- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tom Borelli is so sure the Walt Disney Co. is suppressing the DVD release of the 2006 miniseries “The Path to 9/11” for political reasons that he is ready to put up money to prove the point.

Mr. Borelli, a Disney shareholder, accused Disney CEO Robert Iger at a March 6 shareholders’ meeting of blocking the release of “Path” in order to protect Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the legacy of her husband’s administration.

Mr. Iger countered at the time that the decision not to release the miniseries on DVD was motivated by business considerations, not political ones.

Mr. Borelli has now told The Washington Times he plans to make an offer to buy the DVD rights to “Path,” an Emmy-winning miniseries that prompted fury among Democrats for its depiction of the Clinton administration as dithering and adrift in the face of the growing threat from radical Islamic terrorism.

Mr. Borelli, a portfolio manager with the Free Enterprise Action Fund — an investment fund that seeks to counter the influence of left-leaning “ethical investment” funds — says he has sent a letter to Disney’s general counsel requesting a meeting to outline his bid for the film. He won’t reveal a figure, but suspects that no dollar amount will persuade Disney executives to allow “The Path to 9/11” to reach store shelves.

Leading Democrats sought to suppress or censor the miniseries before its Sept. 10, 2006, network premiere. Charging inaccuracies, Democratic Sens. Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, Debbie Stabenow, Charles Schumer and Byron Dorgan wrote to Mr. Iger urging the broadcast be canceled.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright labeled a scene involving her “false and defamatory.” Clinton Foundation CEO Bruce Lindsey wrote to Mr. Iger denouncing the “factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate” miniseries, though he acknowledged he hadn’t seen it.

Democratic Reps. John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan, John Dingell of Michigan, Louise Slaughter of New York and Jane Harman of California asked ABC to strip away the objectionable sequences prior to airing.

In defense of the program, the film’s screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh said he used creative license in conflating various reports into dramatically compelling sequences, adding that his film painted both the Clinton and Bush administrations in unflattering lights.

“Path” eventually aired commercial-free on ABC, but the miniseries has yet to emerge on DVD. An estimated 25 million viewers tuned in to see the two-part, five-hour miniseries, which could translate into robust DVD sales should the project find a distributor. Even short-lived sitcoms and poorly reviewed feature films generally make it to DVD. The release typically comes four months after the theatrical window closes.

It’s been more than 18 months since “Path” aired.

“Disney has no excuse” not to release “Path,” said Mr. Borelli, who argues the miniseries cost ABC $40 million to produce and that without revenue from commercials during the original broadcast or DVD sales, Disney stands to lose the whole amount.

“A corporation has a responsibility to increase revenue for shareholders,” he said. “Better to get some money from it than no money.”

Mr. Borelli said he suspects the decision not to release “Path” is related to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions. Mr. Iger has donated money to Mrs. Clinton’s Senate campaigns.

Last September, Mr. Nowrasteh also hinted at political motives, claiming in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that an ABC executive told him “if Hillary weren’t running for president,” the DVD release of the miniseries “wouldn’t be a problem.”

The screenwriter also said that “Path” executive producer, Marc Platt, personally financed the modest Emmy campaign on behalf of the film — which received seven nominations, winning one — because Disney wouldn’t pick up the check.

Zenia Mucha, an executive vice president for corporate communications with the Walt Disney Co., insisted the decision not to release “Path” on DVD has nothing to do with politics. She added in a phone interview that Mr. Borelli played “fast and loose” with the facts during the March 6 shareholders’ meeting by citing the Nowrasteh Wall Street Journal op-ed as if it were a news story.

Citing the costs involved in marketing a DVD, Ms. Mucha said the potential return wasn’t worth the investment, “given the performance of the miniseries.” She added that Disney’s board of directors had the chance to consider the arguments for releasing the DVD version of “Path.”

It’s unclear why “Path” would require the marketing investment of a typical DVD release, given the extraordinary levels of news media exposure it has received as a result of the political controversy.

As the commercial success of Michael Moore’s 2005 anti-Bush documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” suggests, a film which one ideological side deems wildly inaccurate may nevertheless find a lucrative market.

William Triplett, a District-based reporter for entertainment industry bible Variety, said Disney’s argument that it wants to avoid controversial material is consistent with its position regarding “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Disney originally owned the rights to that film, but the company decided not to distribute it.

However, Disney did allow producer Harvey Weinstein to buy and distribute “Fahrenheit” via his Miramax division, establishing a precedent for selling the distribution rights to “Path,” Mr. Triplett said.

Mr. Borelli charged at the March 6 meeting that Disney not only refused to produce a “Path” DVD but rejected an offer from another studio — Lionsgate — to buy the DVD distribution rights.

Mr. Iger said at that time he was unaware of any offer from Lionsgate. In an interview with The Washington Times, Ms. Mucha declined to publicly discuss any Lionsgate involvement.

Mr. Borelli did not provide The Times with corroborating evidence of a Lionsgate offer for “The Path.” Lionsgate did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on the issue.

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