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September 13, 2006

ABC And The DNC's Path To Censorship

Ruth Marcus asks:

Does it matter that ABC invented and distorted history in its "warning: this is not a documentary" docudrama, "The Path to 9/11"? After all, the first night of the faux drama was trounced by the brother-against-brother actual drama of "Sunday Night Football."

I have a better question for her.

Does it matter to the media that for the first time I can recall in my life, a major TV network was intimidated by the threats of Democrat Senators into censoring the content of a clearly-labeled fictionalized account of a historical event until it conformed to the "government approved" version of events? If this is the standard the Democrat Party wishes to see enforced on Hollywood then Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's blatently inaccurate "docudrama", should be immediately pulled from the shelves of American retailers and its content revised until Bush administration officials are satisfied that it agrees with the historical record.

One can't help but wonder how Ms. Marcus would respond if six Republican Senators wrote a letter threatening Congressional action unless he edited the content of a movie to their satisfaction, or better yet, pulled it altogether.

But given the misleading contents of the rest of her essay on ABC's The Path to 9/11, one doesn't have to wonder long. Ms. Marcus writes:

ABC's response to the pre-screening uproar was twofold -- both folds simultaneously inadequate and disingenuous. First, it removed the most flagrantly dishonest scenes: Bill Clinton's national security adviser Sandy Berger slamming down the phone on a fictional CIA operative pleading for permission to attack Osama bin Laden in the spring of 1998; White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke suggesting that the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the looming impeachment had sapped the president's willingness to "take chances" on getting the terrorist leader. Yet, these and other misleading insinuations remain, in subtler form.

Fictional CIA operative? Not according to Lt. Colonel Buzz Patterson, who witnessed several similar scenes firsthand:

As Patterson reveals in his New York Times bestseller Dereliction of Duty- the first missed opportunity occurred when Clinton was engaged in watching a golf tournament and became irritated when Patterson approached him. After Patterson's third attempt to get Clinton to return Sandy Berger's urgent phone calls, Clinton gave Patterson a cool response he would phone Berger on his way back to the White House. The defeated Berger knew that the opportunity was gone.

In another shocking account in the situation room of the White House, Berger was told by a military watch officer "Sir, we've located bin Laden. We have a two-hour window to strike." After Clinton did not return phone calls from Berger for over an hour, Clinton then wanted more time to study the situation. Dereliction of Duty reveals "We 'studied' the issues until it was too late-the window of opportunity closed."

Apparently the DNC's most shocking allegation is that a clearly labeled "fictional" account has been [please conceal your shock] fictionalized by Hollywood. Sacre bleu! Try as we might, we cannot think of a single instance where Hollywood has ever taken liberties with the literal truth before! Clearly this is yet more proof that conservatives are taking control of America's airwaves.

It would be wonderful if docudramas always followed the historical truth exactly, to the letter. But then they'd have to include absolutely everything that transpired: events could not be telescoped, similar happenings could not be conflated to tell the story more effectively. Conservatives have complained about Hollywood's penchant for playing fast and loose with the fact for decades, only to be told "It's 'Art'". Now the shoe is on the other foot, and we are told, "9/11 is too important an event to distort", a standard which seems to have been nowhere in evidence when Moore's crockumentary Unfahrenheit 9/11 hit the airwaves. Yet no cabal of Republican Senators tried to censor it.

There are two important standards here. First of all, government has no business threatening Hollywood, whether the Senators involved are liberals or conservatives, into editing, censoring, or cancelling works of creative expression in America. I am, frankly, shocked and disgusted by the astonishing hypocrisy of ostensible First Amendment champions in the media and the art community who stood silent while this outrage occurred because it was their political opponents', and not their own, political ox that was being gored.

And there is considerable dishonesty still going on about the Path to 9/11. Ms. Marcus' characterizations are often quite flawed:

The fullest possible account? Hardly, and certainly not the fairest or most accurate.

Take the depiction (even sans Berger phone-slamming) of the spring 1998 plan to capture bin Laden in his Afghanistan compound. It's portrayed in the first installment as a blown opportunity, stymied by backside-covering politicians worried about "political fallout."

Pressed for the final go-ahead, with bin Laden cornered, Berger is shown trying to pass the buck to Tenet, who tries to throw it back. A disgusted Northern Alliance leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, -- who in real life never got near the place -- looks over bin Laden's camp and asks, "Are there any men left in Washington, or are they all cowards?"

This is more drama than docu-. Such an operation was planned but called off well in advance. According to the Sept. 11 commission report, "Tenet told us that given the recommendations of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to 'turn off' the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back."

Overall, the Clinton administration is shown as unwilling to respond aggressively to bin Laden. "The point is, terrorism in this administration is perceived as being a law-and-order problem, period," the head of the FBI's New York office, John O'Neill, says in one scene.

ABC stated that these scenes were a compilation of several blown attempts documented here, and her paraphrase of ABC's characterization is fully consistent with the applicable portions of the 9/11 Commission report - a little fact Ms. Marcus trusts you won't discover because, like most journalists, she knows most people will never read the full report (which I cite more fully and link in the linked post), but only their carefully selected excerpts. The following are from two different sources - the formed head of the CIA's bin Laden Unit, and the 9/11 Commission Report - see the linked post for provenance:

Regarding the scene, it was never clear to my officers or myself who canceled the operation. It is true that Clarke was bad-mouthing it. What I don’t think people know, however, is that the Agency had thoroughly reviewed the plan and had approved its execution at the highest level — that is, at the level of DCI Tenet and his immediate subordinates. (NB: At Tenet’s direction, JSOC commanders at Fort Bragg also reviewed the plan. They approved it, said they could not do better, and built two sand-table mock-ups of the bin Laden’s compound for us to use in preparing the operation.) My officers and I were told that the plan had been sent to Clarke and the NSC for approval. The next thing we knew, the Chief of CT at CIA told us that the plan had been canceled because civilians might get killed, there was not a hundred percent chance that we would get bin Laden, and that if bin Laden was killed in the capture effort the CIA might get accused of assassination. The implication to us at the time was that the NSC canceled the operation, but Tenet later claimed he did it himself. I don’t know what the full truth is on this issue.

“We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him,” a former chief of the UBL Station said. Working-level CIA officers said they were frustrated by what they saw as the policy restraints of having to instruct their assets to mount a capture operation. When Northern Alliance leader Massoud was briefed on the carefully worded instructions for him, the briefer recalls that Massoud laughed and said, “You Americans are crazy. You guys never change.”

Facts are stubborn things. It is a fact, for instance, that Bill Clinton turned down a chance to extradite bin Laden from Sudan, despite Sandy Berger's public denials. He has admitted it on tape.

The words of Michael Scheuer, former head of the bin Laden unit, are damning. In regard to Richard Clark's credibility:

Another spectacular untruth is on page 52: "Later in the 1990s, CIA... [failed] to put U.S. operatives into the country [Afghanistan] to kill bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership, relying on Afghans instead." Mr. Clarke, of course, was at the center of Mr. Clinton's advisers, who resolutely refused to order the CIA to kill bin Laden. In spring 1998, I briefed Mr. Clarke and senior CIA, Department of Defense and FBI officers on a plan to kidnap bin Laden. Mr. Clarke's reaction was that "it was just a thinly disguised attempt to assassinate bin Laden." I replied that if he wanted bin Laden dead, we could do the job quickly. Mr. Clarke's response was that the president did not want bin Laden assassinated, and that we had no authority to do so.

Mr. Clarke's book is also a crucial complement to the September 11 panel's failure to condemn Mr. Clinton's failure to capture or kill bin Laden on any of the eight to 10 chances afforded by CIA reporting. Mr. Clarke never mentions that President Bush had no chances to kill bin Laden before September 11 and leaves readers with the false impression that he, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, did their best to end the bin Laden threat. That trio, in my view, abetted al Qaeda, and if the September 11 families were smart they would focus on the dereliction of Dick, Bill and Sandy and not the antics of convicted September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

As they say in TV-land, the truth is out there. It is a matter of public record.

But DNC shills like Ruth Marcus will shed their cherished First Amendment principles faster than Janet Jackson can doff her top during half-time at the SuperBowl if it serves their purpose.

Does it matter if ABC is coerced into doing the bidding of the DNC? Does it bother her that Hollywood has been threatened into altering the content of an admittedly fictionalized show to align with a government report?

It's an interesting approach. It certainly worked for Soviet Russia.

Odd that with all the hyperbolic and hysterical talk of Chill Winds and living in a police state, the first real instance of actual, verifiable government censorship has taken place, not at the hands of the Bush administration, but at the insistence of the real Deciders of what America gets to see and hear: the DNC.

We wonder if they'll be quite so enamored of this new standard when it is applied to them.

I suspect they know any conservatives worth the name won't support such a travesty.

Posted by Cassandra at September 13, 2006 07:44 AM


I watched the first part of The Path to 9-11. I've also read the 9-11 Commission Report. You're correct in that from at least what I watched, the movie followed the Commission Report, albeit in a condensed fashion.

The Democrats are doing themselves a great dis-service by focusing on those scenes. While Clinton et al were clearly playing political games, there were numerous terrorists that were caught before they could act. While reading the report and watching the movie, it seemed that those arrests were a matter of luck in most instances.

Posted by: seawitch at September 13, 2006 09:04 AM

I fully understand (and for that matter support) the objections of Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger to specific scenes in the movie.

There is nothing wrong with them standing up and saying, "That did not occur".

This is part of the valuable discussion these types of things bring to the fore. Sadly, a whole lot of "journalists" don't seem to trust Americans to have that discussion.

What I will not tolerate for a moment is pressure from government servants like Harry Reid, using the power of their offices to browbeat ABC by threatening them with pulling their FCC license. That is just plain wrong, and I cannot BELIEVE the media aren't up in arms about this.

But that's par for the course, isn't it? They ignored it when the DNC went after our POWs with the Stolen Honor documentary (about which there is absolutely NO dispute of fact WHATSOEVER), trying to keep it off the airwaves entirely.

The DNC has a long history of censorship, which they constantly project, in classic Freudian fashion, onto Republicans. And the media are complicit in this. It is shameful.

Posted by: Tovarisha Cassandranova at September 13, 2006 09:13 AM

I watched the football game.
The Colts really didn't beat the Giants, though. That part was fictionalized.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 13, 2006 11:54 AM

Now that the Left has explicitly used the power of government to try to silence political opponents, it's worth reviewing the "Chill Wind" speech Tim Robbins courageously uttered in the faces of those jackboots at the National Press Club on April 16, 2003. His comments were widely seized as emblematic of the feeling on the Left that the Bush government was destroying freedoms.

The transcript can be found here (sorry, html incompetence):


Note that his examples of suppressed free speech were mostly private organizations making their own constitutional choices about what opinions they would air in their forums, and private persons expressing their own opinions about Mr. Sarandon's views. In his lecture on civil freedoms he was , of course, incapable of distinguishing between private and government entities, so his indictment amounted to a bizarre argument that he had a right to not experience any "ramifications" at all (public or private) for expressing his views:

"A chill wind is blowing in this nation. A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown. If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications."

This Wayback Machine trip is to highlight the absurdity in the Left's view of freedom: they have a right to talk freely and experience no "ramifications" even from private sources (that is censorship) but the government should correct views the DNC disagrees with (that is fairness, not censorship).

No honest, adult mind can contemplate both these episodes and pretend they grow out of anything resembling our First Amendment.

Posted by: Tim Smith at September 13, 2006 12:19 PM

To paraphrase the french cop in "Casablanca", I am shocked, shocked to find liberals in favor of censorship! The Left has always been a "my way or the highway" type of group, despite their protestations of tolerance and fairness.

Posted by: a former european at September 13, 2006 03:14 PM

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