Most broadcast channels would love the kind of publicity “The Path to 9/11” received prior to its debut.
Be careful what you wish for, though.
The two-part ABC miniseries inspired a pop culture firestorm in the days before its Sept. 10 2006 release. The project chronicled the events leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including the decisions made -- and not made -- by the Clinton administration.
The biggest bone of contention for critics? The project showed how then-President Bill Clinton had a chance to take out terrorist Osama bin Laden but didn’t.
That sparked a furious response from Team Clinton officials, including former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A group of Democratic Senators suggested ABC’s broadcast license hung in the balance if it aired the film.
It’s a chilling precursor of today’s pop culture landscape, where classic films are slapped with trigger warnings and material deemed “problematic” is either attacked or dropped before a single day of production.
That doesn’t include the rising threat of Cancel Culture, a deeply un-American trend growing in strength in the wake of the George Floyd riots and protests.
ABC went ahead with the 2006 broadcast of “The Path to 9/11” … with several conditions. The two-part event aired without commercials, endured a fresh round of edits and featured a disclaimer explaining creative license for the uninitiated:
“for dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression.”
The movie drew strong ratings, earned seven Emmy nominations (and one win) and went into hibernation. The public hasn’t had a chance to revisit it since then, beyond a 2011 presentation by the American Freedom Alliance.
The project’s defenders point to Disney CEO Bob Iger’s strong Democratic ties for the removal. Journalist John Ziegler created a documentary about the film’s fate, dubbed “Blocking ‘The Path to 9/11.”
“The Path to 9/11” screenwriter, Cyrus Nowrasteh, laments ABC’s decision to memory hole the project.
“It is still the only banned film in America, banned by the company that made it due to political pressure,” Nowrasteh told this reporter four years ago. He also contends the film is critical of both the Clinton and Bush administrations.
More recently, the writer/director expressed little hope the situation will change any time soon.
“It’s dead and buried as long as Bob Iger is running Disney,” said Nowrasteh while promoting his new movie, “Infidel,” starring “The Passion of the Christ” actor Jim Caviezel.
“The Path to 9/11’s” fate matters.
Just about every pop culture morsel is now available for our consideration, from flimsy sitcoms to Oscar-winning films in a number of formats.
- DVD and Blu-ray
The exceptions are few, including Disney’s “South of the South,” a movie deemed racist for its soft focus on slavery.
The story behind “Path” goes deeper, though.
ABC saw the project as part of a larger educational effort. ABC connected with Scholastic Inc. to fashion high school study guides tied to the miniseries. The ensuing kerfuffle helped kill that connection, one that theoretically would have helped the network recoup the project’s $40 million price tag.
So, too, would DVD or Blu-ray sales of the film itself, an urge Team Disney continues to refuse.
The Scholastic connection deserves renewed scrutiny given how schools nationwide are leveraging the deeply flawed New York Times resource, the far-left 1619 Project, with far less reservations.
Have educational standards dramatically changed since 2006?
Let’s not forget the biggest issue “The Path to 9/11” conjures up -- creative liberty. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, “Path” unfairly criticized Team Clinton regarding the growing threat of radical Islam. So what? It’s an opinion formed by not just Nowrasteh but the project’s creative brain trust. It’s a valid take on the matter, one based in part on the 9/11 Commission’s report.
If “The Path to 9/11” deserves to be banned for not wholly reflecting the truth, again assuming the critics’ take on the matter, where does that leave countless other projects?
- “The Comey Rule,” the upcoming Showtime miniseries based on a disgraced narrative spun by former FBI Director James Comey
- “Fahrenheit 11/9,” director Michael Moore’s preposterous documentary filled with obfuscation.
- “Recount,” an HBO telefilm even Entertainment Weekly dubbed as partisan in nature.
Why haven’t these features been memory holed, by the same standard applied to “The Path to 9/11?”
Artists should be able to share their vision, their take on historical events. Critics, in turn, have the freedom to agree, disagree or explore the reasoning behind each assessment.
That’s no longer possible with “The Path to 9/11.” What future projects, or even existing ones, will suffer a similar fate?