- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

Lionel Chetwynd doesn’t mind being held to a different standard in Hollywood for his conservative views. The veteran writer-director is used to the tilted playing field. He has rumbled up and down its terrain for years.

The disparity “makes me a better writer and filmmaker,” says Mr. Chetwynd, the writer and producer of Showtime’s “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis,” airing at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

The new telefeature recalls the first nine days following the September 11 attacks, focusing on how the Bush administration grappled with the worst terrorist strike in history. Timothy Bottoms (1971’s “The Last Picture Show”) stars as President Bush.

“A liberal can go out and make … ‘The West Wing,’ which is not even thinly disguised as a liberal view of politics, and do hours of propaganda every week, and no one questions it,” he says.

“It’s not something that’s done behind closed doors. It’s openly accepted by everyone, including me,” says Mr. Chetwynd, whose previous credits include “The Hanoi Hilton” (1987), about American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War, as well as numerous TV films and news specials.

Mr. Chetwynd says he faced withering questioning, some insulting, at the recent Television Critics Association meeting where he promoted the film.

“They demanded to know, did I contribute money to George Bush, how much did I contribute,” he says. He also got questions about his personal life and the people with whom he associates.

“Because I’m a Republican, I am suspect and should not be trusted,” he says.

He says if Harry Thomason, a longtime TV producer and famous pal of former President Bill Clinton’s, had made a film depicting that presidency, he wouldn’t face such an assault.

Despite his experiences, Mr. Chetwynd wants his film to be seen from a less ideological angle, much as the country dropped its partisanship briefly in the wake of the attacks.

He likens the film to a feature that recalled the Cuban Missile Crisis, what he labels a “defining” moment for him.

“I might get blown up later that morning,” he recalls of his emotions around that pivotal time.

The 1974 TV film “The Missiles of October” starring William Devane and Martin Sheen “took you inside the debate,” he says. “It was curiously devoid of the personality or soap-opera aspects.”

Mr. Chetwynd says his mission is tougher than what faced the producers of that film because of our “celebrity-obsessed society.”

“DC 9/11” forgoes the melodrama in favor of the strategies forged during that period. The film taps respected — and, let’s be honest, not notably liberal — columnists Morton Kondracke of Roll Call, Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post and Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard to make sure its script adheres as closely to the truth as possible.

The president is played by Mr. Bottoms, who previously played him as a flawed but focused leader in the satirical bust “That’s My Bush!” on Comedy Central.

It might seem a bit premature to restage horrific events less than 2 years old, but Mr. Chetwynd says his project was among 15 or so that were floating around. He waves away thoughts of hitting the material too soon, citing today’s compressed news cycle.

The White House cooperated with Mr. Chetwynd and crew in the making of the film, allowing generous access to all the key players, even Mr. Bush.

“They did not treat the events or experiences of 9/11 like a commodity,” he says.

The composite picture that emerged through books by authors from The Washington Times’ Bill Sammon (“Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism From Inside the Bush White House”) to The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward (“Bush at War”) echoed what his research told him: The Bush administration handled itself with a clarity and assuredness that reassured a stunned nation.

“After they fought their way through the fog of war, they analyzed this very deftly,” he says. “For those nine days … they were the standard by which you want to judge [an administration].

“They really rose to the occasion,” he says. “There was a myth he was an untried president. It wasn’t true at all. They knew what they had to do.”

A liberal critic might walk away from “DC 9/11” convinced the film whitewashes the presidency and its response to September 11.

Such comments wouldn’t have been considered if the critics could have watched the new film days after the terrorist strike, Mr. Chetwynd says, before reality was shoved aside to make political hay.

“This is what went on,” he says. The observable consequences, including the war with Afghanistan, “all are consistent with the facts laid out with the film.”

It may seem like a long time since terrorists struck the nation’s financial and military hearts, but films such as “DC 9/11” play a role in keeping us from forgetting our anguish, the director says.

“We have a very short backward horizon on our memory,” he says.

Mr. Chetwynd can’t hide his disgust over how politicized the war on terror has become in recent months. Today’s politicians are like children strutting around the schoolyard, he says, hurling accusations like so many adolescent insults.

“The lack of civility that has infected the discussion will undo us,” he says. “That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree or that you shouldn’t.

“For those nine days, everyone wanted America to succeed, and that was our strength,” he says.

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