Actor Kevin Dunn as Sandy Berger in “The Path to 9/11”
Despite unprecedented pressure from former President Clinton, his aides and top Democratic Party leaders that resulted in edits, ABC’s airing of the “The Path to 9/11” was a success, says the writer of the miniseries.
In fact, with Clinton’s lawyers pressing to cancel the five-hour docudrama, it wasn’t until Sunday morning – the day scheduled for part one – that its airing was certain, according to Cyrus Nowrasteh, who also served as a chief producer.
Three scenes, totaling about 70 seconds, were altered in the $40 million production, which concluded last night.
“To lose only a minute is a success, is a victory,” Nowrasteh told WND. “I think ABC stood tall.”
The scene that underwent the biggest cuts depicted CIA operatives waiting for permission from Washington to attack Osama bin Laden at his Afghanistan fortress. The version that aired left out National Security Adviser Sandy Berger hanging up on George Tenet as the CIA director sought permission to go ahead.
Arguing for the original sequence, Nowrasteh said it represented “anywhere from eight to a dozen missions that failed, where there was a lack of will or intelligence to carry out the operation.”
“We thought the composition, the conflation of events, would get the message across, symbolic of an overall reality,” he said. “When you’re doing a docudrama, you can’t show every single instance.”
Nowrasteh said the elimination of a “masterfully directed sequence” by director David Cunningham was unfortunate, but the main message was not lost.
“I think the intent and meaning are still there – there was indecision, there was a lack of resolution,” he said.
The miniseries begins with the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and follows terrorist plotters to hideouts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, Yemen and the U.S.
Among the many sources for Nowrasteh’s script were the 9/11 commission report and the books “The Cell” by former ABC News correspondent John Miller, and “Relentless Pursuit” by Samuel Katz.
Another source was “Dereliction of Duty” by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson, a former military aide to President Clinton who claims he witnessed several missed opportunities to capture or kill bin Laden.
Patterson told WND last week that Nowrasteh came to him in frustration Sept. 1 after network executives, under pressure from Clinton officials, began pressing for changes to the script. Following a preview showing by Nowrasteh, Patterson said the drama got it right.
“I was there with Clinton and Berger and watched the missed opportunities occur,” Patterson declared.
Another scene in the preview version has White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke in a limo with FBI agent John O’Neill, telling him: “The Republicans are going all-out for impeachment. I just don’t see in that climate the president’s going to take chances” and give permission to kill bin Laden.
Stephen Root as Richard Clarke, George R. Robertson as Dick Cheney and Penny Johnson Jerald as Condoleezza Rice
In the revised scene, Clarke tells O’Neill, “The president has assured me this … won’t affect his decision-making.”
O’Neill says: “So it’s OK if somebody kills bin Laden, as long as he didn’t give the order. It’s pathetic.”
Even with the edits, however, a Clinton spokesman said the scenes ABC put on its air [Sunday] night are completely false and directly contradicted by the 9/11 commission report. ABC regrettably decided not to tell the truth [Sunday] night and instead chose entertainment over the facts.”
But John Lehman, a Republican 9/11 commissioner insisted the episode was fair.
“It very well portrayed the events in a way that people can understand them without doing violence to the facts,” he said.
Last night’s episode included scenes that were not flattering to the Republican Bush administration, which took over eight months before the 9/11 attacks.
The White House has been silent about the film, however, and the complaints largely have come from Clinton supporters. One of the more provocative critiques was a piece published on the Huffington Post blog by Nation magazine contributor Max Blumenthal, who saw a “secret right-wing network behind ABC’s 9/11 deception.”
Blumenthal charged “The Path to 9/11” is “produced and promoted by a well-honed propaganda operation consisting of a network of little-known right-wingers working from within Hollywood to counter its supposedly liberal bias.”
Nowrasteh dismissed the criticism.
“This project was generated at ABC at the highest network levels,” he argued.
Senior Vice President Quinn Taylor, Nowrasteh pointed out, was the “motivating force” behind the miniseries, which brought together people from “broadly different backgrounds.”
Some of the attacks have been personal, with numerous harassing and threatening phone calls made to Nowrasteh at his Los Angeles-area home over the past week.
Directors Ron Shelton and Oliver Stone are among Hollywood fixtures who publicly have supported Nowrasteh’s effort, calling the criticism an overreaction.
Nowrasteh concludes: “My feeling about this, fundamentally, is that no matter how you do this, it’s such a hot-button topic, there would be squawking from somewhere. You cannot please everybody.”