Wednesday, September 06, 2006

9/11 "docudrama" coming under fire

Hot on the heels of my "television news media" post is a brewing controversy over ABC's The Path to 9/11. This so-called "docudrama" is supposedly based on the 9/11 Commission's report. It tells the story of the events leading up to 9/11. It is set to air on Sunday and Monday, with no commercial interruptions.

The Path to 9/11 is coming under fire in the blogosphere (first time I've used that horrendous word!), criticism that is gaining traction in regular media.

Liberal bloggers are up in arms over a number of issues:

  • The story perpetuates the myth that the Clinton administration helped cause 9/11 by setting up the intelligence bureaucracy that failed in 2001. In fact, the structure predates Clinton.

  • One scene has a CIA operative with Afghan tribesmen in shooting range of Osama Bin Ladin. He talks to Clinton's National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger on the phone, asking for the go ahead to "terminate" Bin Ladin. Berger freezes. Before he can say anything, the line goes dead.

    Clinton officials, and 9/11 Commission members, are adamant that this never happened. The show's producers say it was a "composite" scene, taken from several different occasions. (Perhaps a CIA operative once had Osama Bin Ladin in his sights, and another time Berger waffled on the phone over what he wanted on a pizza. That would make the composite scene...)

  • ABC sent out something like 900 advance copies of the movie. Some went to such right-wing luminaries as Rush Limbaugh and the blogger Patterico (you're forgiven if you've never heard of him). However, ABC didn't have copies for, oh, former President Bill Clinton, or Samuel Berger, or former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. They requested copies, but were denied.

  • Albright did manage to hear about another scene. She wrote a letter to ABC about it. The scene has Albright refusing to allow a missile strike against bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistanis, who in turn alerted bin Laden. Therefore, Albright was complicit in letting bin Laden escape.

    The only problem: that's not how it happened. In her letter to ABC, Albright writes:
    For example, one scene apparently portrays me as refusing to support a missile strike against bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistanis; it further asserts that I notified the Pakistanis of the strike over the objections of our military. Neither of these assertions is true. In fact, the 9/11 commission reports states (page 117), "Since the missiles headed for Afghanistan had had to cross Pakistan, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was sent to meet with Pakistan's army chief of staff to assure him the missiles were not coming from India. Officials in Washington speculated that one or another Pakistani official might have sent a warning to the Taliban or Bin Ladin."

    I fully and unconditionally supported the strike against bin Laden. The planned notification to the Pakistani military was not objected to by the Pentagon, nor insisted upon by me. It is my understanding that the notification to Pakistan was delivered once the missiles were already in the air. At no time did I inform the Pakistanis independently that a strike was to take place. The scene as explained to me is false and defamatory.

  • On Monday's telecast, one scene has a CIA analyst declare that Bin Ladin was no longer using phones after a (liberal) Washington Post article declared that the government was eavesdropping on him. In fact, the article came from the (conservative) Washington Times, it spoke of Bin Ladin using satellite phones, and he stopped using them days after a cruise missile strike on his training camp in 1998.

For the most part, the right have been quiet about the "docudrama", probably because it plays up myths about the Clinton administration, and it even offers a reason for some of the Bush administration's calls for control over the press. However, not everyone on the right is happy. Roger Cressey, a security advisor for both Clinton and Bush, Jr, said, "it’s amazing…how much they’ve gotten wrong. They got the small stuff wrong" and "then they got the big stuff wrong." He added that the Berger scene was "something straight out of Disney and fantasyland. It’s factually wrong. And that’s shameful."

The scary part in all of this is that the facts won't get out to the mainstream audience. They will see the docudrama and believe it is real, thus perpetuating some right-wing myths about 9/11. Either ABC doesn't care about the facts, or they've decided that the way to get ratings is to swing to the right, like Fox.

Items come from Think Progress, Hoffmania, and The Carpetbagger Report.

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