Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Initial reports for Sunday night's airing of part one for "The Path To 9/11" had it coming in second in the ratings to "the Brothers Bowl" football game on NBC. But in truth, it came in third after FOX whose football game ran overlong and then led into a more palatable lineup of animated shows (especially an episode of 'The Simpsons' which featured the voices of a few actors from 'The Sopranos'.)

Going in to the program, a lot of pundits figured that the controversy over the film's scrambling of the facts with fiction would gain it even more viewers. If that was so, it would have done even worse in the ratings than it did.

But even so, it still probably would have trounced the third go-round of the CBS documentary about that tragic day. I don't have much faith in the viewing audience and I know they'll always go for the fiction rather than the fact - more entertainment value that way. (It still only beat CBS by 3 millions viewers, not that many in the grand scheme of things.)

ABC claimed that they did a lot of editing due to the complaints they got about the film's veracity from powerful voices - like former President Bill Clinton. But according to reports after Sunday night's broadcast, most of those changes seemed superficial......
After initially promoting the film as being based on the official report of the Sept. 11 Commission, ABC changed that promotion last week to say the film was based on a number of sources. And it added a disclaimer that ran at least three times during the broadcast on Sunday. The disclaimer noted that “for dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression.”

ABC subsequently cut a scene in the film where the White House terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke indicates that President Bill Clinton would not be willing to go after Mr. bin Laden because of the impeachment fight over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Another scene removed from the broadcast version, The Associated Press reported, showed Samuel R. Berger. a national security adviser to President Clinton, hanging up on George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, as the CIA was seeking permission to attack Mr. bin Laden.
"Having now seen the first night of this fiction, it is clear that the edits made to the film did not address the factual errors that we brought to your attention.

"The final product was fraught with error and contained contrived scenes that are directly contradicted by the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report. The film has undoubtedly cemented in millions of viewers' minds a false impression of critical historical events."
- Bruce Lindsey, the former President's personal attorney and head of the Clinton Foundation, wrote in an open letter to Disney chief Robert Iger.

"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.

"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 errors in this screenplay are more than the result of dramatization and time compression [as ABC initially implied]."
- Richard Clarke, who served under both Clinton and George W. Bush and now works for ABC News.

I like the fact that Clarke had no trouble speaking up, even though his employers were the ones broadcasting the movie.

As for Bill Clinton?

"He made the choice that most Americans made," Clinton Foundation spokesman Jay Carson told the Associated Press. "Of a fictionalized drama version of Sept. 11 or the Manning brothers playing football against one another, he chose the latter."

An FBI agent who was hired to be a technical advisor on the film quit because he was rebuffed by the producers after he pointed out the inaccuracies.

“There were some of the scenes that were total fiction. I told them unless they were changing this, I could not have my name associated with it.”
- FBI Agent Thomas Nicoletti

Chief among Mr. Nicoletti’s concerns were scenes that put people at places they weren't or plotted the narrative action out of chronological order.

Toobworld has never had a problem with the concept of fictionalizing historical events for dramatic purposes. Composite characters, timeline compression, representational dialogue - these are all par for the course in an historical drama.

But there just seems something wrong when you create totally fictional events and then try to pass it off as being based on historical fact. I understand that this has been done in the TV Universe in the past as well, but usually couched in a larger story the audience would automatically know never occurred - the events in the TV series 'Dark Skies', for example.

When presented as the main thrust of the narrative, with nothing else to measure it against, the audience more than likely will take it as fact.

ABC claimed it covered its bases by broadcasting that disclaimer three times during Sunday night's installment, but disclaimers were also broadcast during the radio presentation of Orson Welles' production of 'War Of The Worlds', and that seems to have slipped by a few people.....

This was the first full-scale production which dramatized the 9/11 tragedy for the TV Universe, and as such the errors become the Truth in Toobworld. I know there are differences between Toobworld and the Trueniverse, that Nancy Reagan never met Arnold Drummond in the Real World; but this doesn't feel right at all.

Claiming that Mac Taylor's wife ('CSI: NY') and Tommy Gavin's cousin Jimmy Keefe ('Rescue Me') died in the collapse of the Towers is one thing. Claiming that Sandy Berger set in motion the chain of events by doing something that never happened in the Real World is quite another. Or by showing Bush leaping into action upon hearing the news about the attack when Michael Moore's documentary showed him sitting in stunned inertia for over five minutes is just wrong.

Not that the writer and director seemed to care; reports are that they had a strong anti-Clinton, pro-Bush bias. And Real Life events certainly worked in their favor - do the Clinton bashing in the first night when more people were likely to watch. Then if they did bother to point some (if any) blame at Bush, do it during the second night when most of the people who sampled the first night would probably choose not to come back.

It was kismet for them that Bush himself interrupted the movie, which probably caused even more people to wander off before their perceptions could be changed.

Personally, I'll be more than willing to toss this movie over into the evil mirror universe where the allegations about the deeds done by Berger, Clarke and Madeleine Albright would be understandable. But for now, this has to stand as the Toobworld version of Real World events.


"Nothing is typically more accurate than a made-for-television movie."
Jon Stewart
'The Daily Show'

1 comment:

wcdixon said...

Well put together post - and that Jon Stewert quote was a classic