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Friday, September 08, 2006

Film Furor

I'm sure most people have caught wind of the burgeoning furor over the ABC docudrama "The Path to 9/11", and the fact that it slams then-President Clinton's handling of several chances he had to take out Osama Bin Laden. Apparently, the film greatly exaggerates the circumstances of how the Clinton administration failed to do enough, even showing a completely fictionalized scene where Sandy Berger, Clinton's former national securtiy advisor, hangs up on a CIA operative in the field, refusing to authorize a missile strike against Bin Laden. Mr. Berger has denied the scene ever occuring, and ABC has admitted to dramatizing it. In addition, Madeline Albright also denies the veracity of several events that the film presents, such as informing the Pakistani givernment of an impending missile strike, and not authorizing a strike against Bin Laden.

Now, on the one hand, as bad as these fabrications are, it's hard for me to be fully supportive of efforts to quash the movie. It is an admitted fictionalization of the events of 9/11, and the attempts to have the movie pulled still strike me as censorship. Trust me, I am as disgusted by the attempts to pin the blame for 9/11 on Clinton as the next guy, but I am against banning films in general. I didn't want to see "Farenheit 9/11" pulled either, and I didn't like everything presented in that movie. But still, this is different. This is presented by a major television network, and there is certainly some risk of the details in the docudrama being accepted as gospel by some watchers. For just an example, check this out (from Think Progress):
From the New York Times review of Path to 9/11:

The Sept. 11 commission concluded that the sex scandal distracted the Clinton administration from the terrorist threat.

What the 9/11 Commission actually says (pg. 118):

Everyone involved in the decision had, of course, been aware of President Clinton’s problems. He told them to ignore them. Berger recalled the President saying to him “that they are going to get crap either way, so they should do the right thing.” All his aides testified to us that they based their advice solely on national security considerations. We have found no reason to question their statements.

This is what happens when people learn about the 9/11 Commission by watching Path to 9/11.

The next paragraph of the 9/11 commission report, however, reads the following:
The failure of the strikes, the "wag the dog" slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the nature of the al Shifa evidence likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against Bin Ladin. Berger told us that he did not feel any sense of constraint.
Obviously, the reality is more complex than presented either by Think Progress or by the version in the docudrama as repeated by the NY Times.

And I think examples like this show that if a network is going to present a skewed version of history, they better work damned hard on presenting it as the fictionalized retelling that it is. This time, ABC didn't work hard enough to do so. So though I still oppose calls for the outright banning of the film, I look forward to ABC's efforts to address the misinformation that the film contains.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anon 4:07 said...

Some thoughts on your comments:
It makes absolutely so sense whatsoever to do a fictionalized docudrama. By definition, a "docudrama" is an acted out drama based on real events. No one from the production is claiming that the this docudrama is fiction. They are merely saying that it is loosely based on actual events and that some of the exact details may not have occurred exactly as it is being portrayed in the movie.
That said, I am not convinced that much of what this movie is implying is false. The fact is, Clinton was very busy trying to save his own butt and his legacy and with all of the hoopla going on it would stand to reason that he, and his closest aids, were somewhat distracted.
It would also seem reasonable enough to me that Mr. Clinton was the type of person who led by public opinion and not by conviction. (Say what you will about Bush - You have to admit that the guy is willing to go against the grain and do what he thinks is right. Only the most jaded of liberals will deny the fact that, whether you agree or not, HE truly believes that his policies are in the best interest of this country and the free world. He Believes that he is standing up to modern day fascism - hard to disagree but I digress.) He strikes me as the type of guy who’d rather not “rock the boat” by making an aggressive move and arresting or killing a terrorist leader and just HOPE that the guy and his movement would just “go away”.
I suspect that much of the implications set forth in this movie are probably based on fact – you know, the whole “where there’s smoke there’s fire” thing.
However, a docudrama like this is very dangerous because of the blurry line between fact and fiction. It reminds me a bit of the hoopla surrounding “The Da Vinci Code”. The author claimed that the basic concepts of the book were based in “fact” but the reader could make no distinction between what was indisputable fact, the author’s opinion, and figments of the authors imagination. By the time I was done reading the book I had no idea what “really” happened and what was completely made up out of thin air. The same problem exists here – by the time this movie ends, the viewer will have no clue about what actually occurred and what was the producer/writer’s creative license.
This makes a production like this very dangerous and, in turn, breeds misinformation.

2:05 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

is an admitted fictionalization of the events of 9/11, and the attempts to have the movie pulled still strike me as censorship

--
Censorship? Unless the govt is involved and forcing a private individual to stay silent it has nothing to do with censorship. If a corporation decides to cancel a movie because it's full of lies that isn't censorship. It's a business devision.

2:34 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

So though I still oppose calls for the outright banning of the film,

If it is as bad as eveyone says (just stipulate that for the sake of the argument) why would you oppose having the film cancaled?

And I don't understand your use of the word "ban" No one has the power to force ABC to pull the movie.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

Censorship? Unless the govt is involved and forcing a private individual to stay silent it has nothing to do with censorship. If a corporation decides to cancel a movie because it's full of lies that isn't censorship. It's a business devision.

...

And I don't understand your use of the word "ban" No one has the power to force ABC to pull the movie


It's not so simple. The words "ban" and "censorship" are appropriate in cases other then government action. I think everyone has used the word "ban" in the SLifkin context even though no government act is involved. The point is that organized, coercive pressure to prevent the publication of a movie or a book movie can effectively amount to censorship.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous henry frisch said...

Richard III is still perceived through the lens of Shakespeare's totally unfair, politically influenced presentation of that monarch.

Was ours a better society when the Fairness Doctrine required balance and judgment in presenting political issues? The past twenty years have brought a gutterization of current events in our media.

3:35 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

DB, my friend, krum is right. According to Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: 2censor
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): cen·sored; cen·sor·ing /'sen(t)-s&-ri[ng], 'sen(t)s-ri[ng]/
: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable [censor the news]; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable [censor out indecent passages]


No government involvement is required for something to be called censorsip.

You would be correct if I were claiming that censoring the movie is unconstitutional, but that's not what I am saying.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Ralphie said...

Based on this letter from the Senate Democratic leadership, looks like there is something of a goverment attempt at censorship.

4:01 PM  
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10:35 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

OM, I had other points, which you ignored. Also, the LW call for this film's many errors to be corrected isn't an act of "censorship" because the LW has no ability to force ABC to comply.

If ABC complies it will because they understand that their movie is flawed, or because they realize running the movie will hurt their bottom line. That's not censorship.

Anyway, it sounds like you are saying that its wrong (because it's "censorship!") for the LW to point out that this movie is little more than RW propoganda and to argue for it to be changed or cancled. But how can that be? Doesn't the LW have a constitutional right to make its arguments? (and ABC has a constitutional right to accept them or ignore them.) I don't get your beef. It sounds like you are either trying to silence legitimate debate, or to argue that ABC should ignore the LW complaints on the principle that "censorship" is wrong.

10:59 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

So though I still oppose calls for the outright banning of the film,

Why do you oppose these calls? If the movie is as bad as everyone says shouldn't it be changed?

And even if it isn't bad at all, why do you argue that LW is wrong to make its arguments?

11:00 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...


Why do you oppose these calls? If the movie is as bad as everyone says shouldn't it be changed?


I oppose a call for an outright ban - something being heard in some political circles. That's different than calls for bringing the film more in line with actual historical occurences, which I think might be prudent.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

This kind of blows away the idea that ABC/Disney is part of a liberal media conspiracy.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Jak Black said...

This kind of blows away the idea that ABC/Disney is part of a liberal media conspiracy.

Times are a'changin, my friend. The major networks are bleeding, and some of the suits are apparently putting two and two together. So yes, the media is definitely showing some correction, and it's about time. That doesn't "blow away" anything about the past, however.

3:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I oppose a call for an outright ban - something being heard in some political circles.

Clinton is today calling for the movie to be pulled.

10:52 AM  

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