In “Blocking ‘The Path to 9/11′” — the latest in a string of conservative documentaries still irritated by Michael Moore’s success — former talkradio host John Ziegler seizes on a legitimate point worthy of perhaps a newsmagazine segment, then beats at it for a laborious 93 minutes. There’s obvious passion behind the message, but all Ziegler ultimately proves is that ABC didn’t stand behind a controversial miniseries and that playing the victim of big, bad media grows tedious quickly, whether the aggrieved party hails from the left or the right.
To recap, ABC commissioned an expensive miniseries ostensibly based on the 9/11 Commission’s findings to mark the five-year anniversary, reconstructing the failures and missteps by both the Clinton and Bush administrations that preceded the terrorist attack. Writer-producer Cyrus Nowrasteh, however, expanded his research beyond the report to indict Clinton for missed opportunities to neutralize Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.
Subjected to withering criticism, ABC made minor edits in the film, seeking to quell the controversy, and eventually aired the project without advertising. The network has not yet released it on DVD.
Anybody who watched the entire miniseries knows both administrations are depicted as having dropped the ball in the run-up to Sept. 11. But because Nowrasteh went beyond the 9/11 Commission report to paint an unflattering portrait of the Clintons, he came under fire, and his political leanings were scrutinized, including his relationship with conservative talkshow host Rush Limbaugh. (An early screening in Washington, D.C., of the miniseries’ first part, devoted to the Clinton years, also fed the impression that this was a one-sided right-wing hit job.)
Ziegler’s goal, ultimately, is to expose the fact that the project was prejudged and its producers were unfairly tarred in the process and thrown under the bus by ABC and parent Disney. The only real news here, however, is that such a reaction could emanate from the left, inasmuch as conservatives regularly employ such tactics by criticizing what they haven’t seen in regard to movies and television (Lionsgate’s “W.” comes to mind).
As the doc’s hero, Nowrasteh also exhibits what can at best be construed as naivete about the potential response, given the polarized political climate and how raw the wounds from Sept. 11 remain, especially when he acknowledges ad-libbing portions of a crucial scene that presents Clinton officials — in full cover-your-ass mode — failing to act when they have bin Laden in their sights.
The filmmakers “took sort of the highlights of a number of different episodes and incidents and coordinated them into one, which is what you do when you write a docudrama,” Nowrasteh explains. Yet it’s precisely such bastardizations of history that outsiders (and that would include Washington) view with rightful suspicion, not trusting a mass audience to do the requisite homework to distill fact from fiction.
To the extent the Clintons and their associates overreacted to the miniseries, Ziegler makes his point. He overreaches, however, in his eagerness to provide Nowrasteh redemption, and conveniently overlooks a long history of docudramas evoking similar responses, while padding his witness list with right-wing attack dogs like David Horowitz and Mark Levin.
Disney and ABC refused comment for the project, which is also hardly a surprise. All this might be news to Ziegler, but “Blocking the Path to 9/11” is an awfully slow road to a pretty obvious conclusion.