09/11/2006 07:54 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

ABC: Lies, Obfuscations And False Promises

ABC-description-closeup.jpgABC has zero credibility on how it has handled "The Path To 9/11." The network has been sneaky, underhanded and deliberately opaque in how it has handled pretty much everything in the lead-up to air, talking out of both sides of its mouth by pretending to respond to concerns about the film's veracity (or lack thereof) with a round of edits and disclaimer while promising Conservatives that the message would remain intact.

ABC Entertainment released the following statement on "The Path to 9/11":

"The Path to 9/11" is not a documentary of the events leading to 9/11. It is a dramatization, drawn from a variety of sources including the 9/11 Commission Report, other published materials, and personal interviews. As such, for dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, and time compression. 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. The attacks of 9/11 were a pivotal moment in our history, and it is fitting that the debate about the events related to the attacks continue. However, we hope viewers will watch the entire broadcast of the finished film before forming an opinion about it.

That was out of one side of their mouth. From the other we got the description above, which I saw to my surprise when going to DVR the series earlier today. An isolated error? Not in the least. As I mentioned on Eat The Press yesterday, the poster reads "Based On The 9/11 Commission Report" (to be fair, I couldn't find it online at ABC though it was on the back cover of at least one magazine). Additionally, the "Path Of 9/11" website at ABC creates the impression that the series is dramatized fact: The "About" page states that the film is "a dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report and other source." We know of at least three events that did not happen, and we know that the series in fact contradicts some of the 9/11 Report's findings of fact. It says that writer Cyrus Nowrasteh "uses this historic document as the basis for a powerful story with action as gripping and far reaching as the source material itself... the miniseries draws on detailed information from the Report and other sources to take viewers on an unforgettable journey through the events that presaged that fateful day." On the site's blog, which was yanked last week and then ABC's-single-disclaimer.jpgquietly reposted, director David Cunningham says "[W]e tried, as best we can, based on 9/11 Commission Report and numerous other sources and advisors, to present an accurate and honest account of the events leading to 9/11" and "We show both administrations with an unvarnished truth" (Unvarnished truth! That statement would be hilarious if the stakes weren't so high). For his part, Nowrasteh blogs similary, writing:

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."

Notice the ellipsis? Nowrasteh leaves something out there...gee, I wonder what it is? Oh yeah, it's this: "The movie contains fictionalized scenes." Funny how he could forget that. I googled Nowrasteh's excerpt to leave out the ellipsis and find the missing phrase; as far as I could see, that particular part was not online. For the record, I have not seen this disclaimer anywhere else other than at the beginning of the movie — but after the teaser-trailer, which also implied it was all based on a true story ("This is the story of HOW it happened"). Also for the record, this led directly into the opening frames of the film, serene shots of early-morning Manhattan intercut with quotes from the 9/11 Commission Report: "Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned." Clearly, ABC didn't have the same aims, unless trying to provide "the fullest possible account of events" includes plumping it up with extra stuff that never happened.

Finally, a note on the arrogance and chutzpah of Cunningham and Nowrasteh on the blog: Both dismiss critics because they haven't seen the film — when they refused to send copies to those very same critics! (Adding insult to injury: The so-called "edits" shaved off about a minute.) Says Cunningham: "If you haven't seen the movie with your very own eyes - don't castigate the movie out of ignorance"; says Nowrasteh: "People need to watch both nights of the miniseries before drawing conclusions." No. It doesn't work that way. People need to watch the movie if they want to criticize its florid, cowboy-tough language and hammer-you-over-the-head-with-it imagery (and I did, so I am); but to criticize a film about 9/11 that purports to be based on the 9/11 Commission Report but in fact contains completely fictionalized scenes about which the director/producers/network is highly evasive and deceptive, well, no, you don't need to see it first. You just need to care about the integrity of the historical record.

I watched "The Path To 9/11" knowing that they had played fast and loose with that record, and it made me doubt everything I saw that I couldn't independently verify. Pregnant parking garage attendant at the WTC in 1993? Who knows? Ramzi Yousef making dire declarations in a helicopter over NYC? Perhaps. Dramatic courtroom speeches? Who can say? They can't, and didn't; by warning us that some of it is fiction, they can't guarantee us that the rest of it isn't. Unfortunately, correcting the historial record falls to those who care about separating fiction from fact and truth from, well, truthiness. So thank God for the ink that has spilled over this thing; ABC may not give a damn, but it proves that some of us still give a damn about what actually happened. Today, remembering back five years, what actually happened is more than enough.