Various news media have uncritically reported ABC's statement that criticism of The Path to 9/11 is “premature and irresponsible,” because the film has not yet been finalized, even though the network reportedly said the previous week that the film was “locked and ready to air,” screened the film at the National Press Club, and has provided preview copies to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and a number of right-wing bloggers.
On September 7, ABC Entertainment responded to the growing controversy over its “docudrama” The Path to 9/11, which is scheduled to air in two parts on September 10 and 11, as follows: “No one has seen the final version of the film, because the editing process is not yet complete, so criticisms of film specifics are premature and irresponsible.” But as Media Matters for America noted, the statement illustrates that ABC wants it both ways. Now characterizing criticism as “premature” because “the editing process is not complete,” the network previously reportedly said that it was “locked and ready to air. Also, ABC reportedly screened the film at the National Press Club and has reportedly provided preview copies to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and a number of right-wing bloggers. Nonetheless, various news media have uncritically reported ABC's statement that criticism of The Path to 9/11 is “premature and irresponsible” as a response to complaints that the miniseries is rife with falsehoods and inaccuracies.
For example, a September 8 Associated Press article on the controversy surrounding the miniseries reported ABC's statement uncritically to counter criticism from “a group of former Clinton administration officials,” without mentioning that The Path to 9/11 has already been screened and partially distributed:
A miniseries about the events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks is “terribly wrong” and ABC should correct it or not air it, a group of former Clinton administration officials said in letters to the head of the network's parent company.
But in a statement released Thursday afternoon in apparent response to the growing uproar, ABC said, “No one has seen the final version of the film because the editing process is not yet complete, so criticisms of film specifics are premature and irresponsible.”
Similarly, reporting on the criticism The Path to 9/11 has received, NBC News correspondent Mike Taibbi, on the September 7 edition of NBC's Nightly News, juxtaposed criticism of the miniseries with ABC's claim that such criticism is irresponsible. Taibbi also failed to note that ABC has previously screened the film:
TAIBBI: Former President Bill Clinton, portrayed as being paralyzed into inaction by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, said through a spokesman the movie's fictions are despicable and that “no reputable organization should dramatize 9-11 for a profit at the expense of the truth.” But controversies over fact-based films are nothing new. Think Oliver Stone's JFK, the CBS Reagan movie killed off by conservative protesters three years ago, or almost all of Michael Moore's films. This happens to be a movie conservatives who reviewed it loved.
RUSH LIMBAUGH [audio clip]: Really well, well done.
TAIBBI: But that some critics call outrageous.
MARTIN KAPLAN (University of Southern California professor) [video clip]: That ABC would use the fig leaf of a docudrama to hide inaccuracies and wild paranoid speculation and say that that's what you can do for the sake of art.
TAIBBI: Late today, the film's executive producer told NBC News he stands by his work.
MARC PLATT [video clip]: It is not our intention to distort. It is not our intention to mislead. We want to tell a story.
TAIBBI: And the network says the movie is still being edited, that criticism now is irresponsible and that the movie will be broadcast as planned. Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York.
A September 8 Newsday article countered former President Clinton's denunciation of The Path to 9/11, writing: “However, in a statement, the company said criticisms of the film were ill-informed because it is still in production.” Newsday reporter J. Jioni Palmer made no mention of ABC's previous screening and distribution of the film.
Finally, on the September 7 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, CNN entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson uncritically reported ABC's statement. Later in the broadcast, in an interview with P.J. Crowley, director of homeland security and national defense for the Center for American Progress, host Paula Zahn also failed to recognize ABC's contradictory response to criticism of The Path to 9/11. Zahn told Crowley that “ABC is turning around and saying all you folks who are criticizing it aren't being accurate because the final edit hasn't even been done.” She then asked: “Isn't it premature for you to be taking a whack at this when you haven't seen the final version of it?” Crowley responded by reminding Zahn that “as you reported ... this went out to media. It went out to some conservative talk show hosts.” Crowley added: “It didn't go to some of the key participants in the film.”
From the September 7 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now:
ANDERSON: Tom Kean, the head of the 9-11 Commission, who served as a consultant on the film, tells CNN that scene is subject to change -- quote -- “I believe ABC has gone back and looked at their sources. If it's not accurate, according to their sources, they're going to reconsider how they present that scene. So, we'll see what the final version shows.”
An attorney for former President Clinton sent a letter to [Walt Disney Co. president and CEO Robert A.] Iger on September 1, saying, “ABC has gotten it terribly wrong,” and calling on the network to either fully correct all the errors or pull the drama entirely.
ABC says -- quote -- “No one has seen the final version of the film, because the editing process is not yet complete. So, criticisms of film specifics are premature and irresponsible.”
People will get a chance to make up their own minds. ABC's miniseries The Path to 9/11 is scheduled to air Sunday, September 10th, and Monday, September 11th.
Brooke Anderson, CNN, Los Angeles.
ZAHN: My next guest served on the Clinton administration's National Security Council. P.J. Crowley is now director of the national defense and homeland security, the Center for American Progress. Good to see you. Thanks so much for being with us.
CROWLEY: Hi, Paula.
ZAHN: All right, and ABC is turning around and saying all you folks who are criticizing it aren't being accurate because the final edit hasn't even been done. Isn't it premature for you to be taking a whack at this when you haven't seen the final version of it?
CROWLEY: Well, of course, as you reported, you know, this went out to media. It went out to some conservative talk show hosts. It didn't go to some of the key participants in the film. So it remains to be seen what ABC does. But now, they're now on notice. Key aspects of their film are inaccurate. The first question is: Will they correct these before the weekend? Secondly, they've said they're going to distribute this film as an educational product, you know, to schools. They shouldn't do that. So that there are key things that ABC will have to do to make sure this comes out right.