The ABCs Of 9/11

Random Lengths News | September 15, 2006
It was supposed to be based on the bipartisan 9/11 Commission report, but it wasn’t. ABC/Disney dropped that claim before it aired. It was supposed to be historically accurate, but it wasn’t. ABC/Disney dropped that claim as well. And it was supposed to make ABC/Disney look good by putting this tragedy into a fair historical perspective, but it didn’t. Even ABC/Disney is hard pressed to pretend otherwise.

Instead, the fictionalized docudrama, The Path to 9/11, (PT911) has become Disney’s PR nightmare, and could cost them millions in lawsuits. Some have suggested going after their broadcast licenses. In contrast, their corporate partner, Scholastic, Inc., has severed their relationship, dropped the original lesson plans it was going to distribute to high school teachers nationwide, and replaced them with a set including an emphasis on critical thinking and media literacy. It was far from being a balanced or unbiased look into the events leading up to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Problems with PT911 were apparent more than a year ago when not one, but two former FBI agents refused to work as advisors on the project because of factual inaccuracies the producers refused to correct. Thomas E. Nicoletti, was hired by the film’s producers in July 2005, but left after less than a month because of scenes he called, “total fiction” in a Sep. 8 New York Times article. Dan Coleman, turned down the job in advance.

“They sent me the script, and I read it and told them they had to be kidding,” Coleman told the Times. “I wanted my friends at the FBI to still speak to me.”

It was “amazing,” one former top Bush staffer said, on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, “how much they've gotten wrong,” from the small stuff to the big stuff.

According to Roger Cressey, former Chief of Staff of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, the big stuff included, “this fantasy about how we had a CIA officer and the Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Massoud looking at Bin Laden and they breathlessly call the White House to say we need to take him out and the White House said no. I mean it's sheer fantasy.”

While ABC/Disney is apparently working to tone down the most egregious lies—such as the scene just referred to—in hopes of avoiding lawsuits for libel, the problems go much deeper than a few fabricated scenes, right down to the very premise of the mini-series.

“Doesn't history show that Bill Clinton had several opportunities to go after Bin Laden, but the President and his cabinet were afraid to do so...?” host Joe Scarborough asked Cressy, echoing PT911’s thesis.

“Actually, Joe, that had nothing to do with it,” Cressy responded. “If you read the 9/11 Commission report, it makes it very clear. In most of those cases, George Tenet, the Director of the CIA, said because there was single source intelligence it was his recommendation to the President not to take the shot. There was never a case where we had a clear shot at Bin Laden and the decision to take it wasn't made.”

The film further blames Clinton’s preoccupation with Monica Lewinsky—a claim refuted by the 9/11 Commission Report—without mentioning Kenn Starr or the Republican Congress.

In contrast, PT911 consistently downplays Bush’s responsibility. There’s no scene of Bush holding My Pet Goat looking like a deer caught in the headlights after being told about the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. They even place the President’s press conference out of sequence on the day of the attacks making it look like Bush didn’t wait for 12 hours while the country waited. You’ll have to rent Fahrenheit 911 to see that. Nor is there a scene where FBI agents fly out to Crawford in August 2001 to brief Bush on al Qaeda’s threat to attack America—a scene in which the real-life Bush responded, once they’d finished, “Okay, you’ve covered your asses.”

Deceptive Marketing for A Deceptive Film

Yet the deceptions go even deeper than PT911’s thesis—they extend to its marketing, presentation and political purpose as well. ABC/Disney clearly knew the sort of biased product it had on its hands—it distributed roughly 900 DVDs to a wide range of rightwing media figures to promote it. This included Rush Limbaugh and obscure bloggers, but they refused requests from liberal bloggers, and even members of the Clinton Administration portrayed in the film.

This allowed ABC to pump up rightwing interest via endorsements from movement figures excited by the Clinton-blaming narrative, while publicly maintaining the lie that it was a straightforward rendering of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission Report. It even had one of the co-chairs—the Republican co-chair, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean—onboard as a consultant.

The very scene that Cressey called “sheer fantasy” was cited enthusiastically by rightwing fans. U.S. News & World Report writer Michael Barone called it a "gripping scene" while Conservative filmmaker Govindini Murty’s widely republished review said “The episode is a perfect example of Clinton-era irresponsibility and incompetence.”

As the storm of criticism broke in early September, ABC/Disney responded schizophrenically, apparently convinced it could continue telling different stories to different people, even when they weren’t different people anymore. With the help of Kean, it continued to insist on PT911’s accuracy and fidelity to the 9/11 Commission Report, while also admitting that it derived from other sources as well. It pretended to be scrupulously concerned with acting responsibly, and so made edits to address criticism it was simultaneously pooh-poohing. And it sent out an email to its conservative fan base, assuring them that the editing was so minor, the changes would be difficult to spot.

As the criticism escalated further, ABC/Disney opened yet another contradictory propaganda front, arguing that it was, after all, a dramatization, as if this excused its fabrications.

Throughout the week criticism escalated, from House and Senate Democrats, from Clinton, Albright and Berger, from a group of historians, and even from a scattering of conservative commentators disturbed by the outright lies. On Thursday, Sep. 7, Families of September 11 issued a statement—without specifically naming PT911—warning, “Any depiction of 9/11 that is not accurate and actually propagates myths, myths that may cause us future harm.”

911 Goes Hollywood

That same day, ABC/Disney opened yet another front, arguing that PT911 was still being edited, and that those criticizing it without seeing it were acting “irresponsibly.” Of course, those objecting most strenuously had been deliberately kept from seeing it, as part of ABC/Disney’s covert marketing strategy. But what about the regular TV critics?

“If this is the case, then I wonder what the network expected me to do with that Path to 9/11 review copy it supplied me with a few weeks back,” asked Hollywood Reporter critic Ray Richmond. “Was I not supposed to review it? .... I've been a TV critic for the better part of 22 years, and that's a new one on me.”

Richmond also wondered about ABC/Disney’s motives—spending $40 million on a project with no monetary return, and speculated it had to do with their “symbiotic relationship” with the Bush Administration, also evident in their massively money-losing “decision barring Miramax from distributing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (F9/11) back in 2004.”

While ABC/Disney rationalized that move as not wanting to be involved in election-year politics, F9/11 came out long before Labor Day, the traditional start of the election season. On the other hand, PT911 seems perfectly timed—and attuned—to reinforce the new Bush/Rove blame-shifting strategy, equating any questioning of Bush’s failed policies with pre-WWII appeasement of Hitler. Whatever ABC/Disney’s real motives and financial calculations are, their official explanations are so riddled with contradiction they can only be considered a further form of fraud surrounding this project.

Behind The Fraud

Finally, there’s the question of fraud behind the project’s producers, rightwing activists pretending to present objective truth. Writer Cyrus Nowrasteh was touted by Rush Limbaugh as a friend, while director David Cunningham is the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of a worldwide missionary organization, Youth With A Mission (YWAM). YWAM has come under fire over the years for cult-like behavior, unchristian theology and its association with Guatemalan dictator Ríos Montt, whose 14-month reign (1982-1983) saw the massacre of over 70,000 civilian Mayan Indians.

The younger Cunningham recently formed The Film Institute as an auxiliary branch of YWAM, intended to help move YWAM members into Hollywood, and spread YWAM's influence through the media. He has been supported by rightwing activist David Horowitz, who first made his media-activist name by getting KCET to cancel South Africa Now, the only Western news program covering apartheid South Africa after the regime kicked outside journalists out of the country. Horowitz convinced KCET that Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, which helped produce South Africa Now, was a communist organization, whose news reports should not be aired.

Horowitz was the first figure on the right to put major effort into blaming Clinton for 9/11. In February, 2002, he produced a 46-page pamphlet, “How the Left Undermined America’s Security,” which was mailed to about 1,500 media outlets. (In contrast, the GOP’s 2000 platform had a detailed criticism of Clinton’s foreign policy, but did not mention terrorism or Bin Laden.)

As ABC proceeded to air PT911 with only a few more minor edits, activists began organizing online to challenge the broadcast licenses of all stations who aired it. Ten ABC stations in California have their licenses up for renewal this year, including KABC in Los Angeles.

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