Austin Bay

This year, Iran's theocratic dictators celebrated Sept. 11 by banning several opposition newspapers, including Iran's leading "reformist" daily, Shargh.

Shargh had committed political sin and published a cartoon that Tehran's robed dictators found insulting to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Associated Press reported the cartoon featured a chessboard with a white horse confronting a black donkey. "In Iranian culture," the AP opined, "the donkey is a symbol of ignorance. Iranian judiciary officials apparently took the donkey to represent Iran in negotiations with the West over nuclear issues."

Americans may be dismayed, but the urge to censor runs deep in politicians of all stripes. A week earlier, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to use government powers to censor ABC Television and prevent ABC and its owner, Disney, from showing its "docudrama," "The Path to 9/11."

On his Website, Reid urged Disney/ABC to cancel the miniseries. Reid damned the show's writer-producer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, by name and questioned "the motivations" of the show's creators. He also mentioned invoking the Communications Act of 1934 -- a not-too-subtle threat of government action.

"The usual voices" who claim to defend artistic freedom and free speech didn't speak out for Nowrasteh. Remember their silence next time conservatives gripe about faux-art like Andres Serrano's infamous "Piss Christ." Serrano's unimaginative presentation was lauded by the self-described "arts community" as a great, courageous statement. Alas, if urine on a crucifix is courage, I'd like to see cowardice.

But back to ABC's "Path to 9/11." Reid's threat of censorship, followed by a series of threats and protests by former Clinton administration officials, ensured I'd give the docudrama at least a short look-see.

I can't say I'm not a fan of the "docudrama" genre, per se. Shakespeare's history plays are docudramas of a sort. For the sake of poetry and plot, "Henry V" substitutes imagination for fact, as does "Julius Caesar."

There's a limit, however, to phony facts. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger complained -- after a number of journalists and politicians saw the film in preview -- that they never spoke several of the lines attributed to them. Unlike "Henry V," Albright and Berger aren't ancient history, and having actors portraying them speak inaccurate words -- particularly craven words -- is a blow too low. Apparently, ABC edited those scenes, and it should have.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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