ABC program chief falsely claimed network "didn't backpedal" on Path to 9/11

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

In a January 15 post on his weblog, Changing Channels, Miami Herald television critic Glenn Garvin wrote that, when "[a]sked during his appearance on the TV critics' tour if he was embarrassed that the network had to 'backpedal' on its Clinton-unfriendly movie The Path To 9/11," ABC Primetime Entertainment President Stephen McPherson rejected the notion, replying: "We didn't backpedal. We aired the movie. We didn't change anything for those guys. We aired it as planned on the dates that were planned." In fact, in the face of widespread criticism regarding the film's factual accuracy, ABC retreated from its original claim that the film was a "dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report" that "get[s] it right" and ultimately conceded that the miniseries "contains fictionalized scenes." Further, while McPherson reportedly claimed that ABC "didn't change anything for those guys," the producers did reportedly edit scenes following criticism from the Clinton administration officials depicted in the film. According to Hollywood Reporter columnist Ray Richmond, McPherson also claimed at the event that "[e]verything in that movie is backed up tenfold." But as Media Matters for America documented, ABC retained several fabricated scenes.

From Garvin's January 15 post on Changing Channels:

Stephen McPherson, the ABC programming chief, doesn't take any fecal material. Asked during his appearance on the TV critics' tour if he was embarrassed that the network had to "backpedal" on its Clinton-unfriendly movie The Path To 9/11, McPherson took no prisoners -- particularly when it came to Clinton's national security adviser Sandy Berger, one of the film's chief critics. "We didn't backpedal," McPherson said. "We aired the movie. We didn't change anything for those guys. We aired it as planned on the dates that were planned. I mean, it's a little odd to have Sandy Berger telling you about what's truthful or not when he was indicted for stuffing documents into his pants on this very subject."

From Richmond's January 14 post on his weblog, Past Deadline:

For his part, McPherson said the network "loved" the film and stands by it. He also denies that it was irresponsibly fictionalized or at all driven by any campaign to distort the facts.

"Everything in that movie is backed up tenfold," he insists. "We think it was a really important thing to air. And you know, it's unfortunate that, for other agendas, people tried to squash it." When it was pointed out that ABC tried to backpedal with its last-minute alterations on 'Path to 9/11,' McPherson shot back, "We didn't backpedal. We aired the movie. We didn't change anything for those guys. We aired it as planned on the dates that were planned.

The Path to 9/11 aired on ABC for two nights during the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. ABC received withering criticism from leading congressional Democrats, former President Bill Clinton, former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke, former FBI agents, and others, including Media Matters for America, asserting that the film was rife with fabricated stories and scenes designed to smear the Clinton administration's record on fighting terrorism.

Several months before The Path to 9/11 was scheduled to air, ABC touted the film's sound factual basis, promoting it as an "epic" and "historic" "dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report." ABC further claimed that the film "absolutely ... get[s] it right" and touted the participation of 9-11 Commission chairman and former Gov. Thomas Kean (R-NJ) as "crucial to the project." But contrary to McPherson's recent claim that the controversy did not lead ABC to "backpedal" on the film, the network clearly revised its emphasis on the film's historical accuracy in the weeks leading up to its debut, as Media Matters documented. Indeed, on September 5, 2006, ABC released a statement stressing that the miniseries was "a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 Commission report, other published materials and from personal interviews." And by September 7, 2006, ABC had conceded that the film "contains fictionalized scenes."

McPherson's reported assertion that ABC "didn't change anything" in the film is also false. On September 1, 2006, an ABC spokesperson told National Review Online media blogger Stephen Spruiell that the " 'Path to 9/11' miniseries was 'locked and ready to air.' " But several days later, news outlets, such as The New York Times, reported that ABC was "re-evaluating and in some cases re-editing crucial scenes in its new mini-series 'The Path to 9/11' to soften its portrait of the Clinton administration's pursuit of Osama bin Laden." Several scenes were ultimately edited, as USA Today reported:

Former commission chairman Thomas Kean, a movie consultant, said on ABC's This Week that filmmakers have been responsive to criticism by him and others "and have made changes that were necessary." Kean is a former Republican governor of New Jersey.

Changes include rewriting and trimming dialogue tying the Monica Lewinsky scandal to Clinton's inaction against bin Laden. Another controversial scene -- showing aide Samuel Berger in a videoconference with CIA Director George Tenet, stalling and refusing to approve an attack on bin Laden -- was trimmed.

Additionally, McPherson's claim that "[e]verything" in The Path to 9/11 "is backed up tenfold" is false. Indeed, while the producers edited various parts of the film, the final version nonetheless included several fabricated scenes.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Network/Outlet
ABC, ABC Entertainment
Stories/Interests
The Path to 9/11, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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