Film News

9/11 documentary targets Disney, Clinton

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If Cyrus Nowrasteh wants to work for Disney again, he’s got a funny way of showing it.

Nowrasteh wrote the ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11,” but in a new documentary he scolds the network and its parent company for allowing powerful politicians to effectively censor the show.

And therein lies a main premise of "Blocking the Path to 9/11," the straight-to-DVD movie that hits Blockbuster, Best Buy, Netflix and on Tuesday, and is also available for $19.95 from the movie's Web site ( Why is a documentary about a popular ABC miniseries hitting store shelves while the miniseries itself is unavailable on DVD?

The documentary makes the case that Disney CEO Bob Iger bowed to pressure from President Clinton and the Democratic Party not only to alter parts of the miniseries before it aired in 2006 but also to make sure the DVD never sees the light of day.

It also suggests that Disney isn’t interested in selling the rights to “Path to 9/11” to another company -- perhaps Lionsgate -- that would release it on DVD.

Iger, in fact, took heat from a shareholder at its annual meeting in March for not attempting to recoup some of the $40 million Disney spent to make the miniseries, which aired without commercials.

Nowrasteh said that 25 million people watched “Path to 9/11” over two nights, and the controversy it engendered over scenes that Disney cut would practically guarantee its success on DVD.

The documentary was bankrolled by Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit group run by David Bossie, a former chief investigator into Clinton’s alleged involvement in the Whitewater scandal.

Bossie called the documentary “a remarkable tale of pressure from the Clinton attack machine.”

Disney declined comment for this report, but Nowrasteh says in the documentary that president of Disney-ABC Television Group Anne Sweeney told him, “There is nothing that Disney or ABC has ever done that is better” than “Path to 9/11.”

Nowrasteh also said ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson thought the miniseries so good that he wanted to show it annually.

Such praise, though, went out the window when Iger received a call from Clinton complaining about the miniseries and Democratic operatives hit the airwaves with complaints and even conspiracy theories.

But, says “Path to 9/11” director David Cunningham, “Mostly, everybody involved with this movie consider themselves liberals.”

One particularly goofy claim, Cunningham said, was that he and ABC were being secretly directed by Cunningham’s father, a prominent Christian minister, to make a miniseries critical of Clinton. And the documentary takes Keith Olbermann, MSNBC and other news outlets to task for taking such innuendo seriously.

The documentary stars its writer-director, John Ziegler, a former talk-radio host at KFI-AM Los Angeles. Ziegler said many top Disney executives -- more than were portrayed in the documentary -- were upset that Disney caved to political pressure.

Quinn Taylor, ABC’s senior vp movies and television, for example, told Ziegler that Disney prevented him from publicly defending the show, “preferring to allow the movie to be attacked by the left as right-wing propaganda.”

The documentary not only goes after Disney, ABC, Iger, Olbermann and Clinton but also one of the stars of the miniseries: Harvey Keitel, shown bashing the miniseries and complaining that he was tricked into playing his role.

But Ziegler first shows footage of Keitel -- on the last day of shooting the miniseries -- praising the cast and wishing them “big success” with the show. Then Nowrasteh explains how the “Clinton spin machine” contacted several “Path to 9/11” actors and pressured them to speak against the project.

“Harvey cut and ran,” Nowrasteh said. “It’s the most despicable act of cowardice I’ve ever witnessed.”

In the end, ABC showed the project with three minutes cut out, the editing overseen by top Disney executives two days before airtime, Nowrasteh said. Those scenes are shown in the documentary marked in red text: “Removed by demand of Bill Clinton.”

Edited out were references to Osama Bin Laden by name and some scenes of Clinton’s grand jury testimony about Monica Lewinsky.

More significantly, though, were intermittent snippets of dialogue that, once removed, make some scenes difficult to follow. For example, CIA analyst Patricia Carver is asked via radio by soldiers in Afghanistan for “clearance to load the package” as women and children are approaching Bin Laden. Carver, seeking permission from National Security Adviser Sandy Berger to kill Bin Laden before the opportunity passes, says: “We know that the special action team has pinpointed the target. We know enough to try.” But while the second sentence is in the miniseries, Disney cut out the first sentence.

“I don’t understand the scene, and I directed it,” Cunningham said after seeing Disney’s edits.

Perhaps the largest section edited out was a scene showing Afghani and American soldiers disgusted when they can’t get permission to kill Bin Laden.

“Are there any men left in Washington, or are they all cowards?” asks an Afghani soldier in the scene that was struck from the miniseries.

“They shouldn’t have removed a frame,” Nowrasteh said. “The movie had it right.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter