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IT’S SO EASY! It’s easy to explain the charges against ABC—unless you’re a star at the Times: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2006

IT’S SO EASY: It’s easy to explain the allegations about that ABC docudrama. In today’s Post, Howard Kurtz explains—and no, it isn’t hard:
KURTZ (9/8/06): Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the 9/11 commission and a deputy attorney general under Clinton, wrote Iger yesterday: "I do have a problem if you make claims that the program is based upon the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report when the actors, scenes and statements in the series are not found in—and, indeed, are contradicted by—our findings."
What has been alleged about this film? According to Gorelick, important scenes “contradict” the findings of the 9/11 commission. But then, Jesse McKinley found it easy to report the charges in Wednesday’s Times, too:
MCKINLEY (9/6/06): [S]ome critics—including Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar—questioned a scene that depicts several American military officers on the ground in Afghanistan...

''It didn't happen,'' Mr. Clarke said. ''There were no troops in Afghanistan about to snatch bin Laden. There were no C.I.A. personnel about to snatch bin Laden. It's utterly invented.'' Mr. Clarke, an on-air consultant to ABC News, said he was particularly shocked by a scene in which it seemed Clinton officials simply hung up the phone on an agent awaiting orders in the field.

''It's 180 degrees from what happened,'' he said. ''So, yeah, I think you would have to describe that as deeply flawed.”
According to Clarke, one key scene is “utterly invented”—“180 degrees from what happened.” According to Gorelick, scenes in the film “are contradicted by” the official report.

These allegations are quite strong—and quite easy to state. Most likely, you know that such charges are being made—unless you read two hapless reports in today’s New York Times. With the story picking up steam, the Times has now assigned it to two heavy-hitters—with a thoroughly predictable outcome. How inept is our journalistic elite? Let’s start with the hapless Alessandra Stanley, one of Maureen Dowd’s feathered friends.

Stanley reviews the ABC film for the Times’ Performing Arts section. And, though she deals with the controversy throughout, it turns out that she’s never quite up to explaining what’s being alleged. Here’s her first try, in paragraph 5. This is accurate—but it’s quite vague:
STANLEY (9/8/06): ABC has been under assault by bloggers and former officials who claim the film paints an unfairly censorious portrait of the Clinton administration, with a lobbying campaign reminiscent of the one that drove CBS to cancel ''The Reagans'' biopic in 2003. (CBS's parent company, Viacom, kicked it to the cable channel Showtime.) Some kind of reaction was inevitable this time.
That’s accurate—but it’s quite vague. After all, a film can be “unfair” without including specific scenes which “contradict” (“are 180 degrees from”) the established historical record on which it’s supposed to be based. But when Stanley discusses the charges in detail, she is—surprise!—completely unable to convey the strength of the allegations. Good God! Here we see the marvelous mind of today’s High Manhattan Journalist:
STANLEY (continuing directly): All mini-series Photoshop the facts. ''The Path to 9/11'' is not a documentary, or even a docu-drama; it is a fictionalized account of what took place. It relies on the report of the Sept. 11 commission, the King James version of all Sept. 11 accounts, as well as other material and memoirs. Some scenes come straight from the writers' imaginations. Yet any depiction of those times would have to focus on those who were in charge, and by their own accounts mistakes were made.
Good God, that’s awful! According to Stanley, The Path to 9/11 isn’t a “docudrama;” it’s a “fictionalized account.” Does anyone have the slightest idea what distinction is being drawn here? (We’ll admit it—we do not.) Then: “Some scenes come straight from the writers' imaginations.” But writers can invent or imagine scenes which are nonetheless faithful to the historical record. In this case, the complaining parties have alleged something stronger; they’ve alleged that the invented scenes contradict that record. But go ahead! Search all through this lengthy piece and see if that point is ever made clear. Sadly, Stanley does what Times scribes often do; having failed to establish what is being alleged, she starts offering her worthless opinions about it. And good God! Given what has actually been alleged, the final sentence we’ve quoted above seems to suggest something like this: If some “mistakes” have been confessed, then film-makers can just dream up other mistakes too! Meanwhile, here’s the way the hapless scribe handles one scene in question:
STANLEY: The outside pressure was intense enough to persuade ABC to re-edit one of the more contested made-up scenes in the film. In the version sent to critics, it depicted C.I.A. operatives and their Afghan allies armed with guns and night-vision goggles creeping in the dark to snatch Mr. bin Laden from his compound in 1998. The men are told to stand by, in harm's way, as the C.I.A. director, George J. Tenet and the national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, cavil by videoconference. Rather than take a firm decision, Mr. Berger flips off his videophone, and Mr. Tenet aborts the mission. (Among other things, ABC agreed to excise Mr. Berger's hissy fit.)
Stanley goes on to say that “[i]n reality, the CIA got close, but never that close;” she describes a 1998 event in which Tenet “scrapped a heavily rehearsed raid to kidnap Mr. bin Laden from his compound before it was mounted.” But she never quite explains the objection which has been lodged against this scene; she never explains that critics have claimed that Berger simply didn’t behave in this manner, at any point, in any possible bin Laden capture. Instead, she turns to Dowdian ridicule; she describes Berger having a “hissy fit” in the film, leaving open the possibility that some such “hissy fit” may have occurred, just not in the manner shown. (She’s too dumb to explain the alleged problem here—but eager to showcase her vast, cutting wit.) Later, she makes another try at explaining the charges. But this is the best she can manage:
STANLEY: Madeleine K. Albright has also objected to her portrayal, and Mr. Clarke, who is the Cassandra of Al Qaeda and one of the film's heroes, has complained about factual distortions.
Has Albright “objected to her portrayal?” Actually, she has said that the movie shows her doing things she never did. Has Clarke “complained about distortions?” Actually, he has said that scenes are 180 degrees from what happened. These claims are amazingly easy to state—unless you’re a witty New York Times star, drawn from the paper’s vast stable.

Stanley’s review is deeply inept—but Patrick Healy doesn’t do a lot better in today’s news report on this matter. In fairness, Healy comes a bit closer to cluing us in. Here’s his first—and only—attempt to say what has been alleged:
HEALY (9/8/06): Under growing pressure from Democrats and aides to former President Bill Clinton, ABC is re-evaluating and in some cases re-editing crucial scenes in its new mini-series ''The Path to 9/11'' to soften its portrait of the Clinton administration's pursuit of Osama bin Laden, according to people involved in the project.

Among the changes, ABC is altering one scene in which an actor playing Samuel R. Berger, the former national security adviser, abruptly hangs up on a C.I.A. officer during a critical moment in a military operation, according to Thomas H. Kean, a consultant on the ABC project and co-chairman of the federal Sept. 11 commission.

Mr. Berger has said that the scene is a fiction, and Mr. Kean, in an interview, said that he believed Mr. Berger was correct and that ABC was making appropriate changes.
But is ABC being asked to “soften the film’s portrait of the Clinton Admin?” Actually, ABC is being asked to remove scenes which “contradict” the record. Yes, we’re told that Berger has called one scene a “fiction” (this is Healy’s shining moment). But some such “fictions” are fairly innocuous; Healy never explains what the critics have charged—that the various scenes in dispute directly contradict the record. From this point on, Healy wanders the countryside—failing to make the charges clear. On Wednesday, McKinley explained the charges with ease. Today, two stars flounder and flail.

This morning, we marveled at the mindless way this story was treated on Fox & Friends. (Truly shocking, even to us. Is there anything Steve Doocy won’t do and say? How much could they possibly be paying him?) But Fox & Friends is for the dumbest of the dumb—and the Times is supposed to be something different. It claims to speak to the bestest and brightest—which explains why our discourse is such a wreck, why our country is in severe danger.

THIS EASY: There are major scenes in the ABC film which contradict the 9/11 report. That allegation is easy to state—except at our country’s top newspaper.

THEN THERE WAS MILBANK: Even more foolish? This ludicrous piece by Dana Milbank, direct from yesterday’s Washington Post. Milbank’s problem? The gentleman simply can’t understand why elected officials of the Democratic Party would endorse an official nominee of the Democratic Party. When they do such a thing, they’ve “abandoned” a friend—they’re being “partisan” and “disloyal.” (Partisan!) Milbank is dumb as a rock in this piece. But then, so is the fine elite which has made a rolling joke of our discourse.

A LONGER EXCERPT FROM KURTZ: Here’s a fuller excerpt from Kurtz. If you read this morning’s Post, you have a good sense of what’s been alleged. But if you only read the Times, sorry—you aren’t really sure:
KURTZ: Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the 9/11 commission and a deputy attorney general under Clinton, wrote Iger yesterday: "I do have a problem if you make claims that the program is based upon the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report when the actors, scenes and statements in the series are not found in—and, indeed, are contradicted by—our findings."

Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic commission member, said some scenes he saw at a screening are "complete fiction. . . . The mischaracterizations tended to support the notion that the president [Clinton] was not attentive to anti-terrorism concerns. That was the opposite from what the 9/11 commission found."

Bruce R. Lindsey, who runs Clinton's foundation, wrote Kean last night that he was "shocked" by the former New Jersey governor's role, saying: "Your defense of the outright lies in this film is destroying the bipartisan aura of the 9/11 Commission and tarnishing the hard work of your fellow commissioners."
With Kurtz, the shape of the allegations was clear. At the Times, two big stars kept us unsure.

THEY AIN’T NO EXPERTS: Did Virginia clear up all those bogus test scores? Our series continues on Monday and Tuesday. For Parts 1 and 2, just click here. Don’t forget to click here also.