ABC and Scholastic release skewed Path to 9/11 "Discussion Guide" for high school teachers to assign to students


In conjunction with ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, Scholastic and ABC have released a "Discussion Guide for the Classroom" aimed at high school teachers nationwide to "[e]ncourage your students and their families to watch The Path to 9/11 and use the accompanying" discussion guide as part of their lesson plan. A Media Matters for America review of the material finds it to be rife with conservative misinformation.

In conjunction with the September 10 premiere of ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11 -- a six-hour "docudrama" reportedly based on the findings of the 9-11 Commission Report -- ABC has teamed up with Scholastic to create a "Discussion Guide for the Classroom" to urge high school teachers nationwide to "[e]ncourage your students and their families to watch The Path to 9/11 and use the accompanying" discussion guide as part of their lesson plan. ABC and Scholastic have reportedly sent out letters to 100,000 high school teachers informing them of the miniseries and accompanying discussion guide. A Media Matters for America review of The Path to 9/11 "resource sheets" and "discussion guide[s]" provided to teachers has found that the material omits critical information regarding the Bush administration's pre-Iraq war weapons of mass destruction claims; falsely suggests a tie between Iraq and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; gives upbeat accounts of reportedly dire conditions on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan; suggests that military responses to Osama bin Laden by the Clinton administration could have "hinder[ed] the U.S. stance on the war on terror"; and asks students to debate whether the media "hinder our national security."

As Media Matters has previously noted, ABC describes The Path to 9/11 as "a dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources" and will air over the course of two nights -- September 10 and 11. In recent days, members of the right-wing media have begun promoting The Path to 9/11 as a film that "really zeros in on the shortcomings of the Clinton administration" and "honestly and fairly depict[s] how Clinton-era inaction ... allowed the 9/11 conspiracy to metastasize."

However, a Media Matters review of ABC and Scholastic's discussion guide has found it to be rife with conservative misinformation.


The ABC/Scholastic "Student Resource Sheet 1" omits key information, resulting in a distorted account of pre-Iraq war WMD capabilities; misleadingly suggests a tie between Iraq and 9-11; and minimizes the current role of coalition troops in the country.

While providing background information to assist viewers in "becom[ing] familiar with the people, places, and organizations that played a role in the events of 9/11 and those that led up to that tragic day," the resource sheet asserts that prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, "[t]he U.S. government believed that [Saddam] Hussein had been developing weapons of mass destruction that he planned to use against American and other targets." But the material omits any mention of the fact that, as we now know, Iraq did not have WMDs. Nor is there any mention of the voluminous and growing body of evidence that indicates that the Bush administration knew, prior to the 2003 invasion, that its claims about WMDs were unsupported.

As Media Matters has repeatedly noted, at least three different U.S. or U.K. government-sanctioned reports have found that, before the invasion, Saddam was not in possession of illegal WMDs and did not have an active chemical, biological, or nuclear WMD program. Further, as Media Matters has documented (here, here, and here), over the past year and a half, substantial evidence has emerged that the Bush administration dismissed clear-cut evidence undermining President Bush's central case for war -- that Saddam possessed WMDs -- evidence that the media have largely ignored.

The material also appears to suggest a link between Iraq and 9-11, by both apparently including Iraq as a "place[] ... that played a role in the events of 9/11," and by later tying Iraq to the "War on Terror." The resource sheet stated:

As part of the "War on Terror," President Bush has led the United States into Afghanistan and Iraq and reorganized the national government in an attempt to combat terrorist activity.

In fact, even Bush -- despite repeated suggestions by Bush himself and other administration members of a link between Iraq and 9-11 -- acknowledges that Iraq had no connection to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. During an August 21 press conference, Bush was specifically asked: "What did Iraq have to do with ... [t]he attack on the World Trade Center?" He replied: "Nothing."

Further, the ABC/Scholastic guide downplays the level of violence still reportedly present in Iraq, noting only that "coalition forces still maintain a presence in the country, battling insurgents who want the United States to pull out." In fact, the Pentagon has noted that violence in Iraq is actually increasing and largely along sectarian lines. According to a September 5 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

According to the Pentagon report, prepared for Congress and released Friday [September 1], death squads targeting mainly Iraqi civilians are a growing problem, heightening the risk of civil war.

"Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife," the report said, adding that the Sunni-led insurgency "remains potent and viable" even as it is overshadowed by the sect-on-sect killing.

"Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months," the report said.

Additionally, the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index has shown that the number of average weekly attacks has steadily increased since February 2005. Even some Republican lawmakers have begun to refer to the sectarian conflict in Iraq as a civil war; during the August 20 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said of Iraq: "We, in fact, are in probably a low grade, maybe a very defined, civil war."


Similarly, the material glosses over reported conditions in Afghanistan, stating: "While coalition soldiers remain in Afghanistan, fighting pro-Taliban forces, the country continues to grow more independent and stable under the transitional democratic leadership." In fact, reports indicate a resurgence of the Taliban that has left NATO and coalition forces dealing with a steadily increasing conflict. The Washington Post reported on September 6:

More than 1,500 people have been killed in combat and terrorist attacks this year as violence in Afghanistan swelled to its highest level since 2001, when U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power. Suicide bombings, once unheard of, are now almost daily occurrences. Schools have been burned across the region and dozens of community leaders have been assassinated.

The Post further reported that "NATO forces are currently in a fierce conflict with Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, where the militia has attacked in rural districts with increasing boldness in recent months"; that "Britain's top army officer said his forces were barely able to cope with the conflict"; and that "in recent weeks, attacks have stepped up dramatically in Ghazni province," in eastern Afghanistan.

Additionally, the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism's Terrorist Incident Report -- as compiled by the nonprofit advocacy group Third Way -- shows that the number of Taliban attacks has risen from 22 attacks during 2001-2003 to 284 attacks during 2004-2006, and the number of suicide attacks has increased from 9 attacks in 2001-2004 to 64 during the last year.

Debate Questions

The material also offers a series of "Critical-thinking" and "Debate" questions for students to answer after viewing The Path to 9/11, several of which propound conservative misinformation. One such question -- "Did the U.S. airstrikes [on suspected Al Qaeda training camps] help or hinder the U.S. stance on the war on terror?" -- found in the "Debate It" section of the discussion guide, highlights the Clinton administration's response to the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. No similar questions were asked about the Bush administration's pre-9-11 conduct.

Echoing conservative talking points, one of the questions asks students to debate whether "the media help or hinder our national security." While no context is given for the question to ABC's miniseries, the suggestion that the media could be "hinder[ing] our national security" mirrors assertions conservatives have been making since the onset of the so-called "war on terror." As Media Matters has repeatedly noted (here, here, here, here, and here), conservative politicians and media figures have often accused the media -- with particular venom directed at The New York Times -- of damaging national security by publishing classified information regarding Bush administration counterterrorism programs.

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