Monday, September 11, 2006
ABC/Disney's Hatchet Job "Path to 9/11" A Total Propagand Gift to the Republican Party two Months before an Election.
"Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser
ABC's heavily promoted miniseries, The Path to 9/11, billed as being "based solely and completely on the 9/11 Commission Report" has now proven to be a fraudulent attack on former President Bill Clinton and whitewash of President Bush's record.
Filmmakers have acknowledged basing the film in part on a book by a Bush administration PR official.
They acknowledge making up scenes.
The film's star, Harvey Keitel, said the film has factual errors that should be fixed.
ABC News completely disavows the film.
Five members of the 9-11 Commission -- including one who served as a consultant to the film -- said The Path to 9/11 is flawed.
Nine prominent historians have asked ABC to cancel the broadcast.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said of the film: "[W]hen you put somebody on the screen and say that's Madeleine Albright and she said this in a specific conversation and she never did say it, I think it's slanderous, I think it's defamatory and I think that ABC and Disney should be held to account."
Everyone, it seems, is getting in on the act. Conservative columnist John Podhoretz wrote that "[e]x-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's anger is unquestionably justified." Former Reagan administration cabinet secretary and right-wing pundit Bill Bennett said, "The Path to 9/11 is strewn with a lot of problems, and I think there were problems in the Clinton administration. But that's no reason to falsify the record, falsify conversations by either the president or his leading people. And, you know, it just shouldn't happen." Conservative author Richard Miniter said parts of the film are "based on an Internet myth" and have "no factual basis."
But there are some, as of this writing, who continue to stand by the fake-umentary. ABC and Disney, for starters, still plan to broadcast an account of the events leading up to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that they know to be false.
This despite Disney's 2004 refusal to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11, which was highly critical of President Bush, even though it was produced by a Disney subsidiary, Miramax Films. Then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner explained that the company "did not want a film in the middle of the political process where we're such a nonpartisan company and our guests, that participate in all of our attractions, do not look for us to take sides."
Disney is not only taking a different approach to a film that is critical of former President Clinton than it took to a film that criticized President Bush -- its stance is also inconsistent with the hard-line Disney took toward a 2005 book about the company. Disney reportedly threatened to sue the publisher of James B. Stewart's DisneyWar (Simon & Schuster, February 2005) if the book contained inaccuracies. Now Disney is allowing its subsidiary to broadcast a film that it knows contains inaccuracies.
Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean (R), the former chairman of the 9-11 Commission, is also standing by the film, even as he acknowledges that it contains events that simply never occurred. Kean seems to suggest that the film is fake-but-true: "I know there are some scenes where words are put in characters' mouths. But the whole thing is true to the spirit of 9/11."
Even more troubling, Kean suggested that he has political motives in standing by the film. Kean's son, Tom Kean Jr. is the Republican Senate nominee in New Jersey. Asked if he had apologized to President Clinton for inaccuracies in the film, Kean responded: "No, he was out campaigning against my son yesterday, so I didn't reach out to him at all!"
Perhaps Kean, ABC, and Disney are just too embarrassed to walk away from the film at this point.
But what's Tucker Carlson's excuse? The MSNBC host argued on the September 7 edition of MSNBC's Tucker that the film's inaccuracies are fine because "this docudrama does not purport to be a documentary." According to Carlson, the fact that the film portrays real people doing and saying things they never did is no problem at all, because the filmmakers acknowledge that it is "partially fictionalized."
According to Carlson's logic, it would be fine for ABC to broadcast a miniseries titled "Tucker Carlson beat his wife" in which an actor portraying a character named "Tucker Carlson," complete with bow tie, beats another actor portraying Mrs. Carlson -- as long as ABC called the miniseries a "partially fictionalized docudrama." That wouldn't be fine with us, and we doubt it would really be fine with Tucker Carlson, either.
But at least Carlson is consistent -- or so he said. Carlson said that efforts to persuade ABC to cancel the miniseries constitute "censorship." And he said that he took the same position when conservatives successfully pressured CBS into canceling a planned docudrama about former President Ronald Reagan.
Well, we checked on that -- and it turned out that Carlson wasn't telling the truth. In 2003, during the CBS controversy, Carlson specifically rejected the "censorship" description, saying, "[Y]ou devalue the term censorship when you apply [it] to the CBS scenario. CBS admitted this thing was inaccurate. That's why they pulled it."
What's the difference between now and 2003 that would cause Carlson to not only change his position, but deceive his audience about it as well? Two possibilities come to mind. First, Carlson in 2003 was defending conservative critics of CBS. In 2006, he's attacking progressive critics of ABC. And second, Carlson has a relationship with ABC: He has traded in his trademark bow tie for a satin shirt in order to appear on that network's Dancing With the Stars.
The ABC film's most vicious smear is its reported depiction of the Clinton administration as unwilling and unable to take Osama bin Laden seriously because it was distracted by the Monica Lewinsky matter. According to Editor & Publisher, the film "explores the terrorist threat starting with the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, and there is little question that President Clinton is dealt with severely, almost mockingly, with the Lewinsky scandal closely tied to his failure to cripple al-Qaeda." E&P went on to describe one scene in which former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke is depicted telling then-FBI special agent John O'Neill, who died on 9-11, that Clinton won't order a strike against bin Laden because of the Lewinsky investigation:
Clarke explains to O'Neill afterward that "they are worried about political fallout" and "legalities." O'Neill complains that terrorism is "perceived by this administration as a law and order problem." A CIA planner angrily declares, "It's not about sitting around a conference room covering your ass."
Right away comes a quick cut to Clinton making his famous statement about not having "sexual relations" with Lewinsky. Clarke tells O'Neill that Clinton won't give the order to get bin Laden in this climate, with Republicans calling for his impeachment. O'Neill says that Clinton wants bin Laden dead -- but not if he has to order it. "It's pathetic," he declares.
In a review of the film, The New York Times endorsed the lie that Lewinsky distracted the Clinton administration from pursuing bin Laden. The Times reported that "[t]he Sept. 11 commission concluded that the sex scandal distracted the Clinton administration from the terrorist threat."
Everyone involved in the decision had, of course, been aware of President Clinton's problems. He told them to ignore them. Berger recalled the President saying to him "that they are going to get crap either way, so they should do the right thing." All his aides testified to us that they based their advice solely on national security considerations. We have found no reason to question their statements.
Former National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism Roger Cressey has previously debunked claims that Clinton was not fully engaged in pursuing bin Laden in 1998. In a 2003 op-ed in The Washington Times, co-written with special assistant to the president for African affairs Gayle Smith, Cressey and Smith wrote:
Mr. Clinton was, in fact, ready and willing to undertake a special forces or other paramilitary assault on bin Laden, particularly after our missile attacks on bin Laden in the summer of 1998, and often pressed his senior military advisers for options. But Mr. Clinton's top military and intelligence advisers concluded that a commando raid was likely to be a failure, given the potential for detection, in the absence of reliable, predictive intelligence on bin Laden's whereabouts.
Mr. Clinton approved every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against bin Laden and al Qaeda.
To be sure, some people were distracted by the Lewinsky matter and did their nation a grave disservice by obsessing over it rather than on dealing with serious matters, like bin Laden.
Foremost among those people are the congressional Republicans who tried to impeach the president for having lied about an affair. Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) illustrated his party's obsession with investigations of the president's personal life when he declared in April 1998 that "I will never again, as long as I am speaker, make a speech without commenting on this topic." Fortunately, the American people showed better judgment and rejected the GOP during that year's midterm elections, bringing Gingrich's tenure as speaker to an end much sooner than he must have expected.
Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), a member of the 9-11 Commission, "criticized the film for appearing to omit the role the GOP Congress played in neglecting the growing threat," according to journalist and blogger Greg Sargent. Kerrey told Sargent: "If you say Clinton was distracted by impeachment, I promise you the Congress was distracted by impeachment. ... Members of Congress who focused on impeachment bear some significant responsibility. Apparently the [film] doesn't show that. It's incomplete, then."
While Kerrey is a Democrat, he cannot be dismissed as a knee-jerk Clinton defender: His most famous public comment may be his 1996 statement that Clinton is "an unusually good liar."
But congressional Republicans weren't the only ones who put the nation's most important business on hold while focusing on affairs and blue dresses. Our nation's most respected news organizations embraced their inner Enquirer, devoting non-stop, round-the-clock coverage to the Lewinsky controversy at the expense of far more serious matters.
Take ABC, the network that now wants you to think that Bill Clinton was too focused on Monica Lewinsky to deal with Osama bin Laden. In the ABC News file in the Nexis database, there are 137 transcripts from 1998 that mention the words "bin Laden." Most of those are passing mentions: Only 58 transcripts use bin Laden's name four times or more. And remember: 1998 is the year in which the United States launched military strikes against bin Laden. So, what was ABC spending its time and resources on? Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky's name appears in 1,738 ABC transcripts in 1998 alone; 629 of them used the word "Lewinsky" four times or more.
It is little wonder, then, that, in 2005, the Project for Excellence in Journalism of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press "found that 75% of Americans believed that news organizations were more concerned with 'attracting the biggest audience,' while only 19% thought they cared more about 'informing the public.' "
There is little doubt that the Lewinsky investigation distracted some people from far more important matters -- matters of life and death. But it was not the Clinton administration, as ABC alleges, that took its eye off the ball. It was Congress -- and ABC and most of the rest of the nation's news organizations.
ABC's attempt to smear Clinton administration officials appears to be a classic case of projection.
Speaking of "ABC" and "projection," ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper used his weblog to lecture critics of ABC's The Path to 9/11. Tapper wrote:
If you're a fan of the 9/11 Commission, I might suggest that your energy could perhaps be well channeled by trying to get our political leaders to carry out the recommendations of that Commission, which have not been fully implemented.
That, it would seem to me, might be a more constructive (at least in the long-term) use of time as opposed to focusing on one TV show -- either in trying to get scenes edited, or in insisting that they remain untouched. I understand both sides of the debate, and I don't take either lightly, but I wonder -- what would bin Laden prefer us to focus on? A TV show, or improving this country's defenses? It need not be an either/or, but there are in fact only so many minutes in the day.
This from a guy who, just two days earlier, had devoted a post to Dancing With the Stars appearances by country music singer Sara Evans and Carlson, whom Tapper described as "[m]y personal favorite contestant" and "my pal." So, Mr. Tapper, we'll toss your question right back at you: "[W]hat would bin Laden prefer us to focus on? A TV show, or improving this country's defenses?"
There is another obvious -- and more substantive -- flaw with Tapper's logic: Some of the most pointed and credible critics of The Path to 9/11 are the very same 9-11 Commission members whose recommendations have not been fully implemented.
Maybe Tapper can explore why those recommendations haven't been implemented, on an upcoming Nightline broadcast. Surely, that would be a better use of his time -- and ours -- than another report, like the one he offered on August 25, about "this year's Emmy swag." Wonder what bin Laden thought of that?
The Path to 9/11 couldn't have come at a better time for President Bush and the Republicans, their political fortunes sagging amid growing public discontent with their leadership. The anniversary of the 9-11 attacks should serve as a reminder that Osama bin Laden remains at large five years after ordering the attacks; that it is Bush's decisions that led to bin Laden's escape at Tora Bora; that his tough talk that the United States will not tolerate nations who "harbor" terrorists has not been backed up with tough actions; and that in response to 9-11, Bush blundered and lied the nation into war against a country that didn't have anything to do with the attacks rather than focusing on catching the man who did.
But, with less than two months before Election Day, Republicans continue to catch a break from the media. ABC's plan to broadcast a hatchet job blaming President Clinton for 9-11 while omitting important facts about Bush's actions prior to the attacks -- the film reportedly omits, for example, Bush's dismissal of a pre-attack briefing about bin Laden's plans to attack the United States -- is only the latest example of the news media failing to thoroughly and effectively examine Bush's record.
This week, Media Matters highlighted several explosive revelations in journalist Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside American's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, June 2006), that have been inexplicably ignored by major news organizations. Among Suskind's revelations:
- Despite daily efforts by the Bush administration and its allies to claim credit for the fact that Al Qaeda has not attacked the United States since 2001, CIA analysts believe that the lack of such an attack is a reflection of a strategic decision on Al Qaeda's part rather than a successful Bush administration policy. Not only have news organizations failed to report Suskind's disclosures, they often unquestioningly repeat the administration's spin.
- Bush dismissed a pre-9-11 briefing about bin Laden's desire to attack the United States by telling his briefer, "All right ... You've covered your ass, now."
- After the 9-11 attacks, Bush was personally told that if he did not send more U.S. troops to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora, the terrorist leader would escape. Bush didn't, and bin Laden did.