Fox anchors praised The Path to 9/11, disregarded reasons for all the "controversy"

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER & ROB DIETZ

During September 12 reports on ABC's controversial miniseries The Path to 9/11, not one Fox News anchor or correspondent examined the scenes from the film that contain documented falsehoods, explained Fox News Live co-host Bill Hemmer's reference to Democrats' "paranoia" about the film's depiction of former Clinton administration officials, or mentioned the fact that several prominent conservatives have also questioned the film's accuracy.

On September 12, the day after the conclusion to ABC's controversial miniseries The Path to 9/11 aired, Fox News anchors, throughout the morning and afternoon, discussed the "controversy" surrounding the film, with one anchor giving it praise. But at no point, in any of the segments aired on Fox that day, did a Fox News anchor or correspondent examine the scenes from the film that contain documented falsehoods, explain Fox News Live co-host Bill Hemmer's reference to Democrats' "paranoia" about the film's depiction of former Clinton administration officials, or mention the fact that several prominent conservatives have also questioned the film's accuracy. As Media Matters for America has documented, part one of the miniseries contained invented and factually inaccurate scenes that cast the Clinton administration as unwilling to aggressively combat terrorism, while part two also contained scenes that were factually inaccurate -- this time showing President Bush taking aggressive action there is no indication he ever took.

Here is a compilation of each segment Fox News aired about the continued controversy surrounding the film from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. ET on September 12:

  • On Fox & Friends First, co-host Brian Kilmeade said the miniseries was "as controversial as anything I could remember," but neither Kilmeade nor Fox News anchor Kiran Chetry made any mention of the controversial scenes. Further, while talking to Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-CA), Chetry called the film a "documentary," and Kilmeade said the film was "extremely well done."
  • On Fox & Friends, Kilmeade and co-host Steve Doocy interviewed Washington Times defense and national security correspondent Bill Gertz. When Kilmeade asked Gertz if the film was as "wildly inaccurate as President Clinton said and his cronies believe," Gertz claimed the film "was real" and that former members of the Clinton administration are "protesting much too much." Again, no specific objections to the film were mentioned.
  • While teasing a discussion of the film on Fox News Live, Fox News anchor Jane Skinner claimed that "ABC bow[ed] to political pressures, making some cuts." During the discussion with Fox News political analyst and syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, co-host Bill Hemmer asked: "What explains the paranoia the Democrats brought to the argument, do you believe?" Hemmer later stated that a "Democratic strategist," to whom Hemmer said he had talked about the film, purportedly argued that ABC's final edits were "not sufficient." In response, Novak stated that the film "re-emphasiz[ed] the fact that there were shortcomings in the Clinton administration" and mentioned a book by conservative author and journalist Richard Miniter. Novak said that Miniter had written that "President Clinton and his administration was [sic] at fault in responding to the terrorist and terror." But as Media Matters noted, Miniter criticized parts of the film as "based on an Internet myth" and having "no factual basis."
  • On Fox News Live, co-host Martha MacCallum asserted that, despite ABC's airing the second and final installment of The Path to 9/11, "the controversy rages on." But Fox News entertainment correspondent Lisa Bernhard's report on the "controversy" falsely suggested that ABC edited all aspects of the film that were criticized:

BERNHARD: Well, the Clintonites protested The Path to 9/11 and ABC blinked by toning down scenes suggesting Clinton's preoccupation with the Lewinsky scandal kept him from going after Osama bin Laden.

Bernhard made no mention of the conclusion by the 9-11 Commission that it "found no reason to question" Clinton officials' claims that the administration's response to Al Qaeda's August 7, 1998, dual attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania was based "solely on national security considerations." While Bernhard added that ABC "omitted a note that the film was based on the 9-11 Commission report" and noted that two inaccurate scenes involving former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke had been edited, she made no mention of other inaccuracies in the film, documented by Media Matters and others. This was the second of two nearly identical reports by Bernhard on September 12.

From the September 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First:

"GEORGE TENET" (CIA director) [video clip]: And our problem is the sheer volume of data. We don't have the software to make sense out of a tiny fraction of this huge array of communications that's coming in. We don't have enough translators, enough photo interpreters, enough site profilers. Kirk, we're overloaded.

KILMEADE: George Tenet, last night, the final part of ABC's controversial docudrama, The Path to 9/11. It aired and it was as controversial as anything I could remember.

CHETRY: In D.C., with reaction, is California Congressman Ed Royce. He chairs the House International Terrorism and Nonproliferation Subcommittee. Congressman, thanks for being with us today.

ROYCE: Good to be with you.

CHETRY: You had a chance to see some, or all, of that documentary. What did you think?

ROYCE: Well, I thought that they especially got the broad point right, which was -- if we did not do anything about Al Qaeda's operations in those terrorist training camps, in Afghanistan, we were going to face trouble. I said, in 1996, in testifying before the Senate, if we do not close down those terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, we could face another World Trade Center-type bombing. We didn't close that down, and as a consequence, we faced the results. Now, since 9-11, we've been reacting to that, but I think the lesson is to be proactive in the future. When you see threats like this coming out of an area where there is no state, and you have terrorists getting control of an arm of the government, you've got to act.

KILMEADE: Here's the thing: I think it was important for people to see because they have to go back to [1993 World Trade Center bomber] Ramzi Yousef. You've got to go back to 1993. You've got to go back to even [Rabbi Meir] Kahane's assassination in New York City [in 1990] to bring us up to where we are today. And people could get a quick look.

It was extremely well done. The players were there. Some people didn't look good, but you know what? A lot of people made mistakes leading up to this. Now, from here on in, Congressman, do you think that we've got it right, now in? That we're doing everything we possibly can?

From the September 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

[begin video]

"KIRK" (lead CIA officer): How much more do you need? He said aviation, he said hijackings, he said inside the United States. That should be enough for you to at least warn the airlines.

"PAUL KESSLER" (identified as chief of operations at the CIA): And start a panic? No. Give me specifics, OK?

[end video]

DOOCY: OK, that supposedly happened pre-9-11. That was a clip from part two of the ABC controversial miniseries called The Path to 9/11, which aired last night on ABC.

KILMEADE: Bill Gertz is the national security reporter for The Washington Times and author of Breakdown: How America's Intelligence Failures Led to 9/11 [sic]. He joins us right now from D.C. with the reaction to the film. Bill, was that film wildly inaccurate as President Clinton said and his cronies believe?

GERTZ: No, and I think they're protesting much too much. I think it really captured the spirit of the period before the September 11th attacks. Let's face it: It was not government's finest hour. As far as the Clinton administration goes, you know, I covered that closely as a newspaper reporter, you know. You couldn't make up the stuff they did if you were writing a novel.

Let's just take a few: Don't recruit any spies who have human rights violations in their backgrounds. That means your're not gonna get near terrorists. You know, don't shoot any bad guys unless they get in the line of fire. That makes it hard for the military to go after them. And then don't violate international law. I think those were kind of the three problems in dealing with the problem of Islamic extremism.

DOOCY: Well, a couple members of the former Clinton administration, Bill, said you just can't have what looks like a documentary if it's not real.

GERTZ: Well, I think it was real. Like I say, I think it captured the tone or the spirit of the problems and the fact of the matter is, the Clinton administration was around for years, and the Bush administration, which had some of its problems as well, you know, they didn't back the right Afghans, they were only in power for a few months before the 9-11 attacks. So, obviously it's going to focus more on what happened during the Clinton period.

KILMEADE: And also on top of that, there was too many people that had to say yes. If you have a guy in the line of fire, and he's a terrorist and you want to get him -- they almost missed Ramzi Yousef because four people had to say yes -- from George Tenet to the president to director of the FBI -- before they could get a go sign.

GERTZ: Yeah. One of the important things, I think of the docudrama was that it showed the nature of the bad guys and they definitely are the bad guys. They're the ones that are the enemy, and I think that it really helped to help the American people understand what kind of enemy we're up against.

DOOCY: That's right. And also Bill, it also shows you how far we've come because a lot of changes have been made.

GERTZ: Yeah, they've made a lot of improvements. You know, I think the docudrama was fairly FBI-focused, and of course, they tended to gloss over a lot of the FBI failures, you know, the Phoenix memo, the [Zacarias] Moussaoui case. Those were two huge, big problems, which actually could have led to unraveling the 9-11 plot in advance if they had been handled better.

KILMEADE: They showed us the rest, but they showed it delayed. Bill Gertz, we look forward to your new book coming out next week, and we like your old one, too, How America's Intelligence Failures Led to 9/11 [sic]. Perfect guest right now, Bill, thanks.

GERTZ: Thank you.

From the September 12, 11 a.m. edition of Fox News' Fox News Live:

SKINNER: And ABC bows to political pressure, making some cuts in its TV movie on 9-11, but, oh, the controversy is not over. Details and a live report later this hour.

[...]

[begin video]

"GEN. AHMED SHAH MASSOUD" (Northern Alliance leader): Bin Laden is calling his people back to Afghanistan -- ordering them back to return in early September. They're moving their training bases deeper into the mountains, shoring up defenses.

"KIRK": For what purposes, General? Can you tell me why?

"MASSOUD": They intend to execute an operation inside America. It involves aviation, hijackers.

[end video]

HEMMER: One of the many scenes there. For the last two nights, ABC, taking a ton of political heat over that two-part series, and some of the scenes, treated with last-minute editing of the docudrama, The Path to 9/11. The controversy, though, not over yet. Bob Novak, Fox News contributor, syndicated columnist. Welcome, Bob, good to see you. Good morning to you.

NOVAK: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: You wrote about this, two days ago. What explains the paranoia the Democrats brought to this argument, do you believe?

NOVAK: There's a political calculation, Bill. This has been a time of enormous expectations by the Democrats thinking they're finally going to regain control of Congress. All the issues seem to be going against the Republicans and in the Democrats' favor, and the one trump card that the Republicans can play is the war on terror -- where the people are really evenly divided and there's still a feeling among Republicans they can convince people they're safer, and with President Bush's policies, they'll be better off.

So, suddenly, in the midst of this, where the terror issue is perhaps the pivotal issue in this campaign, a major network comes out with a docudrama, which reflects very badly on the Democrats and on President Clinton and on their image that President Clinton really did a terrific job on the war on terror in -- compared to George W. Bush.

HEMMER: I was thinking about [White House press secretary] Tony Snow taking some questions about this at the end of last week, and he said, "Look, if it's not factual, if it didn't happen, don't give viewers the impression that it did take place in that manner." Bear in mind, this is all a docudrama. I'm curious, in hindsight, did Democrats draw more attention to it than they should have or than they wanted to?

NOVAK: Absolutely. People wanted to say, "Hey I want to see this." And when they tuned in, they found it was a very interesting, indeed a compelling program. Docudramas are a funny thing, as you well know, Bill. And it's OK when you have a docudrama on Queen Elizabeth -- we seem to have a new one every couple of years on Queen Elizabeth I -- because it's happened so long ago that you can play with the facts. When it's much closer, like the Kennedy assassination or Nixon's presidency, docudramas become very controversial.

From what I know, I would think that this ABC docudrama is much closer to the facts, however, than some of the past things we've had on the Kennedy assassination and the Nixon presidency.

HEMMER: You know, Bob, a bit earlier we ran a clip there of Thomas Kean, the head of the 9-11 Commission -- or co-chair, I should say -- saying he did not see any of this controversy coming when he viewed the film initially, based on the 9-11 Commission report. On my way to work this morning, I ran into a Democratic strategist who was on his way to another network to go ahead and continue the Democratic argument. He thinks the changes were not sufficient. He also thinks, in the end, it made Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright, all look bad on this program. I did not see the particular changes they made. I saw a little bit on Sunday night, a little bit Monday night. In his view, anyway, they weren't sufficient.

NOVAK: Well, you know, Rich Miniter, a very able journalist, investigative journalist, wrote a book a couple of weeks ago, which did say President Clinton and his administration was [sic] at fault in responding to the terrorist and terror. And they're extremely sensitive on this point.

Now, I think you made the point a moment earlier that this was really a dumb political strategy to highlight it. If they had just shrugged it off, I don't think people would be talking about it and re-emphasizing the fact that there were shortcomings in the Clinton administration. It wasn't all George W. Bush's fault in the eight months he was in office before 9-11.

HEMMER: Interesting stuff, thank you, Bob. Robert Novak, from Washington.

NOVAK: Thank you, Bill.

From the September 12, 2 p.m. edition of Fox News Live:

MacCALLUM: Well, ABC, airing the final part of its edited docudrama, The Path to 9/11, last night. But that controversy rages on, Fox's entertainment correspondent Lisa Bernhard joins us live with the latest on that story from our New York City newsroom. Hi, Lisa.

BERNHARD: Hi, Martha. Well, the Clintonites protested The Path to 9/11 and ABC blinked by toning down scenes suggesting Clinton's preoccupation with the Lewinsky scandal kept him from going after Osama bin Laden. Now, in the original version, terrorism expert Richard Clarke and FBI agent John O'Neill discuss Clinton's reluctance, of course, both played by actors, discuss Clinton's reluctance to order bin Laden killed. Clarke says, quote: "The Republicans are going all out for impeachment. I just don't see in that climate the president's going to take chances." But here's how the line was condensed Sunday night with Clark seated to the left.

[begin video]

"CLARKE": The president has assured me the scandal won't affect his decision-making.

"O'NEILL": So, it's OK if somebody kills bin Laden, as long as he didn't give the order. That's pathetic.

[end video]

BERNHARD: And Martha, another line where Clarke says of Clinton, quote: "This Lewinsky thing is a noose around his neck," was cut entirely. ABC also omitted a note that the film was based on the 9-11 Commission report, adding a disclaimer the material was drawn from a variety of sources. The debate continues today about the film's accuracy -- a report saying FBI agent Thomas Nicoletti quit as a consultant on the film because he felt that some scenes were fiction. He was an FBI agent. But former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, chairman of the 9-11 committee [sic] and also a consultant on the film, defends the docudrama.

KEAN [video clip]: I have been confounded by this whole controversy because I didn't see it coming. My experience is that the people who were doing it for ABC were serious people who wanted to do the best job possible.

BERNHARD: Now, Martha, Sunday's part one drew 13 million viewers, a distant second to NBC's NFL game but last night's conclusion won its time slot. Martha.

MacCALLUM: Lisa, it will be interesting to see, you know, if there will be any other ramifications, and also, you couldn't help watching it. I thought it was very well done, but you couldn't help but notice both nights that it ended at a strange time.

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