In reporting on ABC's The Path To 9/11, Boston Globe, NY Post, and Detroit News failed to note criticism over reported inaccuracies


In articles covering ABC's upcoming two-part miniseries set to air on September 10, titled The Path to 9/11, The Boston Globe, the New York Post, and The Detroit News all failed to report that the film has recently been heavily criticized for its reported factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations regarding the Clinton administration's counterterrorism policies.

As The New York Times noted, critics of the film have emphasized in particular a scene suggesting that senior Clinton administration officials declined to allow U.S. military officers, purportedly in Afghanistan with Northern Alliance leaders, to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Former National Security Council counterterrorism coordinator Richard A. Clarke recently told the weblog Think Progress that, contrary to the movie's suggestion, not only were "no U.S. military or CIA personnel ... on the ground in Afghanistan" who "saw bin Laden" but also that "the head of the Northern Alliance, Masood, was no where near the alleged bin Laden camp and did not see UBL [bin Laden]." Clarke added that "the CIA Director actually said that he could not recommend a strike on the camp because the information was single sourced and we would have no way to know if bin Laden was in the target area by the time a cruise missile hit it."

In addition, a September 5 Editor & Publisher article noted (again citing Think Progress) that a scene in The Path to 9/11 falsely accuses The Washington Post of disclosing, in 1998, that the U.S. government intercepted bin Laden's telephone communications and, as a result, bin Laden began using message couriers. As Media Matters for America has noted, this is not the first time that this false accusation has been made. In fact, it was The Washington Times that reported on August 21, 1998, that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones and has given occasional interviews to international news organizations, including Time magazine and CNN News."

A September 6 New York Post article reported that former New Jersey governor and 9-11 Commission co-chairman Thomas Kean, who also served as a consultant on the ABC film, admitted that some of the movie's scenes had been fictionalized. But while the article recognized one of the film's most controversial scenes, it offered no direct criticism of the scene. The article noted: "Sandy Berger, President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, and other unnamed officials are shown pulling the plug on a secret operation to capture Osama bin Laden just as CIA operatives have the terror mastermind in their sights." However, the article quoted only Kean discussing the scene. He claimed: "I don't think the facts are clear whether it was Sandy Berger, the CIA or if the [telephone] line went dead."

By contrast, on September 4, Congressional Quarterly reported that during a question and answer session following a recent National Press Club screening of The Path to 9/11, "[9-11 Commission member Richard] Ben-Veniste stood to say that '[t]here was no incident like that in the film that we came across. I am disturbed by that aspect of it.' " CQ also obtained a reaction from Berger, who claimed that the depiction is "a total fabrication," adding that "[i]t did not happen."

A September 6 Boston Globe article on the miniseries ignored the controversy altogether, discussing instead how it was made, where it was shot, and who acted in it. The Globe also mentioned that, according to the film's executive producer, "every scene is based on information from either the 9/11 [Commission] Report ... or the books The Cell (co-written by the former ABC News correspondent John Miller) and Relentless Pursuit, written by Samuel Katz," but failed to note any of the film's reported factual inaccuracies. As the Times reported, Ben-Veniste asserted that the film "gave the impression that Clinton had not given the green light to an operation that had been cleared by the CIA to kill bin Laden," to which the Times added, "[I]n fact, the Sept. 11 commission concluded that Mr. Clinton had."

Finally, on September 6, The Detroit News also ran an article covering the film. While making no mention of any criticism The Path to 9/11 has received, The Detroit News praised the film as "[t]he most sobering examination out of more than a dozen broadcast and cable tributes and specials" on the September 11 terror attacks, adding that it is a "dramatization based on the 9/11 Commission Report and other published sources and personal interviews." In contrast, noted that the film "paint[s] the president [Clinton] as a buffoon more interested in blow jobs than terrorists," concluding that "[i]n the end, The Path to 9/11 feels like an excruciatingly long, winding and deceptive path, indeed."