Friday, September 08, 2006

The Furor Over ABC's "Path to 9/11"

Anyone who's followed the news today would be aware of the partisan furor that has erupted over the Sunday/Monday telecast of ABC's docudrama, "The Path to 9/11." This Boston Globe piece, for example, says the Democrats are crying foul over the show.

Over at the National Review, political reporter John Miller argues that liberals are seeking to blacklist the ABC program:

The Path to 9/11 is scheduled to air on Sunday and Monday nights. More than anything else, its enemies seem to hate the fact that it directs most of the blame for the disaster of five years ago on someone other than President Bush.

The anti-ABC drumbeats began about a week before Clinton’s involvement. Here’s what one
lefty blogger had to say: “Back in 2003, CBS was forced to pull its miniseries ‘The Reagans,’ after conservative groups lambasted the network for crossing the line into advocacy against the Reagan administration. A similar effort should perhaps be undertaken to compel ABC to pull ‘The Path to 9/11.’”

Aren’t these guys supposed to be against preemptive strikes? They’ve certainly announced their opposition to pressuring networks over such matters, or at least former senator
Tom Daschle has: When CBS axed The Reagans, he said that it “smells of intimidation to me.”

Unlike recent movies such as Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center and United 93, the ABC miniseries doesn’t concentrate solely on the events of 9/11. It does dramatize that day, but the bulk of the show focuses on what led up to the catastrophe: the failed attempt to destroy the Twin Towers in 1993, the embassy bombings in 1998, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, and so on. The main character is FBI agent John O’Neill (played by
Harvey Keitel), who leads a counterterrorism operation aimed at nabbing Yousef, Osama bin Laden, and their ilk. He is a diligent G-man, but the miniseries is, for the most part, a chronicle of massive failure.

The show is based on the work of the
9/11 Commission; chairman Thomas Kean, a Republican, played a role in its development. ABC spent $40 million to produce it. Even in Hollywood, that’s not chump change — especially for a television program.

If nothing else, The Path to 9/11 makes one thing abundantly clear: Hard-working law-enforcement officials had multiple opportunities to stop the terrorists before they wreaked their havoc, but inept leadership, mainly by political appointees of the Clinton administration, got in the way. Secretary of state Madeleine Albright comes off as a shrill obstructionist, CIA director George Tenet appears wimpy, and ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine (played by
Patricia Heaton of Everybody Loves Raymond) is a word that rhymes with witch.

Worst of all is former national-security adviser Sandy Berger. He is the closest thing in the film to a villain who isn’t an actual terrorist. In one scene, a group of military operatives surrounds bin Laden in his remote Afghan compound. “Do we have clearance to load the package?” asks an American who is leading them. Berger refuses to give it — he simply flicks off his video-conferencing camera — and a remarkable opportunity to snatch or kill bin Laden slips away.
Dorothy Rabinowitz had a great television review of "Path to 9/11" in today's Wall Street Journal, which is unfortunately not available online. It is worth keying-in a few lines, in any case, since the essay was so good:
The arrival...of a television production that begins with such a critical focus on the Clinton administration's policies with regard to terrorism -- rather than those now enshrined targets of media contempt -- Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld -- had an effect much like the shock that attends the witnessing of an unnatural act. That the miniseries goes on, in Part II, to treat the Bush administration's failures on the terror front to precisely the same scrutiny, the same lethal portrayal of bureaucratic self-interest and blind obedience to protocol, apparently made no difference....

An outaged Democratic member of Congress, Louise Slaughter, declared on Tuesday that Americans had to be protected from "The Path to 9/11," and demanded that the network issue regular disclaimers stating that the program was not a documentary but a docudrama....

That aside, the network evidently knows full well the quality of the miniseries (directed by David Cunningham) and would have been unlikely to diminish it in any serious way. Its range is breathtaking, its evocations of the worlds where terrorists lived and plotted -- Afghanistan, the Philippines, Pakistan, Spain -- even more so....The uniformly superb cast led by Harvey Keitel as John O'Neill, the dauntless, utlimately defeated FBI agent and al Qaeda expert who would die in the fires of 9/11, having failed, along with a small circle of haunted colleagues, to persuade those in power of the cataclysm on its way.
Note that John O'Neill, the top FBI counterterrorism chief working on the al Qaeda threat, is also one of the main subjects of Lawrence Wright's new book, The Looming Towers: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which I've posted about here and here.

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