The film doesn't play favorites, and the Bush administration takes its lumps as well. Condoleezza Rice, for one, takes a hit. Among other things, she is presented as foolishly demoting National Security Council counter-terrorism coordinator Richard Clarke to a smaller role devoted to cyber-security. The famous Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing, which warned of an impending domestic attack from bin Laden, is presented as spelling out the approaching cataclysm in black and white, and to no avail.
FBI officials in Phoenix in 2001 waved red flags about Muslims taking flight lessons, and were ignored. FBI officials in Minneapolis sent distress signals about Zacarias Moussaoui, and they went unheeded. All that, and more, is there.
Now I will confess a personal bias here. Whether from our politicians or, more dramatically, from our news media, there is a most unhealthy obsession with criticism. As one network scribe once put it, "Good news is no news, bad news is great news." Yes, mistakes were made. But we cannot, and ought not, overlook the extraordinary work being performed by so many who are so devoted to our nation's security.
And "The Path to 9-11" doesn't ignore this truth. The film underscores that many, many men and women, most of them toiling in anonymity, in and out of uniform, have been working ceaselessly to protect America and are richly deserving of a nation's gratitude. Some individuals, like Richard Clarke and former FBI counter-intelligence expert John O'Neil, the newly appointed head of security at the Twin Towers who died inside the World Trade Center, are presented heroically.
One can quibble with some elements, but only a fool would ignore the message: America's intelligence apparatus was woefully unprepared for 9-11, and remains dangerously inadequate today. It is a frightening, sobering warning.
Most people will find this movie not just engrossing, but necessary. The people who will hate this movie are the radicals who dismiss the war on terrorism as a phantom issue. As one blogger at the Daily Kos pleaded about the ABC film: "So who is the greater threat to democracy? Terrorists or media consolidation?" Nothing, but nothing will bring this crowd to reality.
ABC chief Bob Iger reportedly has told his staff he believes this is one television show all of America needs to see. He's right.