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Even Harvey Keitel, who plays the nominal hero of the film -- former FBI

Even Harvey Keitel, who plays the nominal hero of the film -- former FBI
agent-turned-World Trade Center security chief John O'Neill -- when
asked in an interview whether he thought the film contained distortions,
replied, "Yes, I do," and called on the network to fix them before the
film airs.

*ABC's Twisted 'Path to 9/11'*

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 9, 2006; C01

Factually shaky, politically inflammatory and photographically a mess,
"The Path to 9/11" -- ABC's two-part, five-hour miniseries tracing
events leading up to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon -- has something not just to offend everyone but also to
depress them.

The docudrama -- allegedly produced as a warning to the United States
that the attacks, or something like them, could happen again -- falls
clumsily into traps that await all those who make fictional films
claiming to be factual. Except this time, the event being dramatized is
one of the most tragic and monstrous in the nation's history, not
something to be trifled with.

It is hardly surprising that the movie has been preceded by cries of
outrage from some of those depicted in it, especially members of the
Clinton administration who are shown as, essentially, incompetent.

Even Harvey Keitel, who plays the nominal hero of the film -- former FBI
agent-turned-World Trade Center security chief John O'Neill -- when
asked in an interview whether he thought the film contained distortions,
replied, "Yes, I do," and called on the network to fix them before the
film airs.

CNN reported yesterday that former secretary of state Madeleine Albright
and Sandy Berger, national security adviser to Bill Clinton (Albright
and Berger are played by actors in the movie), wrote to Thomas H. Kean,
co-chairman of the 9/11 commission and a consultant on the film, and
urged him to use his influence to get ABC to withdraw the film (at press
time, it was scheduled to air tomorrow night and Monday night). Albright
and Berger say the film puts words in their mouths that they never said
and has them doing things they never did.

In a brief news clip yesterday, a smiling Clinton, asked by reporters to
comment on the movie, said simply, "I think they ought to tell the
truth" -- although defining "the truth" in this case can't be considered
a simple task.

Blunderingly, ABC executives cast doubt on their own film's veracity
when they made advance copies available to such political conservatives
as Rush Limbaugh but not to Democrats who reportedly requested the same
treatment. If it's any consolation to Democrats, however, the film at no
point suggests that Saddam Hussein -- whom President Bush has tried to
associate with the 9/11 attacks -- was involved in the planning or
execution of the attacks in any way.

According to the movie, Osama bin Laden -- now the most wanted man in
the world and a terrorist whose role in the 9/11 atrocity is not in
doubt -- was virtually within the grasp of U.S. intelligence operatives
twice during the '90s, after the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
Islamic extremists left a truck bomb in the center's underground parking
garage -- hoping, the film says, that the blast would knock one tower
off its base and into the other.

Weak-kneed bureaucrats declined to act upon the opportunities to seize
or kill bin Laden, the film also says. But the docudrama doesn't stop at
criticizing generic bureaucrats -- which would at least have helped
sustain a nonpartisan aura -- and aims arts specifically and repeatedly
at Albright, Berger, then-CIA chief George Tenet and others in the
Clinton administration, most of them made to seem either shortsighted or

Clinton himself is libeled through abusive editing. A first-class U.S.
operative played by Donnie Wahlberg argues the case for getting bin
Laden while the al-Qaeda leader is openly in view in some sort of
compound in Afghanistan. CIA officials haggle over minor details, such
as the budget for the operation. The film's director, David L.
Cunningham, then cuts abruptly to a TV image of Clinton making his
infamous "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" remark with
regard to Monica Lewinsky. The impression given is that Clinton was
spending time on his sex life while terrorists were gaining ground and
planning a nightmare.

It would have made as much sense, and perhaps more, to cut instead to
stock footage of a smirking Kenneth Starr, the reckless Republican
prosecutor largely responsible for distracting not just the president
but the entire nation with the scandal.

Looking even worse than Clinton is then-U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara
K. Bodine. Her name is not prominently featured but her title is, and
she comes across as a foolishly intransigent official who defends the
bin Laden name and insults FBI agents who visit her office, with O'Neill
heading up the delegation. Patricia Heaton, who plays the role, makes
Bodine seem especially despicable, a close-minded ignoramus who
ironically tells O'Neill, "You are the epitome of 'the Ugly American.' "

Meanwhile as the '90s and the film wear on, we see al-Qaeda faithful
training, spewing hatred and, without much trouble, sneaking into the
United States and openly enrolling in flight schools, where they learn
how to pilot airplanes. One of them, the very portrait of a wild-eyed
terrorist, is captured and his laptop computer seized by FBI agents.
Incredibly, an official rules that the FBI cannot open the laptop and
examine its contents, and it is presumably returned to the terrorist so
he can continue his work.

In an attempt to layer a coat of visual veracity over the film, it's
shot in the style of some news footage -- the hand-held camera jerking,
bouncing, panning wildly. Faces are framed in absurdly intense close-up,
so intense it's not always easy to tell whom you're looking at. The
gratuitous camera movement and the insistence on reducing people to eyes
or noses or mouths become oppressive after only two hours, much less
five. This isn't cinematography; it's vivisection.

But aesthetic objections pale in comparison to the legitimate complaints
of those who resent the film's being passed off as truth when it
apparently is riddled with errors. These are dismissed in a glib
disclaimer acknowledging "composite and representative characters and
time compression . . . for dramatic purposes." How much drama needs to
be added to 9/11?

The film is prominently billed as being based on the report of the 9/11
commission, but one must read the fine print: Also acknowledged,
although far less conspicuously in the credits, are three books on the

In a report on "NBC Nightly News" on Thursday, unnamed Clinton
administration officials were quoted as saying that some scenes in the
film are "pure fiction." Pure fiction doesn't mix well with fact.
Executive producer Marc Platt's quoted defense: It was "not our
intention to distort." Whatever the intention -- and Democrats have a
right to be suspicious of any product of the conservative-minded Walt
Disney Co., which produced the film and owns ABC -- distortion
unfortunately seems to have been the outcome.

"The Path to 9/11" appears intent on meting out punishment, not only to
some of those portrayed in it but also to viewers who try to make it
through the whole grueling assault -- an assault on the senses that may
also be an assault on the truth.

/The Path to 9/11/ (five hours) airs tomorrow night and Monday night at
8 on Channel 7.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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