By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 8, 2006
ABC plans to make minor changes to its docudrama on the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in response to heated complaints from former Clinton administration officials that a number of scenes are fabricated, a network executive said yesterday.
Thomas H. Kean, the Republican who chaired the 9/11 commission and is a co-executive producer of the film, said in an interview that he recently asked for changes that would address complaints raised by the former aides to President Bill Clinton and that ABC is considering his request.
"These are people of integrity," Kean said of the filmmakers. "I know there are some scenes where words are put in characters' mouths. But the whole thing is true to the spirit of 9/11."
The ABC executive said the "adjustments and refinements" are "intended to make clearer that it was general indecisiveness" by federal officials that left the country vulnerable to terrorist attacks, "not any one individual." The executive, who requested anonymity because the network is making only written comments, said small revisions have been underway for weeks.
The network's move came as the children's publishing company Scholastic deleted from its Web site materials about "The Path to 9/11," developed in partnership with ABC, that were being offered to 25,000 high school teachers. "We determined that the materials did not meet our high standards for dealing with controversial issues," Chairman Dick Robinson said.
Democrats ratcheted up the pressure yesterday. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and four Democratic colleagues wrote to Robert Iger, chief executive of the Walt Disney Co., ABC's corporate parent, urging him to cancel the movie. The Democratic National Committee obtained more than 100,000 signatures on a petition demanding cancellation. Jay Carson, a spokesman for former president Bill Clinton, called ABC's plan to air the movie "despicable."
The six-hour docudrama, scheduled for broadcast Sunday and Monday, depicts such former Clinton officials as Madeleine K. Albright, Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and Richard Clarke as undermining efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
In a statement, ABC reiterated that the movie is a "dramatization" that contains "fictionalized scenes" and "composite" characters but also said it is based on the work of the 9/11 commission. The network added: "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. . . . We hope viewers will watch the entire broadcast of the finished film before forming an opinion about it."
Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the 9/11 commission and a deputy attorney general under Clinton, wrote Iger yesterday: "I do have a problem if you make claims that the program is based upon the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report when the actors, scenes and statements in the series are not found in -- and, indeed, are contradicted by -- our findings."
Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic commission member, said some scenes he saw at a screening are "complete fiction. . . . The mischaracterizations tended to support the notion that the president [Clinton] was not attentive to anti-terrorism concerns. That was the opposite from what the 9/11 commission found."
Bruce R. Lindsey, who runs Clinton's foundation, wrote Kean last night that he was "shocked" by the former New Jersey governor's role, saying: "Your defense of the outright lies in this film is destroying the bipartisan aura of the 9/11 Commission and tarnishing the hard work of your fellow commissioners."
Kean said he has worked without a contract and told ABC that if it wants to pay him after the movie airs, he will donate his fee to charity.
Kean said the filmmakers have made changes -- in one case, reshooting an entire scene -- based in part on his recommendations. "The suggestion that this is some right-wing group in Hollywood is absurd," he said.