- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

ABC Television continues to make changes to its miniseries “The Path to 9/11,” after a barrage of criticism from former Clinton administration officials.

“No one has seen the final version of the film, because the editing process is not yet complete, so criticisms of … specifics are premature and irresponsible,” ABC said in a statement yesterday.

The statement was the network’s first official confirmation that the version shown at a press event in Washington a few days ago — and distributed in DVD format to hundreds of reporters and TV reviewers — is not the one that will air Sunday and Monday.

The ABC statement gave no details about what changes might be made. The move follows complaints to Robert Iger, chairman of ABC parent company Disney, from former President Bill Clinton and two senior officials from his administration, criticizing the film’s portrayal of their efforts to capture or kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

In a four-page “Dear Bob” letter sent to Mr. Iger on Sept. 1, Clinton lawyer Bruce Lindsey criticized the film’s portrayal of several key events.

“The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate, and ABC has a duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely,” Mr. Lindsey wrote. “It is unconscionable to mislead the American public about one of the most horrendous tragedies our country has ever known.”

Also yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and four other Senate Democrats wrote to Mr. Iger urging him to cancel the miniseries, which they said “could be construed as right-wing political propaganda.”

“We urge you, after full consideration of the facts, to uphold your responsibilities as a respected member of American society and as a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves to cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program,” Mr. Reid wrote in a letter also signed by Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota.

The ABC program has generally been praised by conservatives, while the miniseries has drawn fire from liberal blogs such as ThinkProgress.org, which says that 25,000 of its readers have used the site to send letters of complaint to ABC about the film.

“The Path to 9/11” is billed as a dramatization based in part on the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which investigated the events of September 11 and circumstances leading up to it.

A disclaimer that ABC plans to show at the beginning of each episode, which will air without commercial interruption, says the film “is not a documentary,” adding that “for dramatic and narrative purposes,” it “contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression.”

Nonetheless, many Democrats are angry about portions of the film which portray failed efforts to capture and kill bin Laden.

In one scene, CIA operatives working with Ahmed Shah Masood, the charismatic Afghan mujahideen leader who fought al Qaeda and their Taliban sponsors, are assembled on a hillside above bin Laden’s residence at Tarnak Farms. “It’s perfect for us,” says “Kirk,” a composite character representing several of the CIA operatives and analysts involved in the hunt for the terrorist leader.

But the team is forced to abort the mission when National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger hangs up on them in the middle of a conference call, after telling them he cannot give the go-ahead for the action.

“I don’t have that authority,” he says.

“Are there any men in Washington,” Masood asks Kirk later in the film, “Or are they all cowards?”

“No such episode ever occurred — nor did anything like it,” Mr. Berger wrote to Mr. Iger.

“I find it quite amazing that a former president would try to intimidate a TV network into sanitizing a dramatization of the events leading up to September 11,” said Roger Aronoff, a media analyst with the conservative watchdog group Accuracy in Media. He said ABC is “buckling under the Clinton pressure” and warned that his organization “will be watching closely” when the six-hour program airs.

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