Sept. 10, 2006 -- Following is a sampling of written complaints regarding ABC Entertainment's film "The Path to 9/11," airing tonight and Monday on ABC.
Comments by Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism czar under Presidents Clinton and Bush, and current ABC News consultant:
As someone who was directly involved in almost every event depicted in the fictionalized docudrama, "The Path to 9-11," I believe it is an egregious distortion that does a deep disservice both to history and to those in both the Clinton and Bush administrations who are depicted.
Sadly, ABC's Entertainment Division hired a production company and screen writer who were apparently unqualified to deal with this historically important subject matter. That error appears to have been compounded by the failure of some of the docudrama's consultants to insure that the account was accurate. Some of the most outrageous scenes were removed after a recent senior level review. What remains, however, is not the true story as told by the 9-11 Commission.
Although I am not one to easily believe in conspiracy theories and have spent a great deal of time debunking them, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the the errors in this screen play are more than the result of dramatization and time compression. There is throughout the screenplay a consistent bias and distortion seeking to portray senior Clinton Administration officials as holding back the hard charging CIA ,FBI, and military officers who would otherwise have prevented 9-11.
The exact opposite is true. From the President, to all of his White House team, and NSC Principals (Lake, Berger, Albright, Tenet, Reno) there was a common fixation with terrorism, al qaeda, and bin Ladin. The President approved every counter-terrorism operation presented to him, including many that CIA proved unable or unwilling to implement. He increased counter-terrorism spending by 400% and initiated the first homeland security program in forty years. Even though the US had taken relatively few casualties from al qaeda at the time, the President repeatedly authorized the use of lethal force against bin Ladin and his deputies and personally requested the US military to develop plans for "commando operations" against them. Even though he knew the timing of an attack aimed at killing bin Ladin would be labeled by critics as a political diversion, Clinton decided to follow the advice of his national security team and pay the price politically.
All of us who worked on these issues, then and now, hold some responsibility for the failures to stop al qaeda. I bear that burden every day.
But if history is to know where to assign some of that culpability, it should not be guided by this fictionalization. It might better focus on leaders of the FBI who held back John O'Neill, leaders of the CIA's Clandestine Service whose risk aversion prevented the Counter Terrorism Center from doing its job, and senior generals who strongly urged the Commander-in-Chief not to use our military to go after the al qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. Somehow, all of that is missing from this not too subtle televised politicization of history.
As is so often the case, the best advice about how to think about these things comes not from people like me or others in Washington, but from the families of the victims of 9-11. Several family members issued this statement, which I strongly commend to all:
"Families of September 11 believes the best way to honor those who were lost is to make sure that what happened to them never happens again. As such, we must understand exactly what took place, and not allow "entertainers" to promote misleading or incorrect information as fact to the public.
If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Any depiction of 9/11 that is not accurate and factual propagates myths, myths that may cause us future harm.
In order to make our country safer and more secure, we owe it to those who were lost to acknowledge that which took place, so that we can ensure it never happens again."
September 8, 2006
Despite press reports that ABC/Disney has made changes in the content and marketing of "The Path to 9/11," we remain concerned about the false impression that airing the show will leave on the public. Labeling the show as "fiction" does not meet your responsibility to the victims of the September 11th attacks, their families, the hard work of the 9/11 Commission, or to the American people as a whole.
At a moment when we should be debating how to make the nation safer by implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, "The Path to 9/11" calls into question the accuracy of the Commission's report and whether fabricated scenes are, in fact, an accurate portrayal of history. Indeed, the millions spent on the production of this fictional drama would have been better spent informing the public about the Commission's actual findings and the many recommendations that have yet to be acted upon. Unlike this film, that would have been a tremendous service to the public.
Although our request for an advance copy of the film has been repeatedly denied, it is all too clear that our objections to "The Path to 9/11" are valid and corroborated by those familiar with the film and intimately involved in its production:
Your corporate partner, Scholastic, has disassociated itself from this project.
9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, who served as co-executive producer on "The Path to 9/11," has stated that he raised concerns about the accuracy of several scenes in the film and that his concerns were not addressed during production.
Harvey Keitel, who plays the star role of FBI agent John O'Neill, told reporters yesterday that while the screenplay was presented to him as a fair treatment of historical events, he is upset that several scenes were simply invented for dramatic purposes.
Numerous Members of Congress, several 9/11 Commissioners and prominent historians have spoken out against this movie.
Indeed, according to press reports, the fact that you are still editing the film two days before it is scheduled to air is an admission that it is irreparably flawed.
As a nation, we need to be focused on preventing another attack, not fictionalizing the last one for television ratings. "The Path to 9/11" not only tarnishes the work of the 9/11 Commission, but also cheapens the fifth anniversary of what was a very painful moment in history for all Americans. We expect that you will make the responsible decision to not air this film.
Bruce R. Lindsey
Chief Executive Officer
William J. Clinton Foundation
Douglas J. Band
Counselor to President Clinton
Office of William Jefferson Clinton
Statement by the Traditional Values Coalition:
September 9, 2006
Washington, DC — The Traditional Values Coalition released footage today from an ABC-TV docudrama "The Path to 9/11" which was edited as a result of a tantrum by former President Bill Clinton because it portrayed him unfavorably.
The censored footage is available on http://traditionalvalues.org/clinton_abc.html
"Mr. Clinton doesn't want the American people to know that he and his team sat on their hands after terrorists attacked a U.S. Navy ship and bombed the World Trade Center the first time," said TVC Chairman, Rev. Louis P. Sheldon.
Scenes which portrayed an ineffective Clinton Administration headed by a President distracted by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal and his own impeachment are now missing from the television docudrama.
"The President who never had sex with 'that woman', who didn't know what 'is' meant and who lied to a grand jury, now wants to be the wizard of truth and accuracy. And, the liberal ABC executives go weak in the knees when Mr. Clinton shrieks.
"ABC-TV has surrendered. If you want to get something on ABC-NEWS or keep it off ABC-NEWS, call Mr. Clinton! He'll take you into the editing booth, and you can show them what you like and don't like.
"America lost respect for Mr. Clinton a long time ago. But we expected more of the First Amendment-quoting ABC news executives. They should be ashamed."
TVC Executive Director, Andrea Lafferty, called ABC-TV's attempts to appease the angry former President "a travesty of American journalism."
"ABC TV invited me to preview the docudrama. The ABC executive at the preview made it clear that some scenes were a compilation of a few events, but that the docudrama was factual. Lawyers from ABC vetted all of this thoroughly, but that didn't stop the executives from caving in when Mr. Clinton threw a fit.
"Mr. Clinton was more interested in pursuing Ms. Lewinsky and other frat boy antics than he was in getting bin Laden.
"ABC-TV has now been proven to be owned and operated by Mr. Clinton and the vast left wing conspiracy. ABC's lack of spine is what is 'despicable,' not this factual program."
Letter to Disney president and CEO Robert Iger from Samuel R. Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser:
September 5, 2006
Mr. Robert A. Iger
President and CEO
The Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, Calif. 91521
Dear Mr. Iger:
I write with a great deal of concern over reports I've received regarding your ABC network film "The Path to 9/11" due to air this September 10 and 11.
Though I have not been provided with a copy of the film, I understand from those who have seen it that it includes a number of contrived scenes which bear no relationship to actual events.
I am especially troubled by a scene described to me in which CIA operatives in Afghanistan have al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in their sights and seek authorization to attack. This is followed by a scene in which an actor portraying "Sandy Berger" refuses on behalf of the President to authorize a strike despite the urgent pleadings of CIA officials. This alleged "missed opportunity" to get bin Laden is followed by al Qaeda's attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and eventually, the devastating effects of 9/11.
No such episode ever occurred — nor did anything like it. There is nothing in the 9/11 Commission Report (the purported basis of your film) to support this portrayal and the fabrication of this scene (of such apparent magnitude) cannot be justified under any reasonable definition of dramatic license. In no instance did President Clinton or I ever fail to support a request from the CIA or US military to authorize an operation against bin Laden or al Qaeda.
As it cannot be substantiated by the 9/11 Commission Report, it flagrantly misrepresents my personal actions, and most significantly, will serve only to grossly misinform the American people, I urge you to revise this and other misleading scenes.
Samuel R. Berger
Letter to Disney president and CEO Robert Iger from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under President Clinton:
September 5, 2006
Mr. Robert A. Iger
President and CEO
The Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank CA 91521
Dear Mr. Iger:
I understand that ABC is scheduled to broadcast a miniseries "The Path to 9/11" which purports to portray the events leading up to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The broadcast, which was prepared by your network's entertainment division, is supposedly based on the well-respected 9/11 Commission Report.
While I have requested a copy of the broadcast, I have yet to receive one. I have been informed by some who had been given the right to view the broadcast that the drama depicts scenes that never happened, events that never took place, decisions that were never made and conversations that never occurred; it asserts as fact things that are not fact.
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.
September 11th is a day none of us will ever forget. I know you are committed to the highest possible standards of accuracy and objectivity in reporting to the American people on a subject as important as the 9/11 attacks. September 11th is not "entertainment," it is reality -- the harsh reality of historical events.
Before you air your broadcast, I trust you will ensure you have the facts right. You owe it not only to those portrayed incorrectly but more importantly to your viewers and the American people.
Letter to Disney president and CEO Robert Iger from John Beug, whose wife Carolyn, a former executive at Walt Disney Records, was on American Airlines Flight 11 when the plane struck 1 World Trade Center:
September 9, 2006
Dear Mr. Iger,
I have seen the advertisements for and read the press coverage of ABC's film, "The Path to 9/11," that your network plans to air this Sunday and Monday to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. I am writing to express my concern and deep reservations about this film and to ask you, out of respect for the victims of 9/11 and their families, not to air it.
My wife worked for the Walt Disney Corporation and was a victim of the terrorist attacks as a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11. I have great respect for you and your company and I know that you must have worked hard to make a good film. Admittedly, I have not seen it. However, accounts from those who have suggest that it contains inaccurate and invented scenes. It seems to me that fictionalizing this tragedy does not honor the memory of those who were lost on September 11th.
Given the gravity of this event for our nation and the personal loss I suffered, I believe it is critically important that we do everything possible to prevent another 9/11. That begins with making sure that we are united in our understanding of what we could have done better in the years, months and weeks leading up to the attacks of 2001. I am deeply concerned that Americans will watch this film and not fully understand -- or be led to misunderstand -- the true history of this tragedy.
I feel the 9/11 Commission Report was a correct and very responsible accounting of the terrorist attacks of 2001. Since 'The Path to 9/11' deviates from this report in key instances, I strongly and respectfully urge you not to air this film.
Letter to Disney president and CEO Robert Iger from Democratic Representatives John Conyers Jr., John Dingell, Jane Harman and Louise Slaughter:
September 6, 2006
Mr. Robert A. Iger
President and CEO
The Walt Disney Company
Dear Mr. Iger:
We are advised that ABC is scheduled to air a two-part mini-series entitled "The Path to 9/11" on September 10 and September 11. While we have not yet seen this program, news reports raise serious questions about its accuracy. Therefore, we request that the inaccuracies described herein be addressed immediately and that the program be thoroughly reviewed and revised for accuracy before it airs.
Among our concerns about the program are the following: first, it reportedly contains a scene in which Sandy Berger, the National Security Adviser to President Bill Clinton, declines to give Central Intelligence Agency operatives the authority to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, and in which those operatives are outside a house where Bin Laden is located. This account has been expressly contradicted by Richard Clarke, a high-ranking counterterrorism official in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.
Second, the film reportedly contains a scene in which the Central Intelligence Agency declines to share information about the 9/11 hijackers with the FBI and ascribes that failure to the so-called "wall," limiting information sharing by the Department of Justice in certain circumstances, and established by the Department of Justice in an internal memorandum.
This scene is puzzling at best, and inaccurate at worst. According to a Republican Member of the 9/11 Commission, former Senator Slade Gorton, the "Department of Justice guidelines at issue were internal to the Justice Department and were not even sent to any other agency. The guidelines had no effect on the Department of Defense and certainly did not prohibit it from communicating with the FBI, the CIA or anyone else."
These two examples alone create substantial doubt about the overall accuracy of this program. September 11th is a day of mourning and remembrance for every American. We do not believe that it is appropriate for it to be tainted by false assertions of blame or partisan spin.
To avoid that occurrence, we urge you to review this film and correct these and other inaccuracies. We appreciate your prompt attention and reply to this time sensitive matter.
Representatives John Conyers, Jr., John Dingell, Jane Harman, Louise Slaughter
Statement by the Democratic National Committee, regarding a petition to Disney president and CEO Robert Iger:
September 8, 2006
Washington, DC — Today, the Democratic National Committee delivered a petition signed by close to 200,000 Americans to the ABC offices in Washington urging the network to pull the plug on "The Path to 9/11," the five hour propaganda video it plans to air Sunday and Monday night. The DNC organized the petition drive when it became clear this week that the network was prepared to ignore criticism of its decision to air a right-wing, factually inaccurate mocudrama that dishonors the memory of 9/11 victims in order to serve a cheap, callous political agenda two months before the election.
In an unprecedented response, almost 200,000 Americans signed the petition after DNC Executive Director Tom McMahon sent an email on Wednesday. The petition calls on Walt Disney company president Robert Iger to "honor the trust the public has given you with our public airwaves by keeping this propaganda off the air."
"The fifth anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11th should be time to honor the memory of the people who died there, the people who lived through it, and everyone still traumatized by the attacks," said DNC Chairman Howard Dean. "Yet Disney and ABC are about to run a propaganda piece 60 days before the election which portrays a far-right view of who is responsible for the 911 attacks.
"Today, more than 200,000 Americans have sent a clear message that the solemn anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is not a time for shameless partisan smears. They protested ABC's intervention in this election and demanded that this right wing propaganda piece be pulled. Walt Disney and ABC have an obligation to the American people to make sure this inaccurate right-wing propaganda piece never reaches our broadcast airwaves."
The following is the text of the petition:
Tell Walt Disney president Robert Iger that you hold his company responsible -- and that this community demands that ABC tell the truth:
"The Path to 9/11" mocks the truth and dishonors the memory of 9/11 victims to serve a cheap, callous political agenda. It irresponsibly misrepresents the facts and completely distorts the truth.
This film is a conservative attempt to rewrite the history of September 11 to blame Democrats, just in time for the election. You should honor the trust the public has given you with our public airwaves by keeping this propaganda off the air.
Text of an e-mail that MoveOn.org has sent to its members:
Friday, September 8, 2006
Dear MoveOn member,
In a little over 48 hours, ABC will air a five-hour "docudrama" on the 9/11 attacks. The movie was written and produced by a right-wing activist who fabricated key scenes to blame Democrats and defend Republicans.1 It's so partisan that even Rush Limbaugh was surprised ABC decided to air it.2 And an FBI agent who was brought in to consult on the docudrama quit because, he said, "they were making things up."3
Public outrage is mounting across the country, and Variety reports that ABC is now "mulling the idea of yanking the mini altogether."4 But we only have a little time to act. We'll start delivering this petition to ABC headquarters tomorrow at noon and continue as more signatures come in. So we're looking for 200,000 signatures TODAY.
The Path to 9/11 appears to be part of a coordinated push—including speeches by President Bush and millions of dollars in advertising—to exploit the five-year anniversary of 9/11 for political gain. That's not acceptable from anyone—especially not a news organization like ABC.
It's not just that ABC's movie is slanted. Big parts of it are simply untrue. The producer himself even admitted to simply improvising a key scene which depicts the Clinton administration letting bin Laden go when they had him in their sights—a complete fabrication.5 Last night, the movie's star, Harvey Keitel, said "It turned out not all the facts were correct."6
It's really pretty simple: ABC shouldn't have any role in the political exploitation of 9/11. But this docudrama is designed to do just that—spreading a false message to millions of viewers across the country.
Thank you for all you do.
--Nita, Eli, Carrie, Joan, Jennifer and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team
P.S. For the most current information on the scandal involving this film, and for more information on the movie itself, please visit our friends at ThinkProgress:
1. "Writer of ABC's 9/11 'Docudrama' Is Avowed Conservative Activist," ThinkProgress, September 1, 2006
2. "Clintonoids Prepare To Attack 9/11 Movie," The Rush Limbaugh Show, August 30, 2006
3. "FBI Agent Who Consulted On Path to 9/11 Quit," ThinkProgress, September 7, 2006
4. "Under fire, ABC mulls yanking mini," Variety, September 7, 2006
5. Greg Mitchell, Editor & Publisher, MSNBC appearance, September 7, 2006
6. "Harvey Keitel speaks out on Path to 9/11: 'It turned out not all the facts were correct'", Showbiz Tonight, September 7, 2006