‘Path to 9/11’ Screenwriter Strikes Back

Cyrus Nowrasteh, the screenwriter for the controversial docudrama, “The Path to 9/11,” strikes back at his critics in today’s WSJ.

I am neither an activist, politician or partisan, nor an ideologue of any stripe. What I am is a writer who takes his job very seriously, as do most of my colleagues: Also, one who recently took on the most distressing and important story it will ever fall to me to tell. I considered it a privilege when asked to write the script for “The Path to 9/11.” I felt duty-bound from the outset to focus on a single goal–to represent our recent pre-9/11 history as the evidence revealed it to be. The American people deserve to know that history: They have paid for it in blood. Like all Americans, I wish it were not so. I wish there were no terrorists. I wish there had been no 9/11. I wish we could squabble among ourselves in assured security. But wishes avail nothing.

My Iranian parents fled tyranny and oppression. I know and appreciate deeply the sanctuary America has offered. Only in this country could a person such as I have had the life, liberty and opportunity that I have had. No one needs to remind me of this–I know it every single day. I know, too, as does everyone involved in the production, that we kept uppermost in our minds the need for due diligence in the delivery of this history. Fact-checkers and lawyers scrutinized every detail, every line, every scene. There were hundreds of pages of annotations. We were informed by multiple advisers and interviews with people involved in the events–and books, including in a most important way the 9/11 Commission Report.

It would have been good to be able to report due diligence on the part of those who judged the film, the ones who held forth on it before watching a moment of it. Instead, in the rush to judgment, and the effort to portray the series as the work of a right-wing zealot, much was made of my “friendship” with Rush Limbaugh (a connection limited to two social encounters), but nothing of any acquaintance with well-known names on the other side of the political spectrum. No reference to Abby Mann, for instance, with whom I worked on “10,000 Black Men Named George” (whose hero is an African-American communist) or Oliver Stone, producer of “The Day Reagan Was Shot,” a film I wrote and directed. Clearly, those enraged that a film would criticize the Clinton administration’s antiterrorism policies–though critical of its successor as well–were willing to embrace only one scenario: The writer was a conservative hatchetman.

Indeed, the idea that ABC, owned by Disney, intentionally hired a Rush Limbaugh clone to produce anti-Clinton propaganda was absurd on its face. Still, Nowrasteh and company erred in creating fictionalized scenes, most notably having Sandy Berger present Clinton the option to capture bin Laden and the latter decide against it, to fill in gaps and move along the story line. The attacks are simply too fresh in people’s minds for that sort of thing to be done without backlash.

Unfortunately, however, the current mode of response to such controversies is character assassination rather than debate on the merits. Nowrasteh can’t simply have gone too far in the exercise of his artistic license; rather, he must be venal. This trend, I’m afraid, is showing no signs of reversal.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    Imputing the motives of others; the inability to conceive of the possibility that one might be wrong; and the short-fuse to rage are making life rather unpleasant these days.

  2. madmatt says:

    Nowrasteh’s family fled Iran because his parents were oppressing the people when they worked for the shah…a real thug in the vein of saddam, who wouldn’t you know, was another dictator the US sponsored. So for a lifelong tool of republican politics to proclaim his “unbiased” opinion sounds a bit fake.

  3. Kent G. Budge says:

    Ah, yes, the shah … installed by the great Republican president Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of a plan to send Lend-Lease to Russia through Persia, as it was then called.

    To paraphrase Churchill, another famous Republican in on the shah plot: madmatt has a firm and commanding attitude towards the facts. He stands no nonsense from them.

  4. Anderson says:

    None of this changes the rather obvious spin of the docudrama: it changed the facts to favor Bush’s team and impugn Clinton’s. The writer’s handwaving doesn’t affect the facts.

  5. legion says:

    Nowrasteh was also only part of the problem. The continued insistence in the advertising by ABC corporate (and various righty bloggers) that the movies was factual & based wholly on the 911 commission report was pretty bloody awful too.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    An question for all those who appologize for the Clinton administration. You know. The President who never got 50% of the vote. What is it Clinton did that was effective in stopping Bin Ladin. Some say he had 10 opportunities during his time in office to do something about Osama. Are all those people who make such claims liars and part of the vast right wing conspiracy. Which is Clintonese for its not my fault, they are lying about this red paint on my hands.

  7. Bandit says:

    The clintonista apologists wanted the true version where he personally captured OBL and he got lifemax and 9/11 never happened.

  8. John says:

    I’ve worked in the Office of Military Commissions for nearly 3 years now and have spent countless hours learning about 9/11 and Al Qaida. There is no way that Nowrasteh and ABC could have told the story factually in just 5 hours or so – maybe an entire season but not just 5 hours. They essentially bit off more than they could chew.

    If nothing else Nowrasteh did show that bureaucratic bungling as much as anything else conspired with Al Qaida in carrying out 9/11.