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Say What You Will About 9/11, But Don't Piss On The Reagans

What's eerie about this ABC controversy is it closely mirrors a similar problem CBS had three years ago with a mini-series it planned to run about former President Ronald Reagan.
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Here we are a few days before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and ABC is preparing to air a mini-series purportedly based on the "9/11 Commission Report." But instead of simply focusing on the obvious intelligence failures that led to one of the most disastrous days in American history, this movie dares to look deeper and point a finger where the blame truly lies - at Bill Clinton.

Beautiful. I wonder if ABC can rewind the entire calendar back to 1998 so we can just forget about terrorism altogether and resume the argument over whether fellatio actually constitutes sex.

In case you haven't been paying attention, on Sunday and Monday ABC is airing a program called "The Path to 9/11." It was written and co-produced by Cyrus Nowrasteh, who's apparently buddies with Rush Limbaugh (at least according to the arch conservative radio personality.) Democrats are rightly steamed about several scenes that happen to blame the Clinton administration for not acting against terrorist Osama bin Laden when they had the chance...and also happen to be wrong.

For instance, in one scene CIA operatives are in a position to capture or kill bin Laden but Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, refuses to give the go-ahead. There's only one problem. It never happened. And in another scene, the so-called "wall" between the FBI and CIA established by the Clinton Justice Department is blamed for the agencies' failure to share critical information on terrorism. It would be a damning accusation if it were true. Unfortunately it isn't, at least according to former Sen. Slade Gordon, a Republican member of the 9/11 Commission.

So let me get this straight. Shortly before the 9/11 attacks President Bush received an intelligence briefing stating in no uncertain terms that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack us. He and his administration did nothing. Yet ABC's comfortable airing a program that says it's Bill Clinton's fault that the World Trade Center collapsed. Who's the network planning to blame for the Iraq quagmire - Kennedy and McNamara?

What's eerie about this controversy is it closely mirrors a similar problem CBS had three years ago with a mini-series it planned to run about former President Ronald Reagan. At the time conservatives and Republicans were in an uproar because the film wasn't entirely sympathetic to the Reagan legacy. Sure it portrayed him as a brilliant politician and deeply moral man who single-handedly ended the Cold War. But it also made him look callous to AIDS patients and the gay community; and it showed him as a hands-off leader and somewhat bumbling as he battled with Alzheimer's disease in his second term.

What did CBS do? Well remember this was 2003, Michael Powell was at the FCC, and Karl Rove still was roaring. So naturally CBS panicked and then caved. At the last minute it shunted off the flick to its sister pay cable outlet Showtime, which has a tiny fraction of CBS's audience. But conservatives still weren't appeased until they had Dan Rather's head on a plate, which happened a little later. And now they can watch Katie Couric and know that they saved the Gipper's legacy from being sullied before a national audience. Good for you guys!

So now what will ABC do with "The Path to 9/11"? I'm betting the network will run it as planned, if for no other reason than as long as Bush is in office the Republicans control the FCC. Besides, there isn't a Democrat in Washington powerful enough to truly frighten a network executive into action.

Therefore, as a response I'm pitching my own idea for a miniseries that I'll gladly give to any enterprising producer. It's loaded with drama and has a guaranteed twist ending. I call it "The Path to Fallujah." Here are the broad strokes:

A few months after the attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. has the entire world as an ally and is bombing Afghanistan in a feverish search for Osama bin Laden and his followers. Based on all intelligence the terrorist mastermind and numerous other Al Qaeda fighters appear to be trapped in the mountainous Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan on the border of Pakistan, our ally in this fight. Still, smoking the terrorists out of their caves (the president's hackneyed words, not mine) remains an extremely tricky proposition given the challenging weather conditions and high altitude, and the enemy's intimate familiarity with the vast, jagged terrain.

And then we receive our national head fake. Suddenly our political leaders stop talking about bin Laden and Al Qaeda and start telling us that we have to immediately deal with the threat of Saddam Hussein and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The military buildup to wage war in Iraq begins, and as a result the resources being used in the hunt for bin Laden are diverted from Afghanistan. So the terrorists escape and are able to continue menacing America from hiding.

And how does it all wrap up? Well, Bush's lone ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, loses his political support and is forced from office. The rest of the world reverts to hating us. No weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq. And we're militarily bogged down trying to police a civil war that we triggered. Of course the best part of the movie is the networks can have audience members write their own endings - because the war will be going on for years and years and years!

On second thought, maybe it is easier on the narrative to just blame Bill Clinton. It's worked for the Republicans since 1992. They must know something. Right?

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