Friday, September 08, 2006

A Few more Thoughts on The Path to 9/11

I already wrote about how ideological predispositions are clearly influencing the battle being fought over ABC's Path to 9/11. Now, with reports coming in that ABC is altering, or possibly cancelling, the show. But what is really interesting (at least to me) are the reviews that are coming in from the mainstream media. Here's Newsweek:
Was Clinton too distracted [by the Lewinsky affair] to act? Maybe. Is it plausible to suggest that? Certainly to some people, including the filmmakers. And frankly, that should be enough. “The Path to 9/11” isn’t a documentary; it’s a docu-drama. Part of the idea of fictionalizing historical events is to tell a story, to get at a deeper truth than a documentary could. After all those Oliver Stone movies—not to mention dozens of “reality” TV shows—viewers know the difference between real history and an entertainment that uses history as its subject. If the Reagans can survive the snarky look at their relationship posited by the mini-series “The Reagans,” certainly Clinton can survive “The Path to 9/11,” too. This isn’t a history lesson. It’s a television show.
Alessandra Stanley's review in the NY Times:

ABC has been under assault by bloggers and former officials who claim the film paints an unfairly censorious portrait of the Clinton administration, with a lobbying campaign reminiscent of the one that drove CBS to cancel “The Reagans” biopic in 2003. (CBS’s parent company, Viacom, kicked it to the cable channel Showtime.) Some kind of reaction was inevitable this time.

All mini-series Photoshop the facts. “The Path to 9/11” is not a documentary, or even a docu-drama; it is a fictionalized account of what took place. It relies on the report of the Sept. 11 commission, the King James version of all Sept. 11 accounts, as well as other material and memoirs. Some scenes come straight from the writers’ imaginations. Yet any depiction of those times would have to focus on those who were in charge, and by their own accounts mistakes were made.


The inserted news clips of Mr. Bush are not exactly inspiring. He is shown sweaty and dismissive in jogging shorts, dodging questions about tax cuts. Condoleezza Rice...cannot be too thrilled with her moment on screen either. She humors, but does not heed, the counter-terrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke; actually she demotes him.

But there is no dispute that in 2000, the destroyer Cole was attacked, Washington dithered and Mr. bin Laden’s men kept burrowing deeper and deeper into their plot to attack America on its own soil. The film ends where it began, only the morning of Sept. 11 is finally shown, with slow, elegiac music, in its full horror.

Dramatic license was certainly taken, but blame is spread pretty evenly across the board. It’s not the inaccuracies of “The Path to 9/11” that make ABC’s mini-series so upsetting. It’s the situation on the ground in Afghanistan now.

Those are just a couple of the reviews now coming out.

But perhaps the most interesting piece of writing I've read about this whole affair is by Dale Franks, "Fake but Accurate isn't Good Enough." Here's an excerpt:

"Fake, but accurate", however, is not a high enough standard. Obviously, some dramatic license is necessary for storytelling purposes. But a film that purports to be a docu-drama—especially about such an important event—and that purports to tell the story of that event, has to make a clear distinction between forgivable artistic license and factual inaccuracy...A succession of administrations, both Democratic and Republican, failed. And those failures were egregious enough that I would think the truth would be damning enough, without resorting to blatant inaccuracy. has caused unnecessary controversy. Had the filmmakers decided to hew tightly to the 9/11 Commission's report, they could have stood their ground firmly on the basis of the film's historical accuracy. But now, they have to fall back on the "fake, but true", explanation, which, in my view, is simply too low to put the bar. It should be better than that.
John Podhoretz has similar thoughts and I agree that Path to 9/11 is a missed opportunity. A more factual approach could have made good TV and inured the filmakers from the criticism they now receive. (There are those who think this controversy was all part of ABC's planned publicity campaign in the first place. I doubt that, but so much else has been thrown out there, why not?)

Also, Scholastic had teamed with the filmmakers to provide teaching tools, but the controversy has given them second thoughts (via Mark Grimsley):
Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company, today announced that it is removing from its website the materials originally created for classroom use in conjunction with the ABC Television Network docudrama, “The Path to 9/ll”...A new classroom discussion guide for high school students is being created and will focus more specifically on media literacy, critical thinking, and historical background....

The new guide clearly states that Scholastic had no involvement with developing the ABC docudrama, and that the company is not promoting the program, but that the program can provide a springboard to discussion about the issues leading up to 9/11, terrorism and the Middle East.
That seems like a good move to me. There is still educational value in the broad themes that are dealt with in the movie. One thing that the preemptive outrage has accomplished is to make it clear that The Path to 9/11 is a dramatizaton and not a historical work. Never mind that docudramas that have also taken dramatic license have aired in the past without engendering this level of outrage. Perhaps the attention paid to this particular controversy will help people approach such works more critically and also intrigue them enough to trace the Path to 9/11 for themselves .

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