NY Times falsely suggested criticism of Path to 9/11 and calls for its cancellation coming solely from Clinton administration members, Democratic officials

A New York Times article attributed growing criticism over ABC's “docudrama” The Path to 9/11 exclusively to members of the Clinton administration and Democratic officials. In fact, criticism of the film's factually inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Clinton administration's handling of the terrorist threat is coming from across the political spectrum.

A September 9 New York Times article by reporter Jesse McKinley attributed growing criticism over ABC's “docudrama” The Path to 9/11, as well as calls for its cancellation, exclusively to members of the Clinton administration and Democratic officials. In fact, the film has been criticized for its factually inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Clinton administration's handling of the terrorist threat by people from across the political spectrum, including journalists and participants in the film's production as well as a number of conservative commentators, as Media Matters for America has documented.

McKinley's article further suggested that ABC is making last-minute edits to the film to satisfy Democratic complaints alone. But, as Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz wrote in a September 9 article, the newspaper also objected to a scene in the film that falsely accused the Post of disclosing that the U.S. government was intercepting bin Laden's calls, and as a result bin Laden reverted to courier communications. In fact, as Media Matters has noted, it was The Washington Times that in August 1998 published the article reporting that bin Laden communicated by computer and satellite phone, a fact that, as The Washington Times has said in its defense (and Kurtz reinterated in the article), had previously been reported. According to Kurtz, ABC has said that the reference to the Post will be cut.

Further, McKinley uncritically quoted the website The Conservative Voice as saying, “The Clintonistas are conducting a full-court press to prevent Americans from learning the truth.” The quote was apparently taken from a September 7 Conservative Voice column by Jim Kouri. But nowhere in the article did McKinley note that the filmmakers themselves have openly admitted that scenes in the film have no factual basis, or that academics, conservatives such as radio host and former Reagan administration official Bill Bennett and conservative author and journalist Richard Miniter, members of the miniseries production, including actor Harvey Keitel, and members of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission have also noted inaccuracies in the film.

In addition, on the September 8 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann interviewed former FBI agent Tom Nicoletti, who said he was hired as a consultant during the film's production but objected to numerous scenes in the film which he said reflected “improper research.” In particular, he faulted the film's depiction of former FBI special agent John O'Neill, who was killed in the 9-11 attacks and is portrayed in the film by Keitel. Nicoletti told Olbermann that he resigned as consultant to the film based on scenes that remained inaccurate despite his input, and that in his opinion The Path to 9/11, “should be reshot and a lot of it corrected.” Nicoletti's objections were even noted in a separate Times article by McKinley, published on September 8, but were not noted in his September 9 article. The earlier article also included the objections of another former FBI official, Dan Coleman, who said he turned down an offer to serve as a technical consultant on the film after reading the script in the summer of 2005. Coleman echoed the concerns of Nicoletti over O'Neill's depiction, and was quoted saying, “They sent me the script, and I read it and told them they had to be kidding ... I wanted my friends at the F.B.I. to still speak to me.” Despite noting the criticism of the film by two former F.B.I. officials in the September 8 article, McKinley excluded them completely from his article the next day.

McKinley also uncritically repeated ABC's assertion that “criticisms of the film's specifics are premature and irresponsible,” given that critics have yet to see the final version. As Media Matters has noted, the statement is entirely disingenuous: 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.”

From McKinley's September 9 New York Times article:

Despite word of small last-minute cuts meant to soften the film's depiction of President Bill Clinton and his aides, members of his administration and Democratic officials yesterday stepped up their campaign to force ABC to cancel its disputed mini-series, “The Path to 9/11.”

The Democratic National Committee delivered to the network a petition with more than 200,000 names that demanded withdrawal of the film, which the petition called “right-wing propaganda.”

Officials of the committee said they would continue to collect and deliver signatures until ABC “does the right thing and pulls this scandalous project.”

Senator John Kerry and Al Gore, Mr. Clinton's vice president, also released statements castigating ABC.

But the debate was not entirely one-sided. Among a variety of conservative Web sites that accused Democrats of politicizing Sept. 11 was that of Conservative Voice.

“Former President William Jefferson Clinton and his minions are strong-arming the folks at ABC Television,” a commentary on that site said, “in order to stop a docudrama being aired during the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Clintonistas are conducting a full-court press to prevent Americans from learning the truth.”

As for ABC, its officials stood by earlier statements that the mini-series was a docudrama, not a documentary. The network, which this summer sent copies of the film to journalists for review, also 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.”

At least before any late editing, the five-hour film depicts some Clinton administration officials, including Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Samuel R. Berger, national security adviser, as placing obstacles in the way of strikes against Osama bin Laden.

Both Ms. Albright and Mr. Berger have called such depictions a fabrication.

From the September 8 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: Tom Nicoletti, a former FBI agent who was hired as a consultant for this docudrama, also saw problems with the project although, unlike Harvey Keitel, he actually chose to quit. He joins us tonight for his first interview on the topic. Thank you for it, sir. We appreciate your time.

NICOLETTI: Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: How did you get involved with this project to begin with?

NICOLETTI: Keith, I was actually the second choice. A retired agent, who is arguably the most expert regarding presentations made in this film, reviewed the script and declined to participate and informed ABC immediately prior to the date of production. And another request went out to the Association of Former FBI Agents, and based upon my background and the fact that I'd worked on a couple of movies before, I was asked if I was available to participate in this project.

OLBERMANN: And then you left after three weeks. Was there a specific reason that you resigned? Was there a specific scene? What happened?

NICOLETTI: Well, Keith, I was hired as a technical adviser/consultant to ensure the actions of the FBI were portrayed in an accurate manner, and to review the script for accuracy. When I was given one of only five copies of the complete script and spent two days doing that, I annotated all the problems that I was aware of regarding the context of this production, and I presented it to the producer. And there were several major scenes that I advised him unless they were corrected, I could not lend my name to it and would be leaving shortly.

OLBERMANN: And they didn't correct them, even though you had documentation of what it was that concerned you?

NICOLETTI: Some were corrected, and some were not. The director, Mr. [David] Cunningham, in several scenes did try to get them accurate. But it's my personal opinion, it was improper research done on this project, and the fault lies with the writer.

OLBERMANN: Your concern about the accuracy of this film -- is your concern political? Are you defending the Clinton administration? Where is your stance on this in terms of that political football that this has become?

NICOLETTI: No, I am totally apolitical. I think Mr. Clinton and Mr. Berger are quite capable of defending themselves. But there is accurate -- inaccuracies in the portrayal of John O'Neill, who is not here to defend himself. And one of the major scenes was entirely incorrect regarding Mr. O'Neill, and I insisted that be changed.

OLBERMANN: What you think should be done at this point, with this thing supposedly going on on Sunday? Should they pull it outright? Should they delay it? Should they do what they did with that -- with the Reagan film from three years ago and move it to cable? What should happen at this point, at this late hour?

NICOLETTI: Keith, based upon what I observed, I think the film should be reshot and a lot of it corrected. I know ABC put a lot into this production. I know Mr. Cunningham was very proud of the work he did. But I think he was unaware of a lot of the factual inaccuracies. He worked with the script he was given, and although he was aware of the problems I had, I don't know if he was aware of all the other government officials who had concerns.

OLBERMANN: After you left, did they bring anybody else in to make sure that what they had was factual or nearly such? Do you know that?

NICOLETTI: Well, I had -- I spoke on two occasions to the writer, and there was no inclination to change some of the scenes. So I gave them seven days' notice that I'd be leaving, and they needed to get somebody else. They did get another consultant to replace me. I am unaware who it was.

OLBERMANN: Tom Nicoletti, a former FBI agent and also, as you heard, a former consultant to The Path to 9/11. Mr. Nicoletti, great thanks for some of your time tonight.

NICOLETTI: Thanks, Keith.