Military historian Mark Grimsley was willing to give the docudrama the benefit of the doubt until someone with whom he is ideologically opposed indicated that he really liked the movie. After that revelation, Grimsley first became suspicious, and then convinced, that Path to 9/11 was "blatant Right-Wing progaganda." Meanwhile, his fellow ideological travellers have gone to great lengths to reveal the conspiracy that lay behind the production of the movie. All the while, very few have actually seen the movie and are relying on the characterizations of those with their own agendas, on both the left and right, to predetermine how they will view the movie before they themselves actually view it.
Why make a judgement based on what amounts to hearsay from legacy-guarding Clintonites and partisan reviews from the right? As Grimsley wrote:
There's an argument to be made, I guess, that judgment ought to be postponed until the film is aired. But the swift boating of John Kerry is much on the minds of those who have followed this story..."Fool me once...Fool me twice...." It is unsurprising that those on the left would believe the line of argument coming out of the Clinton camp. And from what I've read, the Clintonites seem to have a couple valid criticisms of the docudrama. But it is ironic that the glowing reviews emanating from conservative circles actually help to reinforce the suspicions of the ideological left, who can't help but focus on those portions of conservative reviews that dwell on examples of Clinton Administration shortcomings.
In their rush to condemn the movie, the left seems to have forgotten that much of what they have heard about the negative portrayal of the Clinton Administration has come from former Clinton Administration members who have their own legacy to vouchsafe and who may be overly sensitive in the first place (aren't we all?). But I suppose it would be too much to ask to question their motives, wouldn't it?(As Glenn Reynolds writes: "Call me crazy, but I don't regard Sandy Berger as trustworthy on the historical record here, as given his document-removal activity I think he had something to hide.")
Nonetheless, perhaps one corrective solution would be to read a few reviews by the regular, non-conservative entertainment types. One such example of a mainstream review is also quite a negative one. According to Entertainment Weekly:
The first night of The Path to 9/11 blames bin Laden's persistent freedom on the Clinton presidency, portrayed as distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. On the second night, that blame shifts to the Bush administration, where Condoleezza Rice reads the intelligence report saying bin Laden was ''determined to strike in U.S.''...and then ignores it. This unwieldy opus is hamstrung by the very thing ABC is so proud of: using The 9/11 Commission Report as its source and the chairman of the commission, former governor Thomas Kean, as its ''senior consultant.'' The results strain so hard to be objective and evenhanded (see, the Democrats and the Republicans both made mistakes) that they're useless as drama.According to this review, then, Path to 9/11 doesn't succeed as a drama because it tries to be too fair. But it appears that such reviews are too late to pull people back from the brink. The assumptions have already been made and the ideological glasses will be on when Path to 9/11 is seen by the nation. Partisans will see every slight they want to see.
Needless to say, I think that Grimsley's initial predilection to reserve judgement was the proper one and he and other historians should have refrained from getting caught up by the assumptions that have led to this partisan melee. I wonder if he's a "victim" (sorry for the scare quotes) of ideological amplification, which was recently explained by Cass Sunstein:
[I]deological amplification occurs in many domains. It helps to explain "political correctness" on college campuses--and within the Bush administration. In a recent study, we find that liberals in Colorado, after talking to one another, move significantly to the left on affirmative action, global warming, and civil unions for same-sex couples. On those same three issues, conservatives, after talking to each other, move significantly to the right. (Sunstein has more thoughts on ideological amplification here).I don't think there can be any doubt that places inhabited by Kossacks or Freepers can amplify ideological predispositions.
Additionally, as I've already alluded, the consistently similar theme that runs throughout most reviews done by conservative pundits--that the Clinton Administration is finally being correctly tagged for its ineptitude in dealing with terrorism--is evidence of a sort of rhetorical amplification, which is undergirded by the conservative antipathy of all things Clinton. If they can be accused of anything, conservative reviewers can be tagged for seeming a little too cheerful about pinning said blame on the Clinton crowd. This serves to obscure that the result of any such failures was a national tragedy.
Thus, it is probably the case that the rhetorical amplification (talking points?) of those on the right has resulted in a knee-jerk reaction by those on the left, which in turn have precipitated the now-requisite counterreaction from conservative pundits. Thus, if you decide to watch the movie with your ideological glasses on, you'll find the bias you're looking for.
And so it goes. As Ann Althouse has noted, the movie is now:
a playing field for the forces of right and left, and now if you watch the thing, instead of thinking about America and al Qaeda, you can think about Democrats and Republicans.Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg reminds us that we've seen this song and dance before:
My basic view is, a pox on everybody. The Democratic Party embraced Michael Moore's movie at the highest levels. Daschle hugged Moore at the premiere. Carter invited him to sit with him at the convention. Etc Etc. Are they claiming that F9/11 is more accurate than the ABC miniseries? If so, I'd like to hear them say it. At the same time, when, CBS tried to come out with that Reagan biopic, conservatives howled in outrage and got CBS to drop it. Why shouldn't liberals have a go at the same thing? Of course, during the Reagan brouhaha liberals got their panties in a knot about how it was "censorship" and a horrifying example of conservative bullying when the Right succeeded. Now, it seems many of the same liberals are cheering as the former President of the United States is trying to bully ABC into dropping the miniseries. Nobody looks good in this one.For example, take this defense of the Reagan movie over at HNN or the myriad comments about it here and change "Reagan" for "Path to 9/11" and switch the defenders with the attackers and we have the same sort of debate. (UPDATE: Actually, for just such an exercise done by a partisan conservative, go here).
And as the blame game continues and the real import of the movie is being lost amidst the partisan carping. As L. Brent Bozell writes in his review of the movie:
Now I will confess a personal bias here. Whether from our politicians or, more dramatically, from our news media, there is a most unhealthy obsession with criticism. As one network scribe once put it, "Good news is no news, bad news is great news." Yes, mistakes were made. But we cannot, and ought not, overlook the extraordinary work being performed by so many who are so devoted to our nation's security.I hope that we can all take a step back and heed that warning.
And "The Path to 9-11" doesn't ignore this truth. The film underscores that many, many men and women, most of them toiling in anonymity, in and out of uniform, have been working ceaselessly to protect America and are richly deserving of a nation's gratitude. Some individuals, like Richard Clarke and former FBI counter-intelligence expert John O'Neil, the newly appointed head of security at the Twin Towers who died inside the World Trade Center, are presented heroically.
One can quibble with some elements, but only a fool would ignore the message: America's intelligence apparatus was woefully unprepared for 9-11, and remains dangerously inadequate today. It is a frightening, sobering warning.