Amid Protests, ABC to Air 9/11 Series

NEW YORK Despite a firestorm of criticism and the fact that it must absorb the entire $30 million production cost without recouping any funds from ad dollars, ABC will proceed with its scheduled plans to air the five-hour “docudrama” miniseries The Path to 9/11 on Sept. 10 and Sept. 11 in prime time.

The most recent missive sent to Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger was on behalf of Bill Clinton, written by the head of the Clinton Foundation and a lawyer from Clinton’s law office, calling the miniseries “factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate.” Disney owns ABC.

The miniseries, based in large part on the 9/11 Commission’s report, is not a documentary based entirely on fact, but a docudrama that intermingles fact with fictionalized scenes.

But critics, nonetheless, have called on the network to either make the movie historically accurate or not air it. Most of the criticism has come from Democrats and members of the Clinton administration for the series’ portrayal of some events involving Clinton White House officials, although some Bush administration personnel have also called portions of the series inaccurate.

Tom Kean, a Republican, who chaired the 9/11 Commission, was a consultant on the miniseries, which was written by Cyrus Nowrasteh, executive produced by Marc Platt and directed by David Cunningham.

One of the movie’s biggest critics has been Richard Ben Veniste, a Democrat, who was also a member of the 9/11 Commission and said to often be at odds with Kean while the commission was conducting its investigation and compiling its report.

Copies were first distributed in mid-July during the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Pasadena, Calif., and screenings were held in Washington, D.C., and New York for politicians, advertisers and others over the past several weeks. Because of the length of the miniseries, however, only the first half was shown at the screenings; a DVD containing the second half was given to attendees. (The first half covers the Clinton administration, while the second half covers the Bush administration.)

ABC said in a statement, “Many of the people who have expressed opinions about the film have yet to see it in its entirety.”

During a TCA session on Path to 9/11 in July, Cunningham said, in addition to Kean, “an army of consultants . . . from the CIA, FBI, Secret Service [to] the White House” had input in the making of the film.

During that same session, Kean was asked if he was “totally happy with the miniseries” and if there was anything he would change. Kean responded, “Little changes here or there maybe, but the spirit of this is absolutely correct. This is the story of how it happened, and it’s the first representation I’ve seen that takes it from the first World Trade Center, follows the characters, both the conspirators and the people who were trying to stop the conspiracy and the government people who didn’t act when they should.”

Among the inaccuracies alleged by Clinton is that while the 9/11 Commission was not critical of his efforts to apprehend al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the program insinuates that he was preoccupied with fighting his impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The film also has Clinton security adviser Sandy Berger denying authorization to CIA agents about to capture bin Laden, when the 9/11 Commission report said Berger actually gave the CIA approval and was overruled by CIA chief George Tenet.

ABC has not responded to specific criticisms of the film. But in a statement, the network said, “The Path to 9/11 is a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 Commission report, other published materials and personal interviews. For dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, and time compression.”

The controversial nature of the miniseries seems to have prevented the network from either getting a sponsor or deciding that it would be best to air the movie without one. Even presenting it with only one sponsor would not enable the network to recoup the entire cost of production.

ABC also said it would make the program available gratis via the Apple iTunes Music Store and via streaming video on its Web site.

While ABC had no official comment on whether it was altering anything before airing, insiders said small changes were made over the past week to “clarify intent.”

In a statement, the network said, “We hope viewers will watch the entire broadcast before forming their own opinions.”