Senate Democrats Threaten ABC’s License over ‘Path to 9/11’
John Aravosis provides the full text of a letter by the Democratic leadership in the Senate to Disney over the “Path to 9/11” miniseries. The opening paragraphs:
We write with serious concerns about the planned upcoming broadcast of The Path to 9/11 mini-series on September 10 and 11. Countless reports from experts on 9/11 who have viewed the program indicate numerous and serious inaccuracies that will undoubtedly serve to misinform the American people about the tragic events surrounding the terrible attacks of that day. Furthermore, the manner in which this program has been developed, funded, and advertised suggests a partisan bent unbecoming of a major company like Disney and a major and well respected news organization like ABC. We therefore urge you to cancel this broadcast to cease Disney’s plans to use it as a teaching tool in schools across America through Scholastic. Presenting such deeply flawed and factually inaccurate misinformation to the American public and to children would be a gross miscarriage of your corporate and civic responsibility to the law, to your shareholders, and to the nation.
The Communications Act of 1934 provides your network with a free broadcast license predicated on the fundamental understanding of your principle obligation to act as a trustee of the public airwaves in serving the public interest. Nowhere is this public interest obligation more apparent than in the duty of broadcasters to serve the civic needs of a democracy by promoting an open and accurate discussion of political ideas and events.
As Aravosis correctly notes, the second paragraph is a scarcely vieled threat to ABC’s broadcast license. As AllahPundit puts it, “Wonderful network you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if something happened to it.”
Ed Morrissey is right to point out that Republicans were outraged against CBS for unfair portrayals in “The Reagans” and lobbied to get it quashed. Still, they didn’t use the threat of government sanction against a broadcaster exercising its 1st Amendment rights.
The Democrats do not do subtlety, or do not do it successfully. They plan on using the power of the federal government to demand political changes to a program before it airs, a dangerous precedent and a completely different problem than what existed before.
If the Democrats do not like what ABC wants to broadcast, they have every right to protest it — and in this case, they had a point. They can organize protests and boycotts, letter-writing campaigns and so on. What they cannot do is to threaten a broadcast license for political differences, regardless of the situation. It violates the spirit of free speech and makes the Democrats look like Big Brother.
It is incredibly hamhanded. And apparently, completely unnecessary.
ABC plans to make minor changes to its docudrama on the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in response to heated complaints from former Clinton administration officials that a number of scenes are fabricated, a network executive said yesterday.
Thomas H. Kean, the Republican who chaired the 9/11 commission and is a co-executive producer of the film, said in an interview that he recently asked for changes that would address complaints raised by the former aides to President Bill Clinton and that ABC is considering his request.
The ABC executive said the “adjustments and refinements” are “intended to make clearer that it was general indecisiveness” by federal officials that left the country vulnerable to terrorist attacks, “not any one individual.” The executive, who requested anonymity because the network is making only written comments, said small revisions have been underway for weeks.
The network’s move came as the children’s publishing company Scholastic deleted from its Web site materials about “The Path to 9/11,” developed in partnership with ABC, that were being offered to 25,000 high school teachers. “We determined that the materials did not meet our high standards for dealing with controversial issues,” Chairman Dick Robinson said.
It looks like pressures on ABC to stick closer to the facts of the matter worked, rather than threats from the Democrats. Still, it is a dramatic recreation, not a documentary.
Executive Producer Marc Platt acknowledged that “there is dramatic license taken” in the docudrama to “render the program effective and accessible for viewers.” “But we do try within the boundaries of what is fair and reasonable to communicate the essence of what occurred (and) the intentions of those individuals involved,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview from London. “We have no intention or desire to be political, to intentionally distort.”
Platt also said one scene singled out for criticism by Democrats — depicting CIA operatives and Afghan fighters coming close to capturing Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, only for then-national security advisor Samuel Berger to refuse authorization of the mission — was a “conflation of events.” Berger said in a letter to Iger earlier this week that “no such episode ever occurred, nor did anything like it.”
Given the volatility of creating such a scene–based only loosely on bits and pieces of truth–one can understand Berger’s concern. The movie version of events would soon become “real” in the minds of many people. People tend to “learn” visually and video can be quite powerful in crowding out facts read on a page.
Still, that controversy seemed to be resolving itself just fine. Indeed, as AllahPundit observes, even staunch partisan Republican bloggers agreed on this point:
I conceded they had a point about the scene with Sandy Berger. Ace conceded it. Dean conceded it. Geraghty conceded it. Others have conceded it. Facts is facts, and “composite” scenes play a little too loose for a film about 9/11.
So, what did Reid et. al. hope to accomplish? And why is the Democratic Party website trying to stir up so much outrage over this?
Alessandra Stanley has an interesting overview of the mini-series and the resultant controversy in today’s NYT.
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.But there is no dispute that in 2000, the destroyer Cole was attacked, Washington dithered and Mr. bin Laden’s men kept burrowing deeper and deeper into their plot to attack America on its own soil.
The first bombing of the World Trade Center happened on Bill Clinton’s watch. So did the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. The president’s staff — and the civil servants who worked for them — witnessed the danger of Al Qaeda close up and personally. Some even lost their lives.
In 2001 President Bush and his newly appointed aides had ample warning, including a briefing paper titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” and they failed to take it seriously enough, but their missteps are not equal. It’s like focusing blame for a school shooting at the beginning of the school year on the student’s new home room teacher; the adults who watched the boy torment classmates and poison small animals knew better.
Still, as Stanley notes, the mini-series isn’t exactly kind to the Bush administration, either.
Regardless, however, attempts to spin events in ways favorable to its side is what political parties do. Pre-emptively striking at ABC’s docu-drama to lessen its impact is understandable if likely counterproductive (generating controversy almost invariably winds up being free publicity for a product few would otherwise have seen–think “The Last Temptation of Christ,” for example). Still, that’s all part of the political game.
Threatening broadcast networks, however, is not.