Under fire, ABC mulls yanking mini

A correction was made to this article on Sept. 8, 2006.

“The Path to 9/11″ is looking a lot like “The Reagans, Part II.”

Bill Clinton loyalists are demanding wholesale changes to the upcoming miniseries — and while ABC is making some snips, the alterations, insiders say, may not please the Dems.

But a bombshell decision may happen anyway: Sources close to the project say the network, which has been in a media maelstrom over the pic, is mulling the idea of yanking the mini altogether.

As for specific criticisms — and changes — the original mini contained a scene in which then-National Security Adviser Sandy Berger declines to give the CIA authority to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, even when CIA operatives know where the al-Qaeda leader is.

“This account has been expressly contradicted by Richard Clarke, a high-ranking counterterrorism official in both the Clinton and Bush administrations,” certain lawmakers wrote in a letter to Disney topper Bob Iger.

While ABC declined to comment on specific changes, it’s believed that the Berger scene was among those being reworked.

Controversy — fueled by screaming headlines on the Drudge Report and treated as a “developing story” by CNN — threatened to obscure the Alphabet’s attempt to offer what execs there firmly believe is a socially important piece of TV filmmaking in the tradition of “The Day After” and “An Early Frost.”

But much in the same way right-wing groups mobilized to attack CBS’ “The Reagans” a few years ago, Democratic partisans were doing everything they could to discredit ABC’s “The Path to 9/11.”

Network hinted it was still making changes but refused to say whether the edits were due to pressure.

The Clinton Foundation issued a statement, broadcast by CNN, calling the mini “factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate,” while the Democratic National Committee sent a mass email to its troops denouncing “The Path to 9/11″ as a “despicable, irresponsible fraud” and directing them to a Web site where the party has set up a way to let activists email Disney CEO Bob Iger a form letter.

“Does a major national broadcast network want to stain itself by presenting an irresponsible, slanderous, fraudulent, ‘docudrama’ to the American public? Not if you and I have the last word,” begins the email from exec director Tom McMahon.

Four senior Democratic lawmakers also joined the chorus of former Clinton administration officials calling for removal of what they claim are “false assertions of blame” and “partisan spin” in the mini.

Reps. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), John Dingell (Mich.), Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) and Jane Harman (Calif.) have written to Iger saying they have “serious questions” about the dramatization’s account of counterterrorism actions — or inactions — in the Clinton White House.

The alleged inaccuracies are the subject of complaints that former members of the Clinton administration — Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, Bruce Lindsey and Douglas Band — raised in letters that they sent earlier to ABC and that were the subject of news reports on Thursday.

ABC limited its response to the brouhaha to a single statement arguing its mini “is not a documentary of the events leading to 9/11. It is a dramatization, drawn from a variety of sources including the 9/11 Commission Report, other published materials and personal interviews. As such, for dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue and time compression.

“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,” the statement continued.

“The attacks of 9/11 were a pivotal moment in our history, and it is fitting that the debate about the events related to the attacks continue. However, we hope viewers will watch the entire broadcast of the finished film before forming an opinion about it.”

ABC thought it was limiting controversy by basing its mini on the nonpartisan 9/11 Commission’s report and having commission co-chair Tom Kean serve as a producer on the project.

At least one Hollywood producer empathized with ABC, noting the firestorm of criticism is the latest example of partisan groups attempting to use their clout to bully nets and producers into serving up noncontroversial portraits of political and social matters. Even if the Dems are right in their criticism, the producer noted, ABC should be able to air its take.

“How many miniseries have there been on the Kennedys? Did anybody complain as they dragged them through the mud?” the producer said. “Starting with ‘The Reagans,’ everything is now political. It’s become so divisive and nasty. It’s very sad.”

One thing ABC doesn’t need to worry about: advertiser defections. Net decided to air the five-hour mini sans commercials after failing to find an appropriate sponsor for the project (Daily Variety, Sept. 5).

Of course, the controversial nature of the project — even before the left-wing attacks — may have caused many sponsors to shy away from a sponsorship deal.

As for the specific scenes, lawmakers said, “The film reportedly contains a scene in which the CIA declines to share information about the 9/11 hijackers with the FBI and ascribes that failure to the so-called wall limiting information-sharing by the Dept. of Justice. … This scene is puzzling at best, inaccurate at worst.

“These two examples alone create substantial doubt about the overall accuracy of this program,” they wrote. “Sept. 11 is a day of mourning and remembrance for every American. We do not believe that it is appropriate to be tainted by false assertions of blame or partisan spin.”

In their letter, Lindsey and Band rejected any claim of dramatic license. “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 wrote.

Albright alleged a scene involving her was “false and defamatory,” according to the Associated Press, which quoted her letter.

The New York Post reported Clinton himself had also written ABC, demanding the show “be pulled” if corrections were not made. Specifically, he sharply disputed the characterization that he was too preoccupied by the Monica Lewinsky scandal to do much about terrorism.

Criticism of “The Path to 9/11″ carries strong echoes of the barbs hurled at CBS over “The Reagans.” Reagan partisans railed against scenes showing Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologist and Reagan condemning AIDS victims.

Conservative drumbeat against “The Reagans” started months before the mini was slated to air and intensified after a copy of the script was leaked. Eye ultimately decided to sell the project to sister company Showtime — a move that, ironically, prompted howls of protest from liberal groups who accused CBS of censorship.

Cliff Kincaid, editor of publications for conservative watchdog group Accuracy in Media, said the Democratic outcry is a bit of a surprise.

“Usually Democrats can count on the support of big media in Hollywood,” he said. “It’s like things are upside down now.”

(Josef Adalian and Michael Schneider in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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