NEW YORK – Editing changes made by ABC to the first part of its miniseries "The Path to 9/11" were cosmetic and didn't change the meaning of scenes that had angered several former Clinton administration officials, a spokesman for the former president said Monday.
As for Clinton, he didn't bother watching the movie that angered so many people who once worked for him.
"He made the choice that most Americans made," said Jay Carson, Clinton Foundation spokesman. "Of a fictionalized drama version of Sept. 11 or the Manning brothers playing football against one another, he chose the latter."
The movie was flattened in the ratings by the debut of NBC's Sunday night football, matching Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts against his younger brother Eli of the New York Giants. The football game had an estimated 20.7 million viewers, while "The Path to 9/11" had 13 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The ABC movie did, however, beat CBS' third airing of its "9/11" documentary, which was seen by an estimated 10.6 million people, Nielsen said.
ABC resisted calls to cancel the $40 million miniseries, airing commercial-free over two nights. Part two was scheduled for Monday, with an interruption for President Bush's address to the nation. Several scenes were cut or changed from the first part of a movie ABC has stressed is a dramatization and not a documentary.
"You can take out some of the more dramatic details," Carson said, "but it is still utterly and completely false."
One scene, 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 hurt the effort to go after Usama 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."
Another scene in the critics' cut showed O'Neill asking Clarke on the telephone: "What's Clinton going to do (about bin Laden)?"
Clarke replies, "I don't know. The Lewinsky thing is a noose around his neck."
This was cut entirely from the film that aired Sunday.
Another scene in the movie that depicted a team of CIA operatives poised outside of bin Laden's fortress in Afghanistan, ready to attack, was substantially shortened from the original. Pictures of the waiting Afghanistan operatives are interspersed with those of officials in Washington, who had to approve the mission.
The original version depicted national security adviser Samuel R. Berger hanging up on CIA chief George Tenet as Tenet sought permission to attack bin Laden. The movie aired Sunday did not include Berger hanging up.
The effect of the editing in that scene is to deflect specific blame. It ends with an actor portraying an Afghan ally saying to Donnie Wahlberg, who acted as the head of the CIA team in Afghanistan "Are there no men in Washington, or are they all cowards?"
In the critics' version, that statement is followed directly by archival footage of Clinton's video testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Sunday, that footage was not included.
Left unchanged was a scene depicting the aftermath of an order by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to alert the Pakistanis ahead of time about an airstrike against bin Laden, which Tenet said let the al Qaeda leader slip away. Clinton officials claim this, as well as the other scene, didn't happen.
Twice, the network de-emphasized the role of the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks in its film.
The critics' version contained a note in the opening credits that the film is "based on the 9/11 commission report." That was omitted Sunday.
In a separate disclaimer that ran three times Sunday, ABC 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."
The disclaimer emphasized that the movie 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 said.
Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said in a statement Sunday night that ABC and its parent, The Walt Disney Co., "chose fiction over fact and entertainment over education in airing their TV show."
Critics, 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 member, said on the ABC News show that he's told the film is equally harsh on the administrations of President Bush and his father.
"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."