In Hollywood docudramas, when the phrase “miscarriage of justice” is employed, it usually applies to the film’s subject, not its creators.
But a new documentary called “Blocking the Path to 9/11,” to be given a screening tonight, makes the case that former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have pressured television and studio executives into quashing the DVD release of ABC’s 2006 miniseries “The Path to 9/11.” The privately financed documentary argues that the Clintons, who decried the original miniseries as a right-wing hatchet job, are out to salvage their political influence and legacy at the expense of free expression.
The documentary, which will be shown to a sold-out audience at the Skirball Center, was produced by former KFI-AM talk show host John Ziegler and Citizens United, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative political group that emphasizes the importance of strong families, limited government and free enterprise.
Even before its network broadcast, “The Path to 9/11" sparked fierce opposition from Democratic leaders, who called on Disney, which owns ABC, to cancel the program. While those attempts eventually failed, ABC conceded to last-minute edits to the $40-million, five-hour miniseries, which aired over two nights.
The miniseries, written by Cyrus Nowrasteh, offered a fictionalized account of the government’s bureaucratic missteps that led to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. The series, which earned seven Emmy nominations and drew a combined audience of about 25 million viewers, was seen as being especially critical of the Clinton administration for bungling efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
Jay Carson, a spokesman for the former president, said their camp pressed the network to edit the series but only to ensure historical accuracy. Even with the edits, the miniseries is still deeply flawed, he added.
“We felt it was too serious an issue to be put on television portrayed as fact what was in fact fiction,” said Carson who was Bill Clinton’s communications director at the time the miniseries aired. “We made clear that it would have been grossly irresponsible to air this movie in its original and ideologically driven form.”
“Blocking the Path to 9/11" cost nearly $500,000 and is the seventh production of Citizens United, a 20-year-old nonprofit organization that has been making political films for the last four years to “offset the liberal bent of Hollywood,” said David Bossie, the group’s president.
Four other works are slated to premiere soon, including “Hype,” an anti-Barack Obama film that will be shown in theaters near both the Democratic and Republican conventions.
Nowrasteh said he just wants “The Path to 9/11" to be shown -- on DVD or on air, but added, “I haven’t gotten any indication this is ever going to be seen again.”
In recent years, most popular television shows are typically released on DVD within months of their broadcast, but these decisions by networks are usually governed by the potential for profit.
Officials at ABC declined to comment about a DVD release of the original miniseries.
“They used to say money and profits dictated everything in Hollywood,” said Nowrasteh, who has been working steadily on projects including an “on-again, off-again” pilot for Disney. “ ‘The Path to 9/11' had a huge viewership, yet it didn’t mean a thing.”
Nowrasteh has, however, dropped his membership in PEN, a worldwide organization of writers dedicated to fighting censorship. “You’d like to see an organization dedicated to the freedom of creative expression, right here in town, come forth,” he said. “My film gets buried; they do nothing.”
But PEN officials who discussed the issue internally don’t see this as a censorship issue.
“From our standpoint, it had many hours of broadcast time, so it was exposed. It’s not like it was stifled and no one heard it,” said Adam Somers, executive director of PEN Center USA in Culver City. “In our opinion, it was a business decision by Disney. You have to assume if Disney thought they’d make money, they’d release it.”