September 8, 2006
Lies, lying, liars
Joe Conason, Salon, Sept. 8, 2006:
Suspicions of bad faith about the production of "The Path to 9/11" have less to do with the alleged personal bias of Cyrus Nowrasteh, the conservative writer responsible for the script, and more to do with what he chose to invent on-screen--and what he and the producers chose to omit.
Nowrasteh's most egregious fictionalizing occurs in Act 4, which depicts a supposed strike on bin Laden's Afghan redoubt that is called off at the last second by Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security advisor, who says, "I don't have that authority." Under cover of night, a CIA agent known only as "Kirk" leads a Special Forces team into the remote mountain compound where the al-Qaida chief is hiding. "The package is ready!" cries Kirk over the satellite phone, but Berger aborts the operation because he doesn't want to take responsibility.
That incident simply never occurred. As Clarke himself would have told Nowrasteh, no CIA officer ever tracked bin Laden to his hideout. Neither did Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader who is shown guiding the aborted operation. The handsome, charismatic Massoud, later assassinated by al-Qaida agents, asks Kirk angrily, "Are there any men left in Washington, or are they all cowards?" That sort of rhetoric is frequently uttered by actors portraying characters such as Massoud and O'Neill, who are no longer around to dispute the script.
Had Nowrasteh consulted the 9/11 Commission report, not only would he have found no evidence to support his exciting imaginary assault on the bin Laden compound, but he would also have learned that the underlying assumptions were completely wrong. The report states explicitly, as Clarke and other senior officials have affirmed, that Clinton and Berger ordered the CIA and the military to use any force necessary to get bin Laden.
The movie shows former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright--who is played as a fussy, irritable Margaret Dumont-style matron--thwarting a missile strike against bin Laden's desert camp by warning his Pakistani friends in advance. That never happened, either.
And in its most blatant appeal to right-wing pathology, the movie repeatedly suggests that Clinton was either distracted or prodded by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the ensuing impeachment, taking action or deferring action for political reasons. Clarke has repeatedly denied that considerations of that kind influenced policy on any occasion.
If the producers of "The Path to 9/11" unfairly indict the Clinton administration with fabricated scenes and notions, they go out of their way to exonerate the Bush White House by ignoring certain damning facts--and creating substitutes that make the president look better. The movie shows a smarmy, condescending Condoleezza Rice demoting Clarke in January 2001 when she takes over as national security advisor. Clarke tries to warn her that "something spectacular" is going to happen on American soil, and she assures him that "we're on it," which they assuredly were not.
Indeed, the script downplays the neglect of terrorism as a primary threat by the incoming Bush team--and never mentions the counterterrorism task force, chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney, that never met for nine months before 9/11. The famous Aug. 6 presidential daily briefing, which warned the vacationing Bush that al-Qaida intended to strike here, is given due attention. The movie then shows Rice telling her associates that "as a result of the Aug. 6 PDB, the president wants to take real action" against al-Qaida. But the 9/11 Commission report's section on the PDB clearly states that the August warning was not followed up on by Rice:
"We found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an Al Qaeda attack in the United States." No action was contemplated before 9/11 and the movie's attempt to claim otherwise is another distortion.
Recent comparisons have shown that the ABC docudrama "The Path to 9/11" simply does not adhere to the historical record as presented in the bipartisan 9/11 Commission's report, which is purported to be the film's source.
ABC should not take revelations of the inaccuracy of this film lightly. The production's fallibility would be regretful enough even if ABC hadn't sent hundreds of advance copies to various right-wing outlets, while declaring it unavailable for preview to those public figures whose reputations it inaccurately impugns.
In order to avoid the inescapable conclusion that partisan concerns have trumped its commitment to truth and accuracy, ABC would be well-advised to cancel this film's broadcast. Such clear evidence of biased programming will permantly ruin the legacy of thoughtful, honest journalism established by ABC News legends like Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel.
I respectfully ask that ABC withdraw "The Path to 9/11" from consideration for broadcast.
LATER... Or I guess you could say it like this:
Frankly, that ABC and Disney would consider airing a program that could be construed as right-wing political propaganda on such a grave and important event involving the security of our nation is a discredit both to the Disney brand and to the legacy of honesty built at ABC by honorable individuals from David Brinkley to Peter Jennings. Furthermore, that Disney would seek to use Scholastic to promote this misguided programming to American children as a substitute for factual information is a disgrace.
Brinkley probably is a better name to drop than Koppel. And that other stuff's pretty good, too--"discredit," "disgrace"...wish I could have worked those in. But I didn't want Mr. Iger to think I was a CRAZY LEFT-WING MOONBAT WITH GOOGLY EYES AND FLIPPERS FOR ARMS.
The Scholastic angle, which I meant to work in before, has almost bugged me more than anything else about this whole thing. First you school the kids in alternative histories, then you get them some snappy little uniforms.... Thankfully, like a lot of other aspects of ABC's drunkenly deceptive lurch through recent history that are starting to slide downhill, Scholastic has now backed away.
So it's been a fun toboggan ride for a short news week. For a minute I wondered whether this wasn't just another teacup tsunami for the lefty blogosphere to hot-flash over, but I decided, no: facts matter, history matters. Edward R. Murrow's grave-flipping could already power turbines sufficient to light a small city, and traditional and once-authoritative outlets of information were long ago sucked into the maw of corporate politics. But the day the "free press" starts producing propaganda as blatant and clumsy as this, while we either stuff ourselves with hash brownies and wait for the lights to go twirly, or admire the imaginary garments that we either see, pretend to see, or pray to see on our various Emperors...is a...well, that's a really bad day.
It's funny, actually, that it was one bad day that gave them the chance and the balls to try it.
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