Blogs > Cliopatria > "The Path to 9/11": Exploiting an American Tragedy

Sep 7, 2006 8:25 am

"The Path to 9/11": Exploiting an American Tragedy

A few days ago, the"Kossacks" -- regular contributors -- at Daily Kos began decrying an upcoming film called"The Path to 9/11," to be aired by the ABC network this coming Sunday and Monday. It was, they averred, a thinly-veiled piece of political propaganda that attacked the Clinton administration and exonerated the Bush administration concerning what the Report of the 9/11 Commission concluded was a massive systemic failure of U.S. intelligence that happened on the watch of both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Initially I was angered to learn that 9/11 was yet again being exploited for partisan political purposes. Then I took a breath, poked around the Internet a bit, and saw a number of blog posts that portrayed the film as really quite arresting and dramatic and not slanted toward any political agenda. So I swept the Kossacks' outcries from my thoughts.

Then came last evening.

I was driving down to Lancaster, Ohio, to visit a conservative evangelical church and had the radio set to a conservative Christian radio station that is fairly prominent in these parts. A Michael Medved plug for"The Path to 9/11" was played twice in ten minutes. It strongly reinforced the right-wing propaganda interpretation.

The second time I captured most of it on a digital recorder. Here's a transcript:

... The truth is that terrorist strikes against America began long before 2001, and a superb upcoming mini-series on ABC-TV,"The Path to 9/11," makes that point unforgettably clear. The five-hour dramatization begins with the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, highlighting eight years of confusion and passivity in the Clinton administration, while Bin Laden and colleagues intensified their anti-American jihad. As early as 1983 Hezbollah had killed 241 Americans in Beirut, and even four years before that, the embassy hostage crisis in Iran highlighted the new threat from Islamic extremism. Terrorism was hardly a response to the war in Iraq but that war was part of our response to a long series of atrocities reaching back more than twenty-five years. I'm Michael Medved.

When I got home a wrote a Daily Kos"diary" post about the Medved plug. It generated a fair amount of response, including some suggestions concerning other blogs and Kos diaries that were exploring"The Path to 9/11," especially this one. It transpires that former Governor Thomas Kean was signed to the film as a co-executive producer, but no Democrats; that conservatives were invited to pre-screenings of the film, but again no Democrats; that the film was made in collaboration with the conservative evangelical Film Institute, whose maiden production, coyly termed,"The Untitled History Project," turns out to be"The Path to 9/11"; that 100,000 press kits have gone to schools encouraging the use of"The Path to 9/11" as a tool to teach the history of the WTC/Pentagon attacks; and that former Clinton administration officials are assailing the film for massively distorting their actions, but are having to base their objections on what they've heard about the film, since ABC is refusing to supply them with an opportunity to screen the film in advance.

There's an argument to be made, I guess, that judgment ought to be postponed until the film is aired. But the swift boating of John Kerry is much on the minds of those who have followed this story, and the consensus is that this is a time to contact ABC and object. I'm not usually one to go in for these things, but I've sent an email of protest to ABC via a web page set up by the Democratic Party. If the film is as slanted as Democrats suspect, and as Michael Medved's plug strongly suggests, then a protest is in order on those grounds. And if the film proves more or less balanced, a protest is still in order concerning the blatantly partisan way it has handled the advance publicity. It may be an intentional publicity campaign based on the premise that no publicity is bad publicity. I've thought of that. So have others. But you don't exploit 9/11 that way.

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Stephan Xavier Reich - 11/24/2006

"There's an argument to be made, I guess, that judgment ought to be postponed until the film is aired."

Yes there is, and it's the argument that a historian, rather than and ideologue, is obliged to make.

Stephan Xavier Reich - 11/24/2006

That's a fair question, but one that could equally be asked of Michael Moore--who surely DID exploit 9/11 in "Fahrenheit 911." Millions of people saw that putrid collection of lies, and conservatives were justly angry at it. But prior restraint? No way. Not for Alan Dershowitz, and not for Mark Grimsley. That's simply not the way we work.

Stephan Xavier Reich - 11/24/2006

I wonder if Moore invited Republicans to his previews? But the larger point of airwaves versus cinema is a fair one--I still think this is an intellectually questionable approach. I may know that the next book by my colleague will be a piece of junk, but I should read it before I commit to that.

Stephan Xavier Reich - 11/24/2006

I think I'm being pretty moderate on this. I'm not asking us to suspend our critical judgement, nor am I saying that the evidence suggests this is a fine and
well researched film. All I am saying is we, as historians, should not petition to stop things like this until the facts are in. Despite Dresner's claims, there's no way around actually reading the book, hearing the lecture, or watching the film.

Stephan Xavier Reich - 11/24/2006

No, I'm a Democrat. But I read the 9/11 Commission Report and i think there's a pretty compelling story to be told about the neglect of all three administrations (Bush, Clinton, Bush) on this regard.

Charles S Young - 9/21/2006

The Evangelical Film Institute sending 100,000 press kits to school children does suggest a concerted effort to capture minds.

It makes sense. The GOP's biggest vulnerability is the disastrous war it started. What can they do besides shift the blame?

The Swift Boat references are spot on. If they can just muddy the responsibility a bit, the Republicans will be blamed less. Watch for lots more focus on Clinton.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/8/2006

Michael, You did manage systematically to ignore the fact that partisans on one side were invited to previews of the film, while partisans on the other were systematically not invited. You think that's not enough to arouse suspicions? It ought to, even though you are a Republican. Moreover, news reports of particular scenes in the film confirm that it quite specifically defamed certain members of the Clinton administration, including Madilyn Albright.

Michael R. Davidson - 9/8/2006

There are angering reports, by political partisans at a popular partisan blog, that an upcoming film (which they have not seen) represents a partisan attack and exploitation of 9/11. This could be dismissed were it not for the fact that a political partisan, on a partisan radio station, is advertising the upcoming film. Several partisan websites support the implication that the film, is, indeed, a partisan hack job, as do partisan representatives of a former president (who have not yet seen the film), and, more recently, a number of partisan members of Congress (who have not yet seen the film). But, yet, we are not to withhold judgement, but utilize a partisan website to send a protest to the network which is set to air the allegedly partisan film. Furthermore, even if the film turns out not to be partisan, we still need to protest to the network for utilizing advertising which is aimed at a target market of partisans.

Rather than generate possibly misplaced outrage, I, for one, will wait and see the film first. . .

Mike Davidson

John H. Lederer - 9/8/2006

After a letter from Democratic senators making a pointed reference to ABC's network license?

Actually I am sorry that they fictionalized Berger's role. His penned in responses on several of the contemporary documents reveal his mindset pretty clearly. But I suppose a marginal comment is not good theatre,

Mark Grimsley - 9/8/2006

I concur with Ralph. I myself am a lifelong Democrat, but I've always been a centrist, and I might well become a moderate Republican if such a thing existed any more.

Michael Medved's radio plug actually takes us back all the way to the 1983 Beirut bombing of the Marine barracks, an event that took place on the Reagan administration's watch. The most accurate way to look at 9/11 -- and again, this is right in my initial post, which apparently you're too partisan, John, to read with any care -- is that it was the culmination of a systemic intelligence failure that occurred over a long stretch of time and involved both Republican and Democratic administrations. The suggestion that the Clinton administration alone blew it (strange idea since it actually caught, tried and convicted the 1993 WTC bombers, whereas bin Laden is still at large after five years) is partisan, plain and simple. And a network that uses the public air waves to broadcast propaganda in the guise of a historically accurate recreation of event, ought to be held accountable.

Mark Grimsley - 9/8/2006

Where did I call it a documentary? I even ran a "find" search for the term and couldn't find it. I concur that it's a docudrama, and I don't mind someone drawing a thread of connection back to 1993, which seems a very good place, dramatically, to begin. What I object to -- and numerous people have already made this point -- is the fact that a) early reports suggest that the film contains serious distortions and b) the steadfast refusal of ABC to allow any but a select audience of conservatives to pre-screen it is, in combination with other things, a serious indication that the allegations about the distortions may be well founded.

I realize that commenters like you are inevitable, but is it really necessary to employ abusive terms like "hysterical" and loaded labels like "Clintonistas"? What have you got against civil dialogue?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/7/2006

The version Disney planned to air must be more fake than accurate because they are revising it even as we speak.

John H. Lederer - 9/7/2006

"What, Mr. Reich, will you do to repair the damage done in public opinion if this turns out to be a piece of propaganda that might have been produced by the Republican National Committee in the midst of mid-term elections?"

Denominate it "fake but accurate"?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/7/2006

Mr. Reagan, I happen to be a Republican. I happen to think that Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II have much to answer for. I also happen to think that we do not need networks in addition to Fox devoting themselves to Republican propaganda in the run-up to the November elections.

John Jeremiah Reagan - 9/7/2006

I agree with Mr. Luker. Let's have a nice good dose
of prior restraint. Debate after the telecast? That's
no good. Americans aren't smart enough for that.
The problem here is simple: the program shows the government's faults in the 1990's. That's during the Clinton administration. That's it. Not acceptable. Mistakes during the Bush administration are the result of evil, greed, stupidity and the like. There were no mistakes during the Clinton administration. To suggest there were is simply partisan. End of story.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/7/2006

I agree with that, but apparently the producers have acknowledged that the original version of the program was not balanced. See: here.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/7/2006

You're insisting that it must be given a national audience on the public airways, even though all advance word is that it is a partisan smear. Would you take that position on a similar dramatization that blamed GWB for 9/11 and Katrina? Why, in the midst of national elections, do you insist that partisan propaganda have no constraints put on it? Could be because it's _your_ side's propaganda.

John Jeremiah Reagan - 9/7/2006

Why do people on this blog, including Mark Grimsley in the first posting, keep calling this a documentary? The producers are at pains to say over and over it is a "dramatization" based in large part on the 911 Commission Report. After 911 the Bush administration was widely reviled for failing to "connect the dots". Now someone is connecting them back to the first attack on the World Trade Center and its all Clintonistas to the barricades time. It's all very amusing.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/7/2006

I'm sorry, but Mr. Reich's call to "wait and see" is absurd. Historians frequently draw conclusions about events, processes, etc., which are based on partial and indirect evidence. It's not as strong as direct evidence, but in the absence of better, we do what we can.

All the available evidence points at this being a partisan piece; the only evidence which does not comes highly suspect partisan sources.

That's fine -- everyone's got a right to an opinion -- but when corporations like Disney/ABC are involved, and public airwaves are the medium, and the distribution is going to be broad, it makes more sense to open a discussion which will inform viewers ahead of time that a certain skepticism is warranted.

Rebecca Anne Goetz - 9/7/2006

Normally I would also be inclined to take the wait and see approach, but what I'm reading about this "documentary" is inclining me to Mark's approach. There's more information about it on TalkingPointsMemo--man of the scenes from the Clinton years are "dramatized" with fake dialogue, and apparently no Clinton-era officials were actually interviewed as part of the "research." I'm sure there's lots of good, historical work that can and will be done on 9/11 antecedents. This show doesn't appear to fit that description, and I agree with Mark: the way it has been promoted makes me extremely suspicious.

I'll also add that Michael Moore's film did not purport to be historical; he promoted it as an opinion piece. And, it was pretty clear from the title how he feels about the WoT. This production seems much more insidious to me.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/7/2006

The collegial thing to do would be to tell your colleague that he is publishing a piece of junk _before_ he or she embarrasses him/herself.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/7/2006

There's some difference between a film to which one must pay for admission and a television program that perports to be a documentary and for which there is no admission fee. It uses the public airways. Michael Moore's film did not. Why have Republicans been invited to previews and Democrats excluded? You _know_ why.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/7/2006

What, Mr. Reich, will you do to repair the damage done in public opinion if this turns out to be a piece of propaganda that might have been produced by the Republican National Committee in the midst of mid-term elections?