ABC aired its miniseries “The Path to 9/11” on Sunday but made editing changes after former Clinton administration officials complained it contained fabricated scenes about their actions prior to the terrorist attacks.
ABC’s editing of the five-hour movie, airing on two successive nights starting Sunday, was evident from the very beginning. Twice, the network de-emphasized the role of the 9/11 commission’s final report as source material for the film.
The version that aired Sunday also changed a scene that, in a copy of the movie given to television critics a few weeks ago, indicated President Clinton’s preoccupation with his potential impeachment may have affected an effort to go after Osama bin Laden.
In the original scene, an actor portraying White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke shares a limousine ride with FBI agent John O’Neill and tells him: “The Republicans are going all-out for impeachment. I just don’t see in that climate the president’s going to take chances” and give the order to kill bin Laden.
But in the film aired Sunday, Clarke says to O’Neill: “The president has assured me this ... won’t affect his decision-making.”
O’Neill replies: “So it’s OK if somebody kills bin Laden, as long as he didn’t give the order. It’s pathetic.”
The critics’ version contained a note in the opening scenes that the film is “based on the 9/11 commission report.” That was omitted from the film aired Sunday. A disclaimer emphasized it was not a documentary.
“For dramatic and narrative purposes the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression,” the note that ran before the movie said.
The note said the material is “drawn from a variety of sources including the 9/11 commission report and other published materials and from personal interviews.” That differs from a note in the critics’ version that said the dramatization “is based on the 9/11 commission report and other published sources and personal interviews.”
ABC has said little about the controversy, and said Sunday it would not comment.
Miniseries aired, but debate continuesCritics, such as historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., said it was “disingenuous and dangerous” not to include accurate historical accounts in the movie.
Thomas Kean, head of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks and a backer of the film, said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday that he hadn’t seen the final cut of the movie but urged Americans to watch it.
“If people blame Bill Clinton after seeing this, then the miniseries has failed,” said Kean, the former Republican New Jersey governor. “That’s wrong and it shouldn’t happen.”
John Lehman, another Republican commission members, said on the ABC News show that he’s told the film is equally harsh on the administrations of President Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush.
“And if you don’t like the hits to the Clinton administration, well, welcome to the club,” Lehman said. “The Republicans have lived with Michael Moore and Oliver Stone and most of Hollywood as a fact of life.”
Scenes involving former national security adviser Samuel R. Berger and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are at the center of the dispute. They both have said scenes involving them never happened and that they shouldn’t be shown.
In the version distributed to critics, one scene had an actress portraying Albright saying the Pakistani government had to be informed of a U.S. missile strike against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The movie indicated that was a key factor in bin Laden getting away.
“We’ve enhanced bin Laden’s stature in the Islamic world,” said an actor portraying CIA Director George Tenet. “He’s thumbing his nose at us.”
Another scene depicts a team of CIA operatives poised in darkness outside of bin Laden’s cave fortress in Afghanistan, ready to attack, as Tenet tries to get the final go-ahead from Berger. In the movie, Berger hesistates in a speaker phone conversation.
“Look, George,” Berger says, “if you feel confident, you can present your recommendation to the president yourself.”
Tenet responds angrily, then Berger’s screen goes blank. He has hung up.
The mission is aborted.