WASHINGTON – Out in time for the seventh commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, a new documentary alleges that powerful politicians and a biased media effectively censored the controversial ABC miniseries “The Path To 9/11."
The new release, titled “Blocking “The Path To 9/11,'” claims that powerful Democratic figures and popular left-wing bloggers managed to scuttle an earlier version of the 2006 docudrama after spreading several baseless allegations in an attempt to get the program cut from ABC's prime time line-up.
The new film refutes those allegations using official documentation about the terror attacks and interviews with industry insiders and individuals involved in the making of the miniseries.
The two-part special, which aired on Sept. 10-11, 2006, was always meant to be a fictional dramatization of the events that led to Sept. 11 and its aftermath, say the film’s makers. But after screenings, former President Bill Clinton, notable Democrats on Capitol Hill and their supporters slammed it as a partisan attack and demanded it be pulled.
Several Clinton supporters filed protests with the network and voiced complaints in news interviews at the time of “Path”’s release. The new documentary notes that the interviews make it evident that neither those protesting the film nor the commentators discussing it ever watched the pair of episodes.
For example, former Clinton Secretary of State Madeline Albright wrote a letter to Disney CEO Robert Iger complaining that she had heard the film depicted her giving the Pakistanis advance warning of a missile strike on Usama bin Laden.
However, the docudrama never portrayed Albright making the call. It did portray her in a meeting explaining why now-retired Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been ordered to notify the Pakistanis about the coming strike.
The Sept. 11 commission, which issued a report in 2004 on Clinton-era actions preceding the terror attacks and the Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 response to them, documented that Ralston met with the Pakistani army chief to discuss the strike.
But that didn't stop A.J. Hammer, an anchor on CNN’s Showbiz Tonight, from picking up on Albright's letter and reporting on a "Madeleine Albright scenario that's portrayed in the film."
“She’s notifying Pakistanis of a strike against bin Laden. That is patently false. It did not occur. What purpose does it serve in the film to alter the truth — [that’s] what I'm trying to understand,” Hammer said.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer also repeated Albright's claim. He admitted to not having screened the film.
At the time of the miniseries' release, several Democratic senators made suggestive statements about the sanctity of ABC’s broadcasting license in an apparent effort to prevent its airing.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and four other Democratic senators wrote in a Sept. 7, 2006, letter to Iger.
“We urge you, after full consideration of the facts, to uphold your responsibilities as a respected member of American society and as a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves to cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program,” reads the letter.
Reid also claimed that ABC has originally tried to produce a documentary, but had changed it to a docudrama when it came out that parts were dramatized. The media picked up on that, as well.
“Their complaints led ABC to call the program a 'dramatization,' not a 'documentary,'” Jane Mayer wrote in a New Yorker article.
Other critics argued that "The Path to 9/11" was the product of a subtle but emerging right-wing conspiracy in Hollywood.
“Not only is (Cyrus) Nowrasteh an outspoken conservative, he is also a fervent member of the emerging network of right-wing people burrowing into the film industry with ulterior sectarian political and religious agendas,” blogger Max Blumenthal on HuffingtonPost.com wrote of the screenplay's author.
“'The Path to 9/11' is produced and promoted by a well-honed propaganda operation consisting of a network of little-known right-wingers working from within Hollywood to counter its supposedly liberal bias,” Blumenthal wrote. “This is the network within the ABC network.”
In the new documentary, Nowrasteh said he always conceived and billed his story as a docudrama.
“We’d be morons if we called this a documentary,” Nowrasteh says, pointing out that actors were used throughout the movie and that certain scenes combined several elements from real events.
"Blocking" also points to Quinn Taylor, senior vice president of motion pictures for television and miniseries at ABC and an openly liberal Democrat, as the driving force behind the film. In an interview about the making of the movie, Taylor spoke about how a friend suggested it to him at dinner one night.
In the new movie, filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd disputes Blumenthal's claim about a right-wing cabal at ABC.
“Of course it’s preposterous. The hoops that you have to go through to get anything made, to get a 30-second (public service announcement) made, never mind 5 hours, it’s just madness,” he says.
Nowrasteh, who claims he received death threats in 2006 after his contact information was posted online, said he is conservative on national security issues but that it is not the main focus of his filmmaking. Nowrasteh also wrote the script for “10,000 Black Men Named George,” the story of a union activist’s attempts to organize black porters; and he has worked with noted liberal director Oliver Stone.
“I lean conservative, especially when you’re talking about national security issues and that’s more of a personal thing," he says in the film. "My family is Iranian and my parents were forced to flee Iran in 1979 when (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini came to power. The fact of the matter is that I have personal experience with Islamic fundamentalism, with Islamic terrorism.”
During the period of pressure from politicians, ABC considered pulling the film, but in the end aired an edited version that included disclaimers to three of the more controversial scenes.
The documentary received sky-high ratings, attracting around 25 million views during the two nights. Clinton supporters said they were still not happy with the edited version, but controversy died down after the documentary actually aired.
However, no DVD has ever been released of the film despite the industry normally releasing miniseries on DVD within months of the original air date.
"This is a shame; it's censorship in the most blatant way," director Stone was quoted saying in The Los Angeles Times. "I'm not vouching for its accuracy — it's a dramatization — but it's an important work and needs to be seen.”
Nowrasteh said that a high-level Disney executive specifically told him the DVD would've been released had Sen. Hillary Clinton not been running for the presidency in 2008.
One Disney shareholder, Tom Borelli, asked Iger at a March 2008 board meeting why ABC was not releasing the DVD or selling the rights to it, considering the success of the miniseries. Borelli pointed out that Disney’s Fahrenheit 911, a controversial documentary by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, had made $46 million in DVD sales for Disney.
Iger responded that Disney had made a “business decision” to keep the miniseries under wraps. He declined to elaborate.