Fiction as Fact

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

The Hollywood movie industry has always been depicted, fairly or not, as a bastion of liberalism, a place where a Democratic candidate could always help a well-heeled audience part with its cash. People on the right could reliably point to movie stars as card-carrying lefties, far out of the mainstream of American politics.

Now, conservatives want to do something about that, to make Hollywood more like them, to stop the liberals from propagating all that socialist nonsense. Did you see The Path to 9/11, the ABC miniseries, in the last couple of days?

You're aware that members of the Clinton administration complained that the miniseries blamed them, inaccurately, for not going after Osama bin Laden when they had the chance.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote to Disney chief Bob Iger that the film "asserts as fact things that are not fact."

Albright and fellow Clinton advisers objected in particular to a sequence in which CIA agents in Afghanistan, ready to pounce on bin Laden, fail to get a go-ahead from nervous officials in Washington.

There was no such event.

ABC apparently pared down some of the contested scenes before airtime, but that scene remained.

Critics say the miniseries lets the Bush administration off the hook in the fruitless hunt for bin Laden.

ABC reminded viewers that The Path to 9/11 is not a documentary, but rather a "dramatization" with some "fictionalized scenes."

I'll leave it to you to wonder whether an event as cataclysmic as the Sept. 11 attacks really needed extra drama.

Let's ponder the filmmakers' motives.

On yesterday, Max Blumenthal wrote that the film's screenwriter, Cyrus Nowrasteh, and director David Cunningham were part of a right-wing effort to blame Bill Clinton for allowing the 9/11 attacks to take place.

Cunningham is the son of Loren Cunningham, the founder of an evangelical religious-right group, Youth With A Mission, that used The Path to 9/11 to help convert Hollywood to its messianic vision, Blumenthal wrote.

When the young Cunningham entered his father's ministry, Blumenthal wrote, he helped start an auxiliary group called The Film Institute, which, according to its mission statement, is "dedicated to a Godly transformation and revolution to and through the film and television industry."

Cunningham has placed more than a dozen of his interns in film industry jobs so that they can begin to change Hollywood from the inside out.

The Path to 9/11 was Cunningham's first film under the project.

He recruited Nowrasteh, an Iranian-American screenwriter, to handle the script. Like Cunningham, Nowrasteh is "a fervent member of the emerging network of right-wing people burrowing into the film industry with ulterior sectarian political and religious agendas," Blumenthal wrote.

Nowrasteh was the keynote speaker at last year's Liberty Film Festival, which promotes conservative films. In an interview on the festival's Web site, Nowrasteh said that, in making The Path to 9/11, the producers "made every effort to be objective and tell the story truthfully."

Without a trace of irony, Nowrasteh said that,"if your work is honest and truthful, people will connect to it."

But Ed Wyatt, writing in today's New York Times, wrote that Nowrasteh told the conservative Internet site Front Page Magazine that the mini-series dramatized the frequent opportunities the Clinton administration had "to stop bin Laden in his tracks."

Two retired FBI agents, Wyatt reported, withdrew from advisory roles on the miniseries because of what they said was the program's lack of accuracy. Its executive producer, Marc Platt, was quoted as saying it was "not our intention to distort."

Tom Shales, writing in The Washington Post, said that whatever the intention, "distortion unfortunately seems to have been the outcome."

The event being dramatized, he wrote, "is one of the most tragic and monstrous in the nation's history, not something to be trifled with."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan