Political blogs have been abuzz over the past two days over the upcoming ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, a docudrama which not only dramatizes the planning and events between the first bombing of the WTC (in 1993) and 9/11, but also apparently dumps most of the blame on the Clinton administration.
There are several interconnected facets to this story; accordingly, I’ve had several reactions to it. 9/11 is without doubt the most influential political event of this decade, and has been used unceasingly ever since by the President and Republicans to justify a broad range of military, political, judicial, and cultural actions. Any dramatic representation of those events, scarcely five years removed, but well within their impact on our lives and culture, is bound to generate some controversy (e.g., the responses to United 93, World Trade Center, and other films over the past year). A two-night television event, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, aired without commercials, is even more prone to this pre-judgement (especially given the fact that television itself is central to most people’s memory of that day).
Fair enough. But this is where things get interesting.
First, there’s an election coming up in two months. It’s a rather important one which, if the trends continue as they’ve been pointing all year, will likely switch control of Congress back to Democrats. In order to prevent this, Republicans (and the administration in particular) will do everything in their power. While years of unfinished wars, bureaucratic incompetence, a trickle-up economy, and the unmistakable stench of corruption have worn down the public’s (including most independents and a growing number of Republicans) support for this administration, 9/11 remains their ostensible trump card. It’s a doomsday rhetorical weapon wielded (very effectively as well) against all opponents, and deployed regularly for said purpose. Under such circumstances, the fifth anniversary of the date, coinciding two months before the election, is not only too rich of an opportunity to pass up; the consequences of passing it up could be fatal for the GOP (at least in its current incarnation; again, some Republicans are eager to be done with it and move on).
It turns out that The Path to 9/11 is written by one Cyrus Nowrasteh, an avowed conservative and media darling of the Right. He’s given frank interviews over the past month (such as this one for right-wing blog FrontPageMag) touting his film, and has made appearances at the right-wing Liberty Film Festival in support of his politics and this project. The film is directed by one David L. Cunningham, an avowed evangelical Christian who aspires to create Hollywood films with “biblical, values-based messages.”
Again, fair enough. One’s political views aren’t a necessary indicator of one’s talents in other arenas. Patricia Heaton may be a dyed-in-the-wool GOoPer, but she’s unquestionably a gifted comic actress. Joel Surnow’s 24 is still one of the most riveting, well-produced series on TV. Moreover, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt even if the subject material is potentially controversial. We shouldn’t prejudge this film just because Nowrasteh likes to pal around with Rush Limbaugh. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Well, the pudding is emerging, several days before it airs, and unfortunately so is the proof.
Hundreds of screeners (advance copies) were sent out to right-wing pundits and bloggers…but none, zero, nada, were made available to left-wing pundits and bloggers. None were even made available, despite personal requests, to President Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and former counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke, among others, even though they are central figures in the events portrayed in the film. Moreover, prominent conservative blogger Hugh Hewitt even posted an e-mail (allegedly from a Disney/ABC insider) that assures him that “the blame on the Clinton team is in the DNA of the project and could not be eradicated.”
Once more I say, fair enough. If this were meant for the Liberty Film Festival, or was clearly intended to raise explicitly political questions (in this case, critiquing the Clinton Administration and defending the Bush Administration), fine. Instead, however, it is being marketed as an historical account. It’s airing in prime television real estate, exactly on the anniversary of the events, without commericals, clearly meant to draw in a massive audience as “event” television. Scholastic Books has even produced a coursepack for high school teachers to use in conjunction with this project (although they may have withdrawn it under pressure today; it’s unclear what’s going on this front at the moment).
Clearly, this is a propaganda piece. There is no other way to describe it. It willfully distorts matters of historical record in order to support a favorite conservative fantasy: that 9/11 never would have happened if Clinton had been on the ball. Its roots as propaganda are now out in the open. The only missing piece is what ABC/Disney is getting out of it. Five hours of prime-time TV is not cheap. If the Mouse is doing this in-kind, two questions loom large: who put them up to this, and what are they getting out of it? Rumors circulate (as they are wont to do) about capitulating to the GOP in exchange for blasting draconian copyright legislation through congress, laws that would keep Mickey Mouse et al from ever entering public domain. I haven’t seen the proof yet, but that particular pudding smells at least plausible.
Regardless, this story has blown up over the past day, as allegations mount and liberals pressure Disney, Scholastic, and all involved to edit or cancel this broadcast. An excellent and ever-evolving collection of links (from all over the media, blogosphere, and political spectrum), including details of the fabrications in the film, and the responses of critics including Clinton, Albright, Clarke, Sandy Berger, and 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste, can be found here at the Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch.
My favorite blog take on this, however, comes from the incomparable Glenn Greenwald, who provides pages and pages of conservative outrage over CBS’ cancelled Reagan biopic in 2003. The critics quoted there, who were incensed at this particular film, are all among the primary supporters of The Path to 9/11. If they’ve a single conscientious bone in their bodies, they’ll see the irony. I’m not holding my breath.