CNN, Fox, ABC hosts ignored key issues in interviews of Kean: his relationship with The Path to 9/11 producers, possible benefit to his son's Senate campaign

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Hosts on CNN, ABC, and Fox News failed to raise key issues while interviewing Thomas H. Kean about his role as a senior consultant to the ABC's The Path to 9/11 -- specifically, the terms of his arrangement with ABC and the possible benefit of Kean's high-profile promotion of the conservative-skewed miniseries to the campaign of his namesake son, who is running as a Republican for a Senate seat in New Jersey.

During interviews about the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11 with former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean (R), chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- also known as the 9-11 Commission -- the hosts of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Fox News' Fox & Friends, and ABC's Good Morning America failed to raise key issues with Kean bearing on his role as a senior consultant to the film: What are the terms of his arrangement with ABC? Might his son, Thomas H. Kean Jr., who is challenging Democrat Bob Menendez for his New Jersey Senate seat, not benefit from Kean's high-profile promotion of a film that falsely presents the actions of President Clinton, who is campaigning for Menendez; by promoting a film that smears a Democratic administration through fabricated scenes, is Kean not tarnishing his own image and that of the 9-11 Commission, which has to date acted in a largely bipartisan manner and produced a report that has garnered wide respect?

Meanwhile, CNN host Wolf Blitzer, in his September 8 interview with Kean, noted that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former national security adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger stated in a letter to Kean, "Your continued defense of this deeply flawed production is especially hard to understand in light of your commendable leadership of the 9/11 Commission." But Blitzer too did not ask Kean about his financial arrangement with ABC, nor did he bring up his son's Senate candidacy, despite Kean's denial -- in a CNN report that aired minutes before -- that he would have any "political motivation[s]."

Some print and broadcast outlets have offered conflicting information regarding whether Kean was paid for his role in vetting the film's screenplay and participating in the marketing of the film to high school educators. For example, a September 8 New York Times article reported that Kean said "any fee he received [in connection with the film] would be donated to charity," whereas the September 8 Daily News article identified Kean as a "paid consultant" for the miniseries, as did a September 6 New York Post article. However, during a September 7 interview on Sirius Satellite Network's Michelangelo Signorile Show, Kean told Signorile that "I'm not a paid consultant," after Signorile identified Kean with that term; on the September 7 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN correspondent Brian Todd also reported that Kean was an "unpaid consultant" on the film. Though in a position to question Kean directly about these conflicting reports, none of the three media outlets interviewing Kean questioned him about the terms of his relationship with ABC.

And both Fox & Friends and Good Morning America gave Kean a platform to defend the film. Kean appeared on the September 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, during which co-host E.D. Hill asked, "You're Republican -- is [the film] in any way a political job?" Kean replied, "No, I don't think it is, and I think people won't think it when they watch it. It's very well done and this idea which has suddenly been that Hollywood is somehow after Bill Clinton is just nuts."

The interviews on CNN, Fox News and ABC also made no mention of the fact that Kean's son is campaigning as a Republican for Senate in New Jersey. Kean all but acknowledged the potential conflict in Kean's promotion and defense of a film that smears the Clinton administration through the depiction of scenes that never occurred. Kean was quoted in a September 8 New York Daily News article as saying he had offered no apology to Clinton for the film's inaccuracies because "Clinton was out campaigning against my son yesterday, so I didn't reach out to him at all!"

On the September 8 edition of CNN's Situation Room, Kean even invited the media to question him on this topic. In a report on the controversy, correspondent Brian Todd quoted him saying of the criticism aimed his way, "What possible political motivation could I have?" But in an interview with Kean that immediately followed Todd's report, CNN host Wolf Blitzer failed to bring up one "possible political motivation" -- his son's Senate campaign.

Additionally, Todd quoted Kean claiming, "Everybody who has seen it who is nonpartisan has praised it." But to the contrary, Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell -- who has seen the film -- criticized it on September 7 for treating facts "cavalierly," as Media Matters noted. Moreover, Roger Cressey, an NBC terrorism analyst and a former counterterrorism adviser to presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said on September 5, "[W]hat's amazing about this, based on what I've seen so far, is how much they've gotten wrong." Nonetheless, Blitzer failed to challenge Kean's claim or even ask him to provide some examples.

From the September 7 edition of Paula Zahn Now:

ZAHN: So, Richard, you've seen the movie. What is your major objection to it?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE (9-11 Commission member): My only concern is that, if -- if they purport to present a docudrama based on the 9-11 Commission report, it should be accurate. And it wasn't. It was fiction in some important respects, one of which was the suggestion that the United States, through its operative in Afghanistan, had in his sights Osama bin Laden a short distance away, and was ready to attack and kill him. And that just didn't happen. So, that's a major failing, in my view, in terms of the accuracy of this presentation.

ZAHN: Let me share with you what one of your colleagues has said, a fellow member of the 9-11 Commission, Tom Kean. He says that the film criticizes both sides. Here's more of his defense of the film.

KEAN [video-clip]: The writer and I worked together on the project so that he would share the script with me. And I could look it over from the point of view of the accuracy of the events that he was portraying. And where I thought suggestions needed to be made or changes needed to be made, I could do that. And ABC and the writer in particular were very, very sensitive to that. I mean, any time I said that that isn't the way it happened, or I don't think it happened that way, they were very -- very good to make changes that were necessary.

ZAHN: Your reaction to that?

BEN-VENISTE: Tom Kean is a great American, Paula. And I'm proud that he's a friend of mine. And, look, the -- the nation owes Tom a continuing debt of gratitude for his outstanding leadership on the 9/11 Commission. Having --

ZAHN: Did he get used by ABC?

BEN-VENISTE: Having said that, look, like all of us, Tom is not infallible. He's, you know, close to it, but not exactly infallible.

From the September 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Joining us right now, Tom Kean, former commission chairman for the 9-11 Commissioner [sic], also you were one of the consultants on the 9-11 -- this movie as well. Bill Clinton doesn't like that miniseries and wants it fixed.

KEAN: Well, I don't think he's seen it yet. But I think for anybody who has any question about it, watch it. I mean it's very well done.

HILL: Well, his complaint, it appears, is that it -- he believes is -- he's been told that it portrays him as being so fixated on the Monica Lewinsky scandal that he lost focus on bin Laden and really wasn't concerned about that.

KEAN: I don't think that's the way it's portrayed. The Monica Lewinsky matter is mentioned, there's a lot of mentions -- things that are mentioned that are going on during this whole period when the conspirators are working and people are working to try and stop 'em. But no, I don't think that's -- that that's really accurate, in fact I think a character says at one point about Bill Clinton, "He's still focused in spite of all this."

KILMEADE: Focused on bin Laden, missed opportunities. He says I never had him and never -- was not there to give the order to take him out. Is that true?

KEAN: Well it was a -- yes, there was not, not -- no, that is not true, because there was an opportunity --

KILMEADE: What are you talking about?

KEAN: Tarnak Farms. There was an opportunity, at one point, where they thought they had bin Laden located, they had tribes they were working with that had worked with us in the Afghan war against Russia and they thought we could take him out at that point. For whatever reason, the decision in Washington was made to abort the operation.

KILMEADE: What year is this?

KEAN: This was back --

KILMEADE: '99?

KEAN: Yeah, this was back before -- this is -- no, this is not '99, later that that, but it was -- it was early enough so it was before -- I think before the United States government realized just how serious this was and how bad a guy bin Laden was. And so they didn't -- the concern, would there be women and children hurt in the attack? What problems would result? And so forth --

DOOCY: How close were they to actually pulling the trigger?

KEAN: Well, I think they were pretty close, I mean the CIA had the operation scoped and it was, it was --

DOOCY: And isn't that the intent of the movie, to say that they -- there was general indecisiveness, they were close and it just never happened?

KEAN: Yeah. Well that's true. And there's -- we had a number of, number of opportunities to take out Bin Laden, and for one reason or another we didn't, or we missed opportunities. The word we use in the report is actionable intelligence -- people in Washington decided the intelligence we had wasn't what they called actionable, which covers a multitude of sins.

HILL: Well you're a Republican -- is this, in any way, a political job?

KEAN: No, I don't think it is, and I think people won't think it when they watch it. It's very well done, and this idea which has suddenly been -- that Hollywood is somehow after Bill Clinton is just nuts.

KILMEADE: Or that ABC in particular -- Governor, here's something else that I think is important. They say today that you are backpedaling from being a fervent supporter of this five-hour series, and now all of a sudden you've pulled back. Have you pulled back?

KEAN: No I haven't pulled back at all. This is something I'd encourage every American to watch because I think they'll learn more about the conspiracy. I think you learn about these conspirators and how they work, and that hopefully, after seeing this, you'll understand why the recommendations we made from the commission are so important -- we get them implemented so that we'll be safer --

HILL: And so many haven't been, and that's been a key concern of yours.

KEAN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

DOOCY: Bruce Lindsey, Bill Clinton's lawyer, sent you a letter that said -- in part said, "because of your political motivations, your defense of the outright lies in this film is destroying the bipartisan aura of the 9-11 Commission."

KEAN: Well, first of all, he never sent the letter.

DOOCY: How handy is that?

KEAN: [laughing] So I guess he wrote it to the press.

DOOCY: We got a copy of it, and you didn't!

KEAN: That's right.

DOOCY: All right, well --

KEAN: But no, this, this -- this is something which is a very well done document which I think is gonna drive people to read our report, to understand more about these conspirators, more about the plot and hopefully then work to make --

[crosstalk]

KILMEADE: And the last question: Are you disturbed that they're altering the final version?

KEAN: No, the script has been altered by ABC whenever they thought there were facts. They've got a lot of consultants, they worked with, CIA, ex -- former CIA people. They've worked with a number of people in government, and when they thought it was justified they've always made changes and made changes -- a number of changes on my recommendation in the past.

DOOCY: All right.

HILL: OK.

DOOCY: 9-11 commissioner, we thank you very much, Tom Kean, for joining us live.

KEAN: Thank you very much.

From the September 8 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

ROBIN ROBERTS (host): And joining us now is a senior consultant for this miniseries, former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, of course he was also co-chair of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. So good to see you, governor. Thanks --

KEAN: Nice to be here.

ROBERTS: -- Thanks for being here.

KEAN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Your 9-11 report that your commission came out with is seen as the definitive word on the terror attacks. It was a bestseller. Why would you want to be a part of -- again, this is a dramatization, it's not a documentary. So why did you want to be a part of it?

KEAN: Because I think people will see this who never, never read our report, never will read our report, although if they watch this documentary -- or, rather, excuse me -- the miniseries -- it may lead them to want to read our report, and that's good. Also, this leads into our recommendations, things we have to do to make the country safer. I think people who see this will understand better what went on and hopefully understand what still needs to be done.

ROBERTS: But the 9-11 report was so strong. It was bipartisan, both Democrats and Republicans, it was well received, a lot of praise for both sides. Democrats have come out -- some Democrats and they're just outraged, like former president Bill Clinton, who said it's so inaccurate. Even some of your Democratic colleagues on the 9-11 Commission have said this is inaccurate. So how do you respond to that?

KEAN: Well, I think most of those people haven't seen it. And I hope they'll watch it, and one of the nice things this controversy does, I think more people will watch it than would have watched it otherwise. Because it's something the American people should see because you understand how these people wanted to do us harm, developed this plot and how the machinations of the American government under two administrations not only failed to stop them but even failed to slow them down.

ROBERTS: And looking ahead, especially with the five-year anniversary -- but -- and you're right, ABC says that it's still in the editing process, the final version is not yet set. But if there are inaccuracies that have been seen in the previous reports that are coming out about the miniseries, does it damage the larger picture? I know you say you want people to be able to see the larger message, but will that be damaged if there are inaccuracies?

KEAN: I think this is a very well-done miniseries. I think the larger truth is very much there. Certain parts of it, yeah, are dramatized, because -- to make people understand better what happened. And people who are portrayed, some in the Clinton administration don't like it, they're portrayed as not being very successful in trying to stop the attack, they weren't very successful in trying to stop the attack. Matter of fact, two administrations failed in stopping this attack. And that's shown very dramatically and obviously the people involved don't like and I'm not surprised, they didn't like a lot of our report either.

ROBERTS: But as you said. Thank you very much, Governor Kean.

KEAN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Appreciate you coming in, and you said, ABC is still in the -- in the editing process of this, so we'll see what happens.

KEAN: Yeah, they're still looking for things.

ROBERTS: All right, thank you so much.

From the September 7 edition of Sirius Satellite Radio's Michelangelo Signorile Show:

SIGNORILE: Then, all of that said and all of that in the commission, people are very confused, then, as to why you had signed your name to this ABC docudrama, The Path to 9-11, as a paid consultant and certainly putting the credibility of the commission onto this project that distorts Bill Clinton's involvement in wanting to get Osama bin Laden and according to Bill Clinton himself, he sent a letter to ABC saying that it distorts what it was that he did or did not do regarding Osama bin Laden. Why did you put your name to that and continue to defend it?

KEAN: Well, first of all, I'm not a paid consultant. Secondly, it's a great project, and I think people will feel that if they see it. I mean, I'm tired of people, you know, not looking at things because the blogosphere tells them not to or people who haven't seen it are saying that it's prejudiced one way or another. Watch it and make up your own mind, and I think when you've seen it then talk about it, but don't talk about it when you haven't seen it.

SIGNORILE: Well, there have been a lot of reports about the docudrama and a lot of descriptions of it, a lot of them coming from conservatives and right-wing columnists and radio talk show hosts. And yet, nobody in the Clinton administration has been shown this docudrama.

From the September 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

TODD: On the political front, ABC is accused of a heavy slant against Democrats. Tom Kean, a Republican and the only 9-11 Commision member consulted for the film, got a letter from Clinton's office saying, "... your defense of the outright lies in this film is destroying the bipartisan aura of the 9-11 Commission ..." Tom Kean's response to me, quote, "What possible political motivation could I have? Everybody who has seen it who is nonpartisan has praised it. The people in both administrations," Keane says, "were inept to stop the plot."

[...]

BLITZER: Brian, thank you very much. And one of the claims about the ABC movie is that it does not mirror the factual findings of the report from the 9-11 Commission. My next guest is the co-chairman of that commission, Thomas Kean, he is joining us from Philadelphia. He's the former governor of New Jersey. Governor, thanks very much for coming in. I want to read to you from this latest letter to you. I don't even know if you've seen the actual letter from the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

KEAN: I haven't gotten any letters, Wolf, from anybody.

BLITZER: I'll just read to you from what they say because we received a copy of the letter from --

KEAN: They sent them to you but not to me.

BLITZER: Right. Madeleine Albright and Samuel Berger. I assume you'll get it eventually. After going through their complaints, they say this: "And so we ask that you use your influence to persuade ABC to withdraw the broadcast altogether. Failing that, we urge you to sever your relationship with this grossly misleading production." What do you say about that?

KEAN: Well, I think it's a very powerful production and one that's going to move the ball forward. I think when people see the whole thing - and a lot of people that are talking now haven't seen it. I haven't even seen the final cut -- they're going to find something where they learn more about the hijackers, more about the plot, more about the ways they tried to deceive the United States government, more about Al Qaeda and hopefully in understanding that, they'll understand why it's so important that more of our recommendations get implemented by the United States Congress and the administration to make the people safer. That's the bottom line.

BLITZER: Have you spoken with ABC in recent hours or days? Are they actually planning on running the film Sunday and Monday night?

KEAN: Oh, yes, best of my knowledge. I don't think they'll ever change that decision.

BLITZER: What about the changes in these controversial scenes? What are you hearing about the controversial scenes involving Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright, for example?

KEAN: Well, they've been very open to that kind of criticism from me and from others. I mean, they re-shot a whole scene that I had a question about. And they've taken this very seriously. The 9-11 report isn't their only source. They've got former CIA people who are working on the film. They've got people who were in some of these meetings. They've got authors of books who wrote on the subjects. So they've got a number of sources. When a criticism is raised they've gone back to talk to the original sources. And in my experience, if they feel they're wrong, they've made a change.

BLITZER: And have they changed the -- because you're a public figure. You can obviously understand that Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright, if an actor is putting words in his or her mouth that they didn't utter or portraying them as doing things they didn't do, they would understandably be pretty upset.

KEAN: Well, I understand and I have great respect for both people. I really do. And I would -- I think, for instance, on the thing that Mr. Berger is so upset about, our findings on the 9-11 Commission were that the person that pulled the plug on that operation was probably not Sandy Berger but George Tenet. I assume Mr. Berger knew about it. Because he should have known about it in his position. I think George Tenet was the one that made that decision. I've communicated that to ABC.

BLITZER: And have they told you that they are changing that particular scene?

KEAN: What they've done is they go back to their sources, back to their writer and everything else and they make a decision. I'm not part of that decision and probably shouldn't be.

BLITZER: What about the scene involving Madeleine Albright? You suspect they've changed that one as well so that she is not projected as someone who tipped off the Pakistanis about a missile attack on Osama bin Laden and there may have been a leak which allowed him to escape?

KEAN: Well, I don't know about that scene. I think that scene is a little different because I think there was a real conflict between two areas of government as to whether you don't tell people you're going to hit Osama bin Laden in case he gets away and other branches of government that say if you send a missile over Pakistan, they may think it's India, they could start another war. So that was a real conflict and a real problem. And whether it was Madeleine Albright or somebody else, I suspect that probably took place.

BLITZER: What about -- It was definitely someone else because Secretary Cohen, William Cohen, the former defense secretary said he dispatched the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Ralston, to go to Pakistan to brief the Pakistanis once the missiles were on their way to the al Qaeda target and Madeleine Albright was not specifically involved in that.

But that was another apparent distortion in the film. I don't know if the film has been changed. But what about the bigger picture? Because you investigated the Clinton administration and the Bush administration in the events leading up to 9-11. Those who have seen the film -- and I have not seen it -- say that the Clinton administration over the eight years they were in power, in office, that they -- at least you come away from the movie convinced that they were negligent, that they missed opportunities for a variety of reasons to destroy Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

KEAN: Well, two administrations missed opportunities. This starts on President Clinton's watch with the attack on the World Trade Center I. Then it covers eight years of the Clinton presidency. It covers six months of the Bush presidency. So obviously there's more about the Clinton administration. But you've got to remember the area they were working on. I mean, to be very fair to the Clinton people, a lot of this was done before we knew how bad Osama bin Laden was. This was before the attacks on the embassies in many cases. It was before certainly the attack on the Cole. We knew he was bad and there were people in the Clinton administration pursuing him pretty hard.

But we didn't know he was bad as he was or certainly what he was planning on 9-11. So it's unfair to look back and put their motivations in light of the attack on the World Trade Center, because it just didn't -- it's just not that way. It was a different kind of a world and they made decisions with different facts than we have right now.

BLITZER: I'm going to read to you one more excerpt from this letter that Madeleine Albright and Samuel Berger have written to you, although you haven't received the letter we have. I'll read this section: "Your continued defense of this deeply flawed production is especially hard to understand in light of your commendable leadership of the 9-11 Commission. Like much of the country, we were impressed by the care you and your fellow commissioners took to stick to the facts and to get it right for the American people and for history. Unfortunately, as co-executive producer of this miniseries, you and your new associates have chosen to go another way."

We're going to be speaking momentarily to Sandy Berger. I wonder, Governor, what you would say to him. What would you like to say to him, knowing what you know about this film, knowing your role in helping ABC and knowing, obviously, your role with the other members of the 9-11 commission in putting together that final report.

KEAN: Yeah. This is not a 9-11 Commission report, and this series is based on a lot of other things besides that report. It's a miniseries. It's not a product of ABC News. It's not a product of a documentary. It's very different. And it says right up front with a disclaimer exactly what it is. Nobody should have any doubt about that.

Having said that, I think it's a very powerful, very powerful series, and I think we'll understand a lot more about Al Qaeda when you watch it. But I would encourage people to look at it, make their own decision. We're having a tremendous debate on this and nobody has seen it. Let's look at it and I think perhaps we can have a constructive debate about it afterwards.

BLITZER: Does ABC, in your opinion, Governor, owe Sandy Berger an apology?

KEAN: I don't believe anybody owes anybody an apology. We haven't even seen the film. I mean, let's look at the film, and then we can talk about what's what. I don't know, Wolf, if you've seen the film. Even I haven't seen the final cut. And I think to talk about this thing before people have seen it, my impression is it's going to be a real contribution. And I think it's very well done. But people will make their own mind up when they see it.

BLITZER: I have not seen it, but I will, governor. I suspect millions of other people will be seeing it as well. Governor Tom Kean, the 9-11 Commission co-chairman. Thanks very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

KEAN: Thank you, Wolf.

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