By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, September 12, 2006; A02
There have been few political love stories as beautiful as that of Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 commission.
"I have never worked with anybody I've come to respect more than Lee Hamilton," Republican Kean said at a Sept. 11 fifth-anniversary joint performance with Hamilton yesterday.
"He is one of the preeminent public servants of our day, bar none," came Democrat Hamilton's well-worn reply.
So it packed even more punch when Hamilton, at the National Press Club luncheon, lectured his friend about the falsified Sept. 11 docudrama Kean helped ABC produce.
"It is either a documentary or it is a drama, and to fudge it causes me a great deal of concern and suggests to me that news and entertainment are getting dangerously intertwined," the former congressman from Indiana said of his friend's film. "And I do not think that that is good for the country, because an event of this consequence is very hard to understand, and to distort it or not to present it factually in this kind of a presentation, I think, does not serve the country well."
Kean, the "co-executive producer" of this disservice, stood at Hamilton's side, his hands clasped in front of him, grinning awkwardly.
In the past five days, the former New Jersey governor has infuriated many a Democrat who saw him as a nonpartisan truth-teller. In his work on ABC's "The Path to 9/11," Kean has blessed what has been documented to be a collection of falsehoods -- a disproportionate number of which make the Clinton administration look bad.
Critics on the left say Kean's bout of partisanship was brought on by the campaign of his son Tom Jr. for a Senate seat from New Jersey (ABC News was confused enough between father and son to say in its political calendar that "candidate Tom Kean Jr." was appearing with Hamilton). Whatever the motive, Kean's foray into the land of make-believe has thrilled those who seek to discredit the 9/11 commission's report.
The press club was thick with such people yesterday before Kean's arrival. In the Edward R. Murrow Room, conspiracy-minded characters hung posters announcing: "Neither planes nor fires brought the buildings down. Controlled demolitions did."
"They label us as kooks or wackos or conspiracy theorists," complained David von Kleist, making quotation marks with his fingers for the audience. But the "bottom line," he added, is that "this was an inside job . . . the terrorists didn't do it."
Lynn Pentz asked why plane wreckage was not seen at the Pentagon. "We're essentially to believe that the two six-ton titanium engines vaporized?" she asked.
The participants said the ABC show, which initially had claimed to be based on the 9/11 commission's report, proved their thesis that Kean lives in the realm of fiction. "It's a dramatized fraud of a fraud," said Jim Marrs, author of "The Terror Conspiracy."
Next door, in the John Peter Zenger Room, a group of 9/11 families were touting a new documentary, "9/11: Press for Truth," which promises that "the coverup" will be "exposed by the 9/11 families."
Kyle Hence, the documentary's producer, used Kean's role in the ABC film as his opening. "The consensus seems to be that this verges on propaganda; it distorts what happened," he said. "We'd like to put forward '9/11: Press for Truth' as a counternarrative, as a true documentary, not a dramatization, not a distortion of the truth."
An hour later in the press club's ballroom, Kean professed to being puzzled by the conspiracy crowd.
"It seems every time there's a traumatic event in American history, it spawns conspiracy theories," he said with a laugh. "I mean, people still think that John Wilkes Booth got away and hid somewhere in the South. As for the 9/11 conspiracy theories, he said, "I don't know what to do about them."
Kean saw no link between the conspiracists and his work in the docudrama trade. When the ABC question was put to him, Kean declared himself mystified by the criticism.
"I've been confounded by this whole controversy," he said innocently. He said that the film's creators are "serious people who wanted to do the best job possible," that it "was a responsible project" and that "I thought they did a good job."
His one attempt at distancing himself was halfhearted. "I was not the producer or director or the author or the writer or whatever else," said co-executive producer Kean.
Hamilton, a tireless Kean booster, answered with some rare public criticism of his partner. "They didn't ask me to participate in this," he said acidly, adding that complaints from Clinton officials were "accurate in their criticisms of ABC." As for the "docudrama" format, the no-nonsense Hoosier said: "I don't like the ring of that."
Spontaneous applause followed Hamilton's criticism.
If Kean was surprised by the scolding, he shouldn't have been. Even before the ABC question came, Hamilton volunteered some stern remarks about the importance of truth. "Facts are not Republican and they're not Democrat," he said. "They're not ideological. Facts are facts."
On this point, Kean was silent.