaders who viewed its account ... as a right-wing hatchet job," overlooking factual inaccuracies in the film and sharp discrepancies between the film's account of certain events and the findings laid out in the 9-11 Commission's report, upon which ABC claimed the miniseries was based. Those inaccuracies and discrepancies were pointed out in the Times' own review of The Path to 9/11, which also noted the film's "partisan politics" and its "hopeless muddle of the line between fact and 'dramatization.' "
A September 5 Los Angeles Times article by Martin Miller concerning the DVD release of the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, headlined "Is Clinton's candidacy blocking the 'Path to 9/11?' " described the original miniseries, which aired in September 2006, as "highly controversial" and stated that "[e]ven before 'The Path to 9/11' aired on ABC late last summer, the docudrama ignited a political firestorm, almost entirely from high-profile Democratic leaders who viewed its account of events leading up to the terrorist attacks as a right-wing hatchet job on the Clinton administration and its efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden." However, by characterizing the criticism as coming from "Democratic leaders who viewed its account ... as a right-wing hatchet job," Miller simply overlooked factual inaccuracies in the film as well as sharp discrepancies between the film's account of certain events and the findings laid out in the 9-11 Commission's report, upon which ABC said in a July 2006 press release the "epic miniseries [was] based." These falsehoods and discrepancies have been documented by Media Matters for America and noted by numerous others, including the Los Angeles Times itself in a review by staff writer Samantha Bonar, who wrote in a review published September 9, 2006, that "the main problem with 'The Path' is that the interspersing of real news footage with dramatized scenes, a technique employed throughout, makes a hopeless muddle of the line between fact and 'dramatization.' "
Despite ABC's assertion in the July 2006 press release that the network regarded it as "absolutely critical" to "get it right," The Path to 9/11 contained inaccurate and even fabricated scenes that cast the Clinton administration as insufficiently aggressive in combating terrorism and that showed President Bush taking aggressive action not indicated in the 9-11 Commission report. In addition -- contrary to Miller's suggestion in the September 5 article -- the film was sharply criticized, not just by partisan Democrats, but by former Clinton administration officials, journalists, and conservatives alike, who noted that significant parts of the "docudrama's" content were not supported by the 9-11 Commission's findings.
Sandy Berger, national security adviser to President Clinton, described one scene in the film as a "total fabrication." Further, Berger and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated in a September 8 letter, "Actors portraying us do contemptible things we never did, and say things we neither said nor believed." Conservative author and journalist Richard Miniter criticized parts of the film as "based on an Internet myth" and having "no factual basis." In addition to Miniter, numerous others criticized the film's accuracy, as Media Matters has noted:
- On the September 8, 2006, edition of CNN's American Morning, conservative radio host and former Reagan administration official Bill Bennett acknowledged that "the Clintons had a point" in pressuring ABC to correct the film and admonished ABC for "falsify[ing] the record," adding, "I think they should correct those inaccuracies."
- On the September 7, 2006, edition of CNN Headline News' Showbiz Tonight, Harvey Keitel, the film's star, noted that "[i]t turned out not all the facts were correct" and claimed: "Where we have distorted something, we have made a mistake, and that should be corrected. It can be corrected."
- On the September 7, 2006, edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz criticized ABC for "putting a movie on a serious, sensitive topic on the fifth-year anniversary of 9-11 that contains fiction."
- On the September 7, 2006, edition of MSNBC's The Most, Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, criticized the film for treating facts "cavalierly," as well as ABC's response to critiques of the film, noting: "[T]hey [ABC] said that complaints about the film are irresponsible because they are still editing the film, yet they were very happy to send out review copies."
- On the September 8, 2006, edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann interviewed former FBI agent Tom Nicoletti, who said he was hired as a consultant during the film's production but objected to numerous scenes in the film which he said reflected "improper research." In particular, he faulted the film's depiction of former FBI special agent John O'Neill, who was killed in the 9-11 attacks and is portrayed in the film by Keitel. Nicoletti told Olbermann that he resigned as consultant to the film based on scenes that remained inaccurate despite his input, and that in his opinion The Path to 9/11, "should be reshot and a lot of it corrected."
Moreover, the film's writer and producer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, has admitted that at least one scene was fabricated. That scene falsely portrayed Berger hanging up on CIA director George Tenet as he asks for authorization to let CIA officers and Afghani fighters raid an isolated compound in Afghanistan in order to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The New York Times quoted Nowrasteh as saying that "Berger did not slam down the phone. That is not in the report. That was not scripted. Accidents occur, spontaneous reactions of actors performing a role take place."
In her Los Angeles Times review of The Path to 9/11, Bonar noted: "The film shows real news footage of Clinton's denials of 'sexual relations ... with that woman, Monica Lewinsky' in 1998 while [John] O'Neill [a character played by Harvey Keitel] and other CIA and FBI agents were desperately scrambling to find Bin Laden and thwart more attacks. And then the partisan politics begin to emerge in the script -- big time." Bonar further called The Path to 9/11 "an irresponsible film, with its factual distortions wrapped in a really terrific package that lulls viewers into complacency, setting them up for the propaganda that is to follow."
From the September 5 Los Angeles Times article:
Among the nearly two dozen television DVDs slated for nationwide release on Sept. 11 is the second season of "Bones," the third season of "Grey's Anatomy" and the miniseries "The Starter Wife" that aired earlier this year. Not on the list on that day or any other in the near future is last year's highly controversial "The Path to 9/11."
The $40-million, five-hour ABC miniseries, which recently received seven Emmy nominations and drew a combined two-night audience of more than 25 million viewers, is for now on the path to nowhere. Its Amazon page reads: "Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock."
With no date for the release, questions are being raised about whether political pressure is behind its current status as a stalled or discarded DVD project. The reasons are murky, but the miniseries' writer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, believes it's crystal clear: Powerful forces are out to protect Bill Clinton's presidential legacy and shield Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) from any potential collateral damage in her bid for the White House.
Nowrasteh, also one of the miniseries' many producers, said he was told by a top executive at ABC Studios that "if Hillary weren't running for president, this wouldn't be a problem."
"Whatever anyone may think about me or this movie, this is a bad precedent, a dangerous precedent, to allow a movie to be buried," added Nowrasteh, who received death threats even before the miniseries was broadcast last September. "Because the next time they'll go after another movie. The Bush administration may go after a movie. The next administration may go after a movie. No matter who it is, they may go after a movie. I think this town needs to stand up."
Even before "The Path to 9/11" aired on ABC late last summer, the docudrama ignited a political firestorm, almost entirely from high-profile Democratic leaders who viewed its account of events leading up to the terrorist attacks as a right-wing hatchet job on the Clinton administration and its efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Attempts to pressure ABC to cancel the miniseries at the time were unsuccessful, but last-minute network edits were imposed to quell the critical outcry.
An ABC spokeswoman reached Tuesday would say only that the company "has no release date at this time," and she declined to comment further.
Meanwhile, Sen. Clinton's campaign staff did not return an e-mail or a phone call seeking comment.
Last year, a Clinton spokesman referred to the ABC enterprise as "despicable," and then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and four other Democratic senators signed a letter to Disney Chief Executive Robert A. Iger stating that if the miniseries were shown it would "deeply damage" Disney's reputation. As a result of the tumult, ABC was unable to attract advertisers for the miniseries.
Thus far, few have noted the DVD's absence in the marketplace. Among those who have are conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, who questioned last month why the disc isn't available on the nation's retail shelves. (Limbaugh and Nowrasteh have met on several occasions but do not regularly socialize, Nowrasteh said.)
From the September 9, 2006, Los Angeles Times review of The Path to 9/11:
The miniseries was a massive undertaking, with close to 250 speaking parts, more than 300 sets and a budget of $40 million. The production values and acting skills cannot be faulted, and of course the topic is compelling. But something strange starts happening around hour three of the miniseries, when the film none-too-subtly suggests that then-President Clinton was too busy dropping his trousers and later struggling not to lose his shirt in impeachment hearings to pay much attention to what was going on in the world, terrorism-wise. The film shows real news footage of Clinton's denials of "sexual relations ... with that woman, Monica Lewinsky" in 1998 while O'Neill and other CIA and FBI agents were desperately scrambling to find Bin Laden and thwart more attacks.
And then the partisan politics begin to emerge in the script -- big time.
According to "The Path," the Clinton administration was too concerned with such trifles as respecting international laws and treaties, protecting civil liberties, following diplomatic protocol, displaying cultural sensitivity and pursuing larger goals (like Mideast peace) to bring down the bad guys.
At the same time, a fine ribbon of misogyny starts to unwind alongside the wide streak of rah-rah masculine bravado in the film, with just about every woman in authority portrayed as an arrogant witch, from onetime ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine (Patricia Heaton) to Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (Shirley Douglas) to Bush's then-national security advisor, now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Penny Johnson Jerald). (The one exception is CIA agent Patricia Carver, played by Amy Madigan, who is prone to outbursts of hysterical tears.) When Ahmed Shah Massoud (played by Mido Hamada), commander of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and a key U.S. ally, demands of U.S. operatives: "Are there any men left in Washington, or are they all cowards?," he means this literally as well as figuratively.
But the main problem with "The Path" is that the interspersing of real news footage with dramatized scenes, a technique employed throughout, makes a hopeless muddle of the line between fact and "dramatization."
Although it claims to be based in part on the 9/11 Commission Report, writer-producer Nowrasteh, a self-described conservative, said in an interview with frontpagemag.com that the report goes back only as far as 1998, and that he did his own research for the years 1993 to 1998.
Yet even if there are not outright lies in the film, as some are claiming -- Albright, for one, has called a scene depicting her actions as "false and defamatory" -- there are many omissions. Notably, one of the most famous images of Sept. 11, President Bush's frozen response while visiting a Florida classroom when he was told of the attacks, is not depicted.
With a projected TV audience in the millions, "The Path" is an irresponsible film, with its factual distortions wrapped in a really terrific package that lulls viewers into complacency, setting them up for the propaganda that is to follow.
If there is one good thing that will come out of the controversy over ABC's "The Path," it is that it hopefully will make citizens read the 9/11 Commission Report for themselves. After all, a democracy is a terrible thing to waste.