ABC all over the map on The Path to 9/11: "locked and ready to air"; not "final"; "get[s] it right"; "fictionalized"


ABC has issued a number of different, even conflicting statements as it has promoted -- and subsequently defended -- the miniseries The Path to 9/11.

During the course of promoting and then defending its "docudrama" The Path to 9/11, ABC has issued a number of different, even conflicting statements on the miniseries. On July 5, ABC promoted the film as an "epic" and "historic" "dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report." In the July 5 press release, ABC also claimed that the film "absolutely ... get[s] it right," and touted the participation of 9-11 Commission chairman and former Gov. Thomas Kean (R-NJ) as "crucial to the project." On September 5, amid growing criticism over the film's fabrications and inaccuracies, ABC began to backpedal, emphasizing that the miniseries is "a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 Commission report, other published materials and from personal interviews;" and by September 7, ABC acknowledged that it "contains fictionalized scenes." At the same time, in that statement, ABC attacked criticism of the film as "premature and irresponsible," since "[n]o one has seen the final version of the film," a statement that itself conflicts with a prior statement quoted September 1 on the National Review Online (NRO) that the " 'Path to 9/11' miniseries is 'locked and ready to air.' " Additionally, the miniseries' director, David L. Cunningham, its writer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, and Kean have all offered evolving statements on the film.


  • "Absolutely critical that you get it right": In its initial promotions of the "docudrama," ABC strongly depicted the miniseries as an accurate portrayal of the 9-11 Commission's findings. A July 5 press release promoting the miniseries quoted Steve McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment:

When you take on the responsibility of telling the story behind such an important event, it is absolutely critical that you get it right. Having Governor Kean, who chaired the 9/11 Commission, as a key advisor on this movie has not only been an honor, its also been crucial to the project.

The press release noted that The Path to 9/11 is "a dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources," touting the filmmakers' use of the report as "the basis" for the film. A July 31 Time magazine article on the series reported:

Executive producer Marc Platt and writer Cyrus Nowrasteh say they wanted to match the just-the-facts tone of the report. ("The report didn't use any adjectives" is a mantra both men repeat. It's exaggerated but true to the commission's spirit.)

  • "[D]ramatization, not a documentary": As The New York Times reported September 5, ABC responded to the outrage by emphasizing that the miniseries is "a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 commission report, other published materials and from personal interviews." Additionally, CNN Internet reporter Jackie Schechner reported during the September 6 edition of CNN's The Situation Room that ABC responded to CNN's "many questions" by issuing a "very limited" statement. Schechner stated: "[T]hey [ABC] tell us that the events leading up to the 9-11 attacks are controversial, spark debate, and that it's not surprising that this film would revive that debate. They also say the miniseries will air with a disclaimer calling it a dramatization ... not a documentary." ABC's full statement was not made public.
  • "[T]he movie contains fictionalized scenes": ABC released another statement September 7, as Media Matters for America noted. In that statement, the network again asserted, as it reportedly did in earlier statements to CNN, the Times, and other news outlets, that the miniseries "is a dramatization" and stated that it "is not a documentary of the events leading to 9/11." In an apparent addition, the September 7 statement asserted that "for dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, and time compression." At the same time, the statement also said: "No one has seen the final version of the miniseries, because the editing process is not yet complete, so criticisms of miniseries specifics are premature and irresponsible." But, as the weblog Think Progress noted, ABC reportedly informed NRO's Stephen Spruiell on September 1 that the " 'Path to 9/11' miniseries is 'locked and ready to air.' "

Cunningham, Nowrasteh, and Kean

  • Cunningham: An August 29 blog posting by Cunningham stated: "We show both administrations with an unvarnished truth." On August 30, Cunningham issued a "clarification" on the miniseries, stating on the program's blog: "This is not a documentary. It is a movie told in two parts." By September 2, as criticism of the film began to mount, Cunningham gave "[e]ven [f]urther [c]larification" for the miniseries, posting:

It seems that people keep referring to this movie as a "documentary". A documentary is a journalistic format that gives facts and information through interviews and news footage. This is a movie or more specifically a docudrama. Meaning, it is a narrative movie based on facts and dramatized with actors.

In the September 2 post, Cunningham, echoing ABC, also attacked critics, stating "Watch the movie! Then let's talk. If you haven't seen the movie with your very own eyes -- don't castigate the movie out of ignorance."

  • Nowrasteh: In several interviews given to conservative publications, Nowrasteh consistently suggested that the miniseries was an accurate portrayal of the 9-11 Commission's findings. For instance, in a June 9, 2005 interview with the weblog Libertas -- which bills itself as "A Forum for Conservative Thought on Film" -- apparently before the project began filming, Nowrasteh described the miniseries as an "objective telling of the events" that "will be connecting the facts and telling the story as it goes back to the first World Trade center bombing in 1993." Nowrasteh continued, stating that ABC was insistent on being "as truthful and honest" as possible and had "made every effort to be objective and tell the story truthfully -- because that's what the subject matter, and our audience, deserves."

During an August 16 interview with the conservative online publication FrontPageMag, Nowrasteh suggested that he drew on sources other than the commission's report in order to obtain information for the time periods not covered in the report. Nowrasteh stated: "I also expanded my research beyond the commission report, which only goes back to 1998, concluding that I needed to go back to the first attack on the WTC [World Trade Center] in '93 and tell this story over six hours," and called the Path to 9/11 "a terror thriller as well as a history lesson."

On September 1, Nowrasteh added "[f]urther [c]larification" to Cunningham's August 30 blog posting:

This movie is well-supported and well-documented. But everyone should be aware, and we say so upfront in a long legend -- "The following dramatization ... has composite and representative characters and incidents, and time compressions have been used for dramatic purposes."

By September 5, Nowrasteh was saying less. When asked by the Times for comment on the miniseries' alleged inaccuracies, Nowrasteh simply stated: "Let the movie speak for itself."

  • Kean: ABC has repeatedly trumpeted the miniseries' connections to the 9-11 Commission report and to Kean. After its July 19 press screening, Newsday staff correspondent Diane Werts noted that "ABC not only screened its powerful fall miniseries 'Path to 9/11' for TV critics yesterday at press tour [sic], it also brought in former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean Sr. to tout the drama's authenticity." Werts quoted Kean as describing the "spirit" of The Path to 9/11 as being "absolutely correct," and reported that ABC consulted Kean "to ensure production accuracy."

On September 5, the Times reported that Kean "defended the program" and called its fabricated depiction of former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger's refusal to issue an order to kill Osama bin Laden as "an honest representation;" while simultaneously "conced[ing] that some points might have been more drama than documentary. 'Some of the people shown there probably weren't there,' he [Kean] said." Later reports quoted Kean admitting that portions of the program were "fictionalized" for "dramatic" purposes. By September 8, Kean, too, was chiding critics of the series, claiming (falsely in some cases), "those people haven't seen it."

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
ABC Entertainment
The Path to 9/11, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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