Path to 9/11:

Amid a weekend filled with network programs about Sept. 11, ABC defied mounting criticism by airing its controversial docudrama “The Path to 9/11.”

Disclaimers and Explanations

The following disclaimer was placed on screen and read in voiceover before the opening credits: “Due to the subject matter, viewer discretion is advised. The following movie is a dramatization that is drawn from a variety of sources including the 9/11 Commission Report and other published materials, and from personal interviews. The movie is not a documentary.
“For dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression.”

However, in a more direct response to critics, the following statements appeared onscreen after the credits: “The 9/11 Commission is an independent, bipartisan commission created by Congress in late 2002. Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned. In an event of this scale, touching so many issues and organziations, we are conscious of our limits–9/11 Commmission.”

Clinton's Reaction

Former President Bill Clinton lawyer Douglas Brand and the CEO of his foundation, Bruce Lindsey, sent a strong letter to Disney CEO Bob Iger that was released to the press over the weekend. It states: “As a nation, we need to be focused on preventing another attack, not fictionalizing the last one for television ratings.”

On Friday, Sep 8, ABC issued a statement saying that the mini contains “fiction” for “dramatic purposes,” which would be acknowledged with a disclaimer at the beginning. But Clinton's lawyers weren't satisfied. “Labeling the show as 'fiction' does not meet your responsibility to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, their families, the hard work of the 9/11 Commission, or to the American people as a whole,” they wrote.

Historians' Protest

Also over the weekend, a group of historians led by Arthur M. Schlesinger added their voices to calls for the network to “halt the show's broadcast and prevent misinforming Americans about their history.”

The letter from Schlesinger and other historians from Princeton, Harvard and Yale said, “The claim by the show's producers, broadcaster, and defenders, that these falsehoods are permissible because the show is merely a dramatization, is disingenuous and dangerous given their assertions that the show is also based on authoritative historical evidence. Whatever ABC's motivations might be, broadcasting these falsehoods, connected to the most traumatic historical event of our times, would be a gross disservice to the public.”

Bush's Address

ABC faces another complication tonight as President Bush is scheduled to address the nation at 9 p.m. EST, forcing the network to interrupt the two-hour episode for 20 minutes .

Since ABC is airing the miniseries commercial-free, Bush's speech will be the only intermission in Monday night's installment of the miniseries. The Alphabet had scheduled a 9/11-themed report from its news division, but that may be shortened to accommodate the president's address.

NBC and CBS announced plans late last week to carry the president's speech live. Fox is the only net slated to air original scripted programming Monday night and figures to be hurt the most by the interruption. Rather than flow audiences directly from “Prison Break” into new drama “Vanished,” Fox now will have to push back its primetime schedule in Eastern and Central time zones, a potential ratings blow.

ABC's Political Agenda

As for the charges that there's a political agenda behind “Path to 9/11,” the miniseries' director, David Cunningham, responded on a blog at “You may feel we 'bash' Clinton and/or you may feel we 'bash' Bush, but the facts are that the eight years from the first WTC bombing to the day of 9/11 involved two administrations with plenty of culpability all around,” he said. “Something needs to explain how that happened.”


Despite the Clinton camp's assertion that ABC's mini is a ratings ploy, the network is airing both nights of the picture without any commercials or corporate sponsorship. As a result, it's likely Nielsen simply will label the broadcast as “sustaining” and not count viewership for the mini in ABC's weekly averages.
Insiders say it's unlikely that the mini's ratings would have had an impact on ABC's bottom line, since the 2006-07 season doesn't start for another week.

By opting not to run commercials (or failing to find willing sponsors), and by announcing plans to give away “The Path to 9/11” as a free download via iTunes, ABC seems to have given up any potential for profit from the docudrama.


My commentary on the show will appear after the complete airings of the two-part docudrama.