Wall St. Journal: “A Path to 9/11”

WALL STREET JOURNAL op-ed – Cyrus Nowrasteh 

On September 10th and 11th, 2006, ABC aired the docudrama I wrote, The Path to 9/11, at the peak of a firestorm of political protest designed to discredit and shut down the miniseries even before it aired.  Left-leaning pundits and politicos and partisan bloggers waxed hysterical about its supposed inaccuracies and anti-Clinton bias, though the vast majority of them had not seen it – nor, they were determined, should anyone else see it either.  They failed, and the miniseries garnered nearly 28 million viewers and seven Emmy nominations.

Despite what these would-be censors and the conspiracy theorists of the blogosphere fervently believed a year ago, the miniseries was never about Bill Clinton.  It is not about the political left or right, but about our common enemy then and now, Islamist terrorism.  It is the dramatization of a clearly linked chain of historical events, beginning with the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, continuing through the multiple attacks on American embassies and interests abroad, and culminating in the horrific attacks on American soil six years ago.  And it depicts not only the institutionalized lapses and errors along the way, noted in The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources drawn upon for the miniseries, but also the efforts of ordinary American heroes who did their best to defend this country from its enemies.  Both the failures and the successes are historical facts, and neither the Clinton nor the Bush administration is spared its failures or denied its successes in the miniseries, as its many millions of viewers can attest. 

In the aftermath of the airing a year ago, the controversy went away.  The threatened lawsuits never materialized; the attacks on the credibility of the miniseries dissipated.  Indeed, since then there has been only vindication for its veracity from such non-partisan experts as Michael Scheuer, chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996-98 (?), Gary Schroen, the first American field agent into Afghanistan after 9/11, and Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, who all came forward to confirm the accuracy of the docudrama.  Of course, none of these men is a politician or a pundit or an amatuer blogger.  

One year later, however, there is another attempt to shut down The Path to 9/11, this time the DVD version – not in a frenzy of unfounded accusations but in a silence that nonetheless speaks volumes. 

The normal time frame from broadcast to DVD for miniseries and movies is approximately four months.  Originally I was told by ABC that the DVD release date of Path would be in January.  January came and went, and I was told June was the new release date.  Then July.  Now ABC’s official statement is, “We have not decided on a release date at this time.”  No further explanation. 

But privately, I was told by an ABC executive that “If Hillary weren’t running for President, this wouldn’t be a problem.”  The clear message is that ABC/Disney isn’t eager to reopen the wound or feel the pressure again from politicians anxious to whitewash their legacy.  They would rather just let the miniseries die a quiet death.  Executive Producer Marc Platt, a well-known Hollywood Liberal, even had to finance the limited Emmy campaign himself because Disney/ABC refused to do so (which is unheard of for such a high-profile production).  This passive self-censorship is just as effective as anything Joseph Stalin or Big Brother could impose; the result is the same, the curbing of free speech and creative expression, and the suppression of a viewpoint that may be an inconvenient truth for some politicians. 

And what of ABC/Disney’s responsibility to its shareholders?  This was a $40 million project that, because of the overblown controversy, attracted no sponsors and thus made not a penny profit from its broadcast.  It is a quality production, both entertaining and educational, that has the potential finally to recoup a significant part of that cost, if not actually turn a profit, through the sales of an eagerly anticipated DVD.  Does ABC/Disney not owe it to its shareholders to make this basic effort to reclaim some of their $40 million? 

But profit, while not an insignificant consideration, is not the heart of the matter here (certainly not for me personally, as I would make literally a fraction of a penny for each Path DVD sold). The issue is that corporate timidity is preventing millions of Americans from finding The Path to 9/11 on DVD – though other politically controversial movies are readily available, such as Loose Change, which argues that the Bush administration targeted American citizens for death in an elaborate and sinister plot; or Michael Moore’s unabashedly biased Fahrenheit 9/11.  These highly-charged movies, which don’t even offer a pretense of balance, and others can be found online or in retail outlets and DVD rental stores across the country – and so they should be, just as The Path to 9/11 should be. 

The issue is free speech, which is arguably the most prized of American rights.  Whatever one may think of the miniseries or of me as the writer, the answer – the American way – is not to let The Path to 9/11 languish in a cowardly purgatory but to release it for the general public to appreciate and judge.  If there is controversy, all the more reason it should be made available for every American to decide for himself or herself.  In fact, I suggested to Disney executives that members of the Clinton administration be allowed to speak their piece in the DVD’s special features, a suggestion which was met with – that’s right – utter silence. 

A year ago, the amped-up outcry preceding the airing of The Path to 9/11 nearly drowned out the truth; this September 11, it is the corporate silence regarding the DVD that is deafening.