ABC is altering its upcoming miniseries "The Path to 9/11" in response to intense criticism from members of the Clinton administration that the two-part, made-for-TV film is filled with factual errors and lies, a network official reportedly said.
Three members of the administration — former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, former National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger and Clinton aide Bruce Lindsey, who now heads the Clinton Foundation — said they sent letters to Walt Disney Company, parent of ABC, demanding that it re-edit or pull the five-hour film, scheduled for air Sunday and Monday nights without commercial interruption.
The Washington Post reported Friday that an ABC executive, who requested anonymity because the network is making only written comments, said small revisions have been underway for weeks.
The "adjustments and refinements" are "intended to make clearer that it was general indecisiveness" by federal officials that left America vulnerable to attack, and "not any one individual," the Post reported.
Former President Clinton, speaking with news reporters after a Democratic fundraiser in Arkansas on Thursday, said he hadn't seen the ABC film.
"But I think they ought to tell the truth, particularly if they are going to claim it is based on the 9/11 Commission report," he said. "They shouldn't have scenes that are directly contradicted by the findings of the 9/11 report."
Thomas H. Kean, the film's co-executive producer and a former New Jersey governor who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, said that he asked for changes in response to the criticism.
"The script has been altered by ABC wherever they thought... it was justified, they've always made changes," Kean told FOX News on Friday.
When asked whether he thought the film unfairly portrayed President Clinton being distracted by the Monica Lewinsky affair, Kean said, "There's a lot of things that are mentioned... I don't think that's really accurate," adding that at one point the film characterizes Clinton as "still focused" on Usama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda threat, a finding confirmed by the final 9/11 Commission Report.
"These are people of integrity," Kean said of the filmmakers, the Post reported. "I know there are some scenes where words are put in characters' mouths. But the whole thing is true to the spirit of 9/11."
"This idea that Hollywood is out for Bill Clinton is nuts," he said.
Kean also questioned whether Lindsey, who accused Kean of partisanship, actually sent his letter to ABC.
"The press got it," Kean said.
Albright, who is featured prominently in the film, said she wrote a letter to Disney chief Robert A. Iger, complaining that she had been told by people who had seen the film that it “depicts scenes that never happened, events that never took place, decisions that were never made and conversations that never occurred.”
“It asserts as fact things that are not fact,” she reportedly wrote.
Albright specifically objected to a scene that showed her insisting on warning the Pakistani government before an airstrike on Afghanistan, and that she was the one who made the warning.
"The scene as explained to me is false and defamatory," she said.
In a statement released late Thursday, ABC said, "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."
"For dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, and time compression," ABC said in its statement. "We hope viewers will watch the entire broadcast of the finished film before forming an opinion about it."
The miniseries is drawn from interviews and documents including the report of the Sept. 11 commission. ABC has described it as a "dramatization" as opposed to a documentary.
"The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has the duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely," Lindsey wrote.
Lindsey accused ABC of "bias" and "fictitious rewriting of history that will be misinterpreted by millions of Americans."
Lindsey and Douglas Band, a top lawyer in Clinton's office, objected to advertisements for the miniseries, which they said suggested that Clinton wasn't paying enough attention to the threat of terrorism.
"While ABC is promoting "The Path to 9/11" as a dramatization of historical fact, in truth it is a fictitious rewriting of history that will be misinterpreted by millions of Americans," they said.
"Given your stated obligation to 'get it right,' we urge you to do so by not airing this drama until the egregious factual errors are corrected, an endeavor we could easily assist you with given the opportunity to view the film," they said.
ABC spokesman Jonathan Hogan defended the miniseries as a "dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 commission report, other published materials and personal interviews."
"Many of the people who have expressed opinions about the film have yet to see it in its entirety or in its final broadcast form, " Hogan said. "We hope the viewers will watch the entire broadcast before forming their own opinion."
The letters also pointed to a fictional CIA character in the series, "Kirk," played by actor Donnie Wahlberg, and how he is ordered to abort a mission to kill bin Laden. Berger complained that "no such episode ever occurred — nor did anything like it."
"The fabrication of this scene (of such apparent magnitude) cannot be justified under any reasonable definition of dramatic license," Berger wrote.
Democratic Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Charles Schumer of New York and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, also sent a joint letter to Iger asking that the broadcast be cancelled.
The five-hour miniseries is to be aired both nights without commercials as a public service.
Director David Cunningham said it was a massive undertaking, with close to 250 speaking parts, more than 300 sets and a budget of $40 million. Cunningham has said he shot 550 hours of film. The cast includes Harvey Keitel, Patricia Heaton and Donnie Wahlberg.
This is not the first time political pressure has been exerted against a TV film. CBS dropped a four-hour miniseries about the Reagans in 2003, after Republican and conservative groups complained about its portrayal of the former president and first lady. “The Reagans” later aired on cable's Showtime channel.