After considerable gnashing of teeth and tugging at beards, the long national nightmare is finally over. Sadly, we don’t mean the so-called “war on terror” or the bloody occupation of Iraq, but rather the five-plus-hour, two-part series, Path to 9/11 that ABC foisted on the nation this week.
With the battle lines over the politicization of 9/11 and the war in Iraq having been firmly established for some time now, there wasn’t much suspense about what the shrillest voices on either side of the docudrama debate would say. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to treat both sides equally. ABC behaved badly. Despite initially claiming that the movie was based on the findings of the 9/11 Commission report, the network simply fabricated some scenes (a few of which it later edited out), involving the pre-9/11 hunt for Osama bin Laden and the actions of some folks at the highest levels of government. If you’re going to fictionalize something as emotionally searing and politically loaded as 9/11, to portray real people doing and saying things they never did merely adds to the problems you’re going to face in the court of public opinion.
What was surprising was how surprised ABC seemed by the uproar. The film’s producers and the network’s brass were disingenuous in the extreme, pretending to be unaware of the political swamp that 9/11 — and everything that is wrapped up under that numerical signifier — encompasses: the failure of national security, the end of the Roaring 1990s, the highly contentious outcome of the 2000 presidential race, the invasion of Iraq and the faulty intelligence surrounding the march toward war, the 2004 presidential race, the upcoming mid-term Congressional election, etc.
September 11 is, at least for the moment, tied up in a larger national narrative that began in November 2000, when the country split evenly over who it wanted for its next president. That vicious fight, which was still very much an open wound in September 2001, laid the groundwork for everything that followed, and the country has still arguably not begun to regain its footing.
In the New York Times this morning, Marc E. Platt, an executive producer of the movie, claimed that it “was never a political project … We were never politically motivated. I never had a conversation with anybody at the network, any of the actors, advisers, filmmakers or writers about politics.”
That is extremely difficult to believe. September 11 is political; anyone who suggests otherwise must have been asleep for the last five years.
Consider the elaborate conspiracy theories that have sprung up around the attacks, and the range of political motivations the conspiracy theorists have ascribed to anyone and everyone who might have benefited politically and economically from the attacks. And lest you think that the paranoid style in American politics, as Richard Hofstadter once termed it, is relegated to Oswald nuts and late-night Internet sleuths, consider, too, that a recent Zogby International poll found that 42 percent of Americans polled believe the 9/11 Commission ”concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence” in the attacks. A recent Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll found that a full 36 percent of respondents felt that it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that “federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them ‘because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.’”
(And just to drive that point home, it was reported this morning that Oliver Stone, the man with a chokehold on American paranoia, recently suggested that he is considering a film “investigating” the conspiracies surrounding 9/11.)