The controversy over ABC Entertainment's 9/11 docudrama underscores the power of information and the lethality of politics.
On the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers, ``whodunit'' is no longer about Osama bin Laden. The focus as midterm elections approach seems to be on which political party bears the greatest responsibility for intelligence and operational failures leading to 9/11.
Are the Republicans to blame for failing to connect the 9/11 dots? Or do the Democrats bear the brunt?
``The Path to 9/11,'' a five-hour miniseries airing Sunday and Monday nights, suggests that both administrations are culpable to varying degrees. But the present controversy surrounds implications that the Clinton administration bungled opportunities to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
The docudrama, which ABC concedes is fictionalized in parts -- the timeline has been manipulated and some characters are composites -- is based on ``The 9/11 Commission Report'' as well as other sources.
Most controversial is a scene in which the CIA and the Northern Alliance had surrounded bin Laden's house in Afghanistan in 1998 and were about to make their move pending authorization from Washington.
In the miniseries, then-national security adviser Sandy Berger essentially says, sorry, you're on your own. Obviously, bin Laden was not eliminated, and the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed shortly thereafter.
It never happened, says Berger. The CIA was never about to attack, according to the 9/11 commission's report. And, in fact, former CIA Director George Tenet decided the plan wouldn't work.
Inaccurate but true-ish? Dramatic if not quite real?
Dramatizing events and creating composite characters are acceptable practices in a miniseries that doesn't purport to be a documentary. But changing substantive facts in this case is both unfair and untenable, especially as it casts into doubt everything else posited as truth.
ABC apparently felt sufficiently chastened to change the Berger segment after Democratic officials complained. The network said Thursday that the scene would be toned down, according to the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, we can't help noting the rich irony of Berger's insistence on honesty. Isn't he the same fellow who ``inadvertently'' lifted copies of classified documents from the National Archives, for which he was fined and placed on probation?