September 13, 2006
Robert A. Iger
President and CEO, The Walt Disney Company
President, ABC Entertainment
David L. Westin
President, ABC News
The Walt Disney Company
77 West 66th Street
New York, New York 10023
Dear Messrs. Iger, McPherson, and Westin:
I'm writing today in response to ABC/Disney's decision to air the miniseries The Path to 9/11 despite its false, partisan representations of actual events and individuals.
It seems clear that this miniseries, written by an avowed conservative activist, was created with a partisan agenda in mind. The miniseries' lead security consultant, a former FBI agent, quit in protest early in the production because of the inaccurate representations and other errors in the script. After production, review copies of the miniseries and screening invitations were sent out to right-wing media outlets and conservative bloggers, but when Democrats or liberal organizations requested preview copies, they were met with silence or stonewalling.
Media Matters for America and other organizations provided extensive coverage on the miniseries' deep flaws, and thousands of individuals reached out to your network to urge it to edit or delay airing such partisan propaganda until it accurately reflected the historical record.
In fact, the miniseries was so rife with errors that even some conservatives spoke out against it.
The first part of the film not only misrepresents some Clinton administration officials but also provides false depictions of others, including, reportedly, former FBI counterterrorism expert John O'Neill, who died on September 11, 2001, in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, where he was head of security.
The second half of the miniseries, which aired on September 11, also contained scenes that were factually inaccurate, this time showing President Bush taking aggressive action there is no indication he ever took. For example, in the film, Vice President Dick Cheney, after conversing with Bush over the phone immediately following the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, announced: "The president has just given the shoot-down order." Vanity Fair published an analysis of the recordings from the control room at NORAD's Northeast headquarters from September 11, 2001, indicating that Bush did not actually give the order to shoot down the hijacked airplanes; he authorized military commanders to make the decision themselves, and he did not grant that authorization until 41 minutes after Flight 77 had struck the Pentagon.
These are just a few examples of the numerous flaws in the film.
Despite all of these factors, ABC and Disney executives made a conscious decision to air the miniseries as planned on September 10 and 11. True, there was some last-minute editing to remove some of the most egregious scenes, but flagrant falsehoods remained.
I urge you to explain why you decided to air this flawed, overtly partisan miniseries. Your audience and others need to understand why a major television network would offer up such a misrepresentation of one of the most significant events in recent history at such a sensitive time.
I also urge you to communicate what steps you will be taking to prevent similarly flawed, misleading or slanted programs from airing again under the ABC logo (and, by association, under the banner of Disney and ABC News).
Americans need to trust that ABC/Disney will not inject thinly veiled conservative propaganda into their homes. That trust has been severely compromised after the overtly partisan choices that were made in the creation and airing of this production.
At the outset of this controversy, Media Matters tried to help ABC and Disney dispel any controversy surrounding this film by offering to review and evaluate its accuracy prior to its scheduled air date. That offer received no response.
We are once again offering to work with ABC and Disney in the aftermath of this controversy in order to ensure that these types of mistakes and misjudgments do not happen again. I hope that this can be the beginning of an important dialogue between Media Matters and ABC.
Working together, we can ensure that Americans are once again able to trust that the major TV networks, who are allowed to use the public's airwaves free of charge, are not propagandizing or rewriting history to favor one political party or another.
My staff and I will follow up with you in the coming weeks and try to find an opportunity to discuss this matter in more detail. Until then, we await your response.
President & CEO
Media Matters for America