History by miniseries: Too fast, too loose?

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ABC-TV's miniseries "Path to 9/11" has ignited a new national dialogue on an old subject - the cinematic dramatization of real life. But unlike previous fact-vs.-drama arguments over the Vietnam War or episodes in the Nixon or Reagan presidencies, this week's just-ended series has raised the political stakes, say media critics and political pundits.

Because the war on terror remains central in the lives of Americans - and because the November elections may hinge on how people perceive its progress - the drama and its timing have unfurled charges of media bias, as well as concerns that voters might be swayed by a fictionalized and disputed account of events.

"The intensity of the controversy over the portrayals in ['Path'] is already ratcheted up because of the coming election, and when you add the currency of the war on terror, the whole issue becomes a very combustible commodity," says Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a media research organization in Washington. "When you have a piece of historical fiction competing for the historical record that is still forming in people's minds, that is dangerous terrain."

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