On Sunday and Monday nights at 8 PM, ABC will air a five hour mini-series, "The Path to 9/11." I have watched it, and it is a riveting and in some respects horrifying recreation of the events from the hours before the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 through the awful events of 9/11. Rarely does television reach this level of drama, and director David Cunningham and writer Cyrus Nowrasteh deserve great praise from left, right and center for a masterful retelling of the crucial events leading up to the devastation of five years ago.
A five hour show that must condense eight years by necessity will not be complete, but it is very accurate. As a very accurate docudrama, "The Path to 9/11" has drawn the deep anger of the Clinton political machine. Representatives of that era have been demanding at a minimum edits and some outright cancellation of the program. Monica Lewinsky makes an appearance, you see, as does Bill Clinton's videotaped testimony about his perjury. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is portrayed as indecisive, Madeleine Albright as misdirected, George Tenet as sputtering. The film does not spare the Bush Administration its shots either, but for the left in the US the most damning thing possible is a recounting of the deep slumber concerning al Qaeda that overcame not just President Clinton but all parts of the national security apparatus throughout the '90s. The film does not damn those in charge during those years. It does however deliver a indictment of criminal negligence from which there is simply no escape.
By attempting a programming coup against the series, the Clinton forces have brought enormous attention to the film, and for that I thank them. The program is not primarily about the Clinton stewardship --or lack thereof-- of the national security. It is not even secondarily about that.
Rather the mini-series is the first attempt --very successful-- to convey to American television viewers what we are up against: The fanaticism, the maniacal evil, the energy and the genius for mayhem of the enemy.
In the self-serving complaints about this scene or that take delivered by Richard Ben-Veniste and other proxies are replayed again the deadly narcissisms of the'90s. The program's great faults are --they say-- in the inaccurate portrayal of Bill Clinton and his furrowed brow and continual efforts to track down bin Laden.
It is all about them, you see. Just as it was in the '90s. To hell with O'Neill or the victims of 9/11, and forget about the worldwide menace that continues to nurse its hatred, though now from caves and not compounds.
Not a word from these critics about the program's greatest strength, which is in the accurate rendering of the enemy, and the warning it might give about the need for continual vigilance.
Critics of the program want to argue that a five hour program has collapsed eight years too brusquely. There is, by the way, zero mention in the fve hours of the allegations that Clinton let bin Laden slip through his fingers when the terror chief was offered up by Sudan. There is no Atta meeting in Prague, no suggestion of a Saddam history of terror ties unrelated to 9/11 --in short, there is no reaching by the writer/producers/director. It is an objective show, and not one that will cheer the right. But any show that does not praise Clinton or hopelessly conflate the eight years of the Clinton tenure with the eight months of the pre-9/11 Bush Administration is to be condemned.
"The Path to 9/11" is a faithful and compelling recreation within the limits of the craft of the fatal nonchalance of the '90s, combined with a salute to the hard-working men and women who struggled against the bureaucratic insanities of that era, represented chiefly in the person of FBI Agent John O'Neill, played by Harvey Keitel, and a supporting cast of brave and never-discouraged lower level Bureau and CIA operatives who understood the risks. In trying to deep-six the series, the Clinton forces are trying to silence their story.
The Clinton operatives are also bringing a useful attention to the program and especially any last minute edits ABC might make. The network risks outrage from center and right if it airbrushes the narrative, and even from those in Hollywood who stand by the idea that a good faith piece of work should be unmolested by the PC police.
No matter your opinions of Presidents Clinton and Bush, be sure to watch (or set your TiVo) to ABC Sunday night at 8. You be the judge. Hopefully ABC will give you that chance.