Fraud Alert

by Scott McLemee on September 8, 2006

A group of prominent American historians is calling on ABC not to broadcast The Path to 9/11. (For a quick reminder of how propaganda-rific it is, see Mark Grimsley’s recent item at Cliopatria. It quotes an endorsement by Michael Medved and provides some pertinent links.)

The list of signatories starts with Arthur Schlesinger — who, whatever else you may think of him, is pretty much the guy to have out in front on this sort of complaint, for rhetorical appeal to the center (rhetorical construct thought “the center” may be).

Here’s the text of the letter, which is addressed to Robert Iger of ABC:

We write as professional historians, who are deeply concerned by the continuing reports about ABC’s scheduled broadcast of The Path to 9/11. These reports document that this drama contains numerous flagrant falsehoods about critical events in recent American history. The key participants and eyewitnesses to these events state that the script distorts and even fabricates evidence into order to mislead viewers about the responsibility of numerous American officials for allegedly ignoring the terrorist threat before 2000.

The claim by the show’s producers, broadcaster, and defenders, that these falsehoods are permissible because the show is merely a dramatization, is disingenuous and dangerous given their assertions that the show is also based on authoritative historical evidence. Whatever ABC’s motivations might be, broadcasting these falsehoods, connected to the most traumatic historical event of our times, would be a gross disservice to the public. A responsible broadcast network should have nothing to do with the falsification of history, except to expose it. We strongly urge you to halt the show’s broadcast and prevent misinforming Americans about their history.

Other signatures will doubtless come in, but for now — apart from Mr. Vital Center — the following names appear:

Sean Wilentz, Princeton University
Michael Kazin, Georgetown University
Lizbeth Cohen, Harvard University
Nicholas Salvatore, Cornell University
Ted Widmer, Brown University
Rick Perlstein, Independent Scholar
David Blight, Yale University
Eric Alterman, City University of New York
Maurice Isserman, Hamilton College

You’ve got Pulitzer and Bankroft prize-winners, plus a left-leaning historian whose account of the Goldwater campaign somehow makes conservatives happy. This is not an open letter that the network can afford to ignore.

To keep up with the effort as it progresses, watch this site.



abb1 09.08.06 at 2:17 pm

They are all upset because it’s unfair to the Clinton administration. If it was a bipartisan piece of propaganda it would’ve been fine, just fine.


Jim Harrison 09.08.06 at 2:22 pm

I’m begining to think the Great Right Wing Noise machine may have finally jumped the shark this time. It’s not that the ABC special is that much worse than other propaganda campaigns, however. It’s just that the left and even more the middle have finally gotten organized. The Whitewater scandal, a black political operation if there ever was one, was far worse than one cheesy docudrama, but the campaign against that atrocity amounted to seventeen letters to the editor, six of them written by me.


Steve 09.08.06 at 2:25 pm

Actually, I understand it is a bipartisan piece of propaganda (supposedly, it belittles Bush efforts pre 9/11 as well as Clinton efforts pre 9/11). They’re upset because it doesn’t toe the party line.

Frankly, its no different from the Reagan biography stink a few years ago. It sounds like the Clintonites will win this won, just as the Reaganites won that one. Regardless, it being the MSM, nobody will watch it anyway.


p.s. Arthur Schlesinger, appeal to the center? The center of Berkeley, perhaps.


Backword Dave 09.08.06 at 2:33 pm

“Regardless, it being the MSM, nobody will watch it anyway.” Am I missing some irony? Where does this MSM stop? Desperate Housewives?


Matt 09.08.06 at 2:50 pm

What abb1 said. And yeah, regardless, props and all.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 09.08.06 at 2:58 pm


Schlesinger does (and always has) appeal(ed) to the (ever-shifting) ‘center,’ for you to claim otherwise suggests an eagerness to court irrelevance. He’s certainly well to the right of Maurice Isserman, Michael Kazin and Eric Alterman, for instance, and they’re not far from left of center. And I suspect you haven’t been to Berkeley in a while….


Pienso 09.08.06 at 2:59 pm

Clinton, Albright, Berger and other have also sent letters. Here is the story, with PDFs of the letters sent:


Pienso 09.08.06 at 3:00 pm

Ah, they also have some of the clips that are under contention:


John Emerson 09.08.06 at 3:32 pm

Scott, Schlesinger is on the left now. He hasn’t moved, but Mickie Kaus is the new center.


jjf 09.08.06 at 3:38 pm

You have to ask yourself, though…just why *did* Sandy Berger try to smuggle all of those documents out of the 9-11 archive?


Walt 09.08.06 at 4:02 pm

I am the center at all times. I will update everyone on the new centrist positions at all times.

I know that, as always, you are pulling facts out of your ass, Steve, but in Berkeley, Schlesinger would probably be the far right wing.


abb1 09.08.06 at 4:41 pm

I don’t know if he in the center, but when I heard him talking a couple of years ago he sounded like he has one foot in the grave. He’s what – about a 100 years old?


John Quiggin 09.08.06 at 10:15 pm

It’s stunning that the right is willing to admit that they are trading in fiction rather than fact. If only “Good news from Iraq” and similar sites had the same disclaimer.


Maurice Meilleur 09.08.06 at 10:20 pm

Yeah, jjf — and bring back copies, as I recall (correctly?). It’s almost as if Berger wanted to . . . have the originals?


bad Jim 09.08.06 at 11:23 pm

ABC is only trying to be even-handed, damning both administrations equally, even if they can only do this by telling lies about Clinton and some of the truth about Bush.


Maurice Meilleur 09.09.06 at 7:35 am

Oops . . . Berger took copies, and never touched the originals. That’s what I get for letting my memory do the work.


Matt 09.09.06 at 12:29 pm

Frankly, its no different from the Reagan biography stink a few years ago.

Right, except the stakes are not even remotely similar. Perhaps if Reagan were still visibly in power, and they had had him say, “Mr. Gorbachev, repair the chinks in this wall!” then the comparison would be justified.

And like that one, the neorepublicans will win this too, because they bought the country and the neodems are content to let them keep it.


Matt 09.09.06 at 12:31 pm

Also, the Reagan flick was nearly a decent work of film. Almost watchable, in fact.


beajerry 09.09.06 at 2:27 pm

I’d pay to watch Path To 9/11 combined with Secret Government Alien Autopsy with a little of the Tonya Harding Story thrown in.


sfb 09.10.06 at 12:18 am

This seems like an oblique effort at censorship, not as blunt as the Senate Minority Leader and colleagues, but still, an effort by any group to get ABC to pull this program before anyone sees it seems like censorship. If Path to 9-11 is historically worthless, why don’t these concerned historians write a response documenting all the historical failings of the program, instead of trying to prevent it from being broadcast?



Uncle Kvetch 09.10.06 at 8:41 am

an effort by any group to get ABC to pull this program before anyone sees it seems like censorship

No, it isn’t. You make the same accusation in another thread, repeatedly, but that doesn’t make it so. There is a fundamental difference between the government prohibiting a film from being shown, and private citizens mobilizing via letters, boycotts, etc. to pressure a network not to air something. The former constitutes censorship; the latter does not.

Is that so hard to understand?


sfb 09.10.06 at 11:28 pm

Uncle K, what part of Senator Reid’s little letter don’t *you* understand. Read the letter. It’s obvious that either you have not, or you don’t see anything wrong with the Senate Minority Leader and colleagues writing a letter which just happens to suggest that if ABC airs this program that the senators dislike, ABC might have licensing troubles.

If this is not what Senator Reid had in mind, he has’t gone out of his way to explain himself. So there it is – a member of the U.S. Government making something that might be considered to be a threat to a media firm because they are planning to air something the senator disagrees with. There is a huge difference between a bunch of people writing / phoning / emailing ABC, or threatening to boycott sponsors and Congress threatening to pull the license of ABC. One is a bunch of members of the public at large exercising their right to free expression, another is members of the government threatening the independence of the media. Quite a difference, if you ask me.

Faculty have opinions, like everyone else, and a right to express them. But, again, I find myself less impressed by people who think they can make an accurate assessment of the merits of a program before they see it. Especially if they are basing it on people who have a vested interest in it. Perhaps some of these faculty members have seen the advance copies of the program. But if they haven’t they are engaging in dubious scholarship. Yes, it is protected by the consitution. But then, so is the right to make crappy historical movies. I can’t get much enthusiasm for stifling anyone’s free expression, even if that free expression is junk.

Bottom line for me is simple: Let the movie be aired, and if it is as bad as everyone here says it is, then let the academics and the Democratic Party have a field day picking it apart. That shouldn’t take too long. Look how fast the blogisphere took apart Dan Rather’s poor use of documents in his 60 Minutes segment. If this program is as bad as that, it should self-destuct about as fast – and maybe there would be some changes in the management at ABC. The big winners would be the Democratic Party, just as the Republicans won big on the 60 Minutes fiasco.


paul 09.11.06 at 3:26 pm


Who knew that the right to broadcast false and misleading political propaganda over the public airwaves was a right guaranteed by the constitution? Where do I sign up to get my six hours of nationwide broadcast time?

I guess I missed the part where being the current holder of a broadcast license conferred an unchallengeable ownership right in the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, rather than a promise to do what the law says one should with a piece of public property of which one is the temporary custodian.


John Thacker 09.12.06 at 10:23 am

…rather than a promise to do what the law says one should with a piece of public property of which one is the temporary custodian.

You know, I’m worried about falsehoods too, certainly, but do you really want the government and the majority getting to decide what can and can’t be broadcast? That’s a far more pervasive challenge to free speech than a misleading documentary.

Do you want a country where the Bush Administration could have revoked CBS’s license for using forged memos?

The whole “public property” theory is the exact same one that the FCC uses to crack down on obscenity, too. Not something I’d like to encourage.


ajay 09.12.06 at 11:32 am

do you really want the government and the majority getting to decide what can and can’t be broadcast?

They already do. It’s called, among other things, the law of libel.

Comments on this entry are closed.