Idol Chatter

Both Kris and Doug, in their own separate ways, downplay the controversy over ABC’s “The Path to 9/11” miniseries. Maybe it’s just that, unlike them, I am a stereotypical East Coast liberal, but I can’t dismiss Democrats’ complaints over the TV movies’ exaggerations and fabrications so easily. Let’s not forget another based-on-fact miniseries pulled–not just edited, as this one was–because of conservative complaints about truthfulness: “The Reagans,” CBS’s 2003 docudrama about the former president. Let’s apply the same values here.

For better or worse, we Americans look to Hollywood–and the fiction it produces–for insight and, yes, information about news and historical events; Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert owe their success to this trend, and they step up to that task responsibly, with a deep thoughtfulness inside their comedic exteriors.

That’s not to say every work of fiction need hew to truthfulness and social responsibility; it just means that if you’re purporting to present fact, do it in a way that is honest and which helps further our understanding instead of muddying it. For ABC, the timing of this miniseries around the fifth anniversary was no coincidence, nor was its hiring of 9-11 Commission chair Tom Kean as a consultant. The clear message, despite the hastily added disclaimers to the contrary, was that this movies dramatized The Truth. If not quite a documentary, it was to be not quite a work of fiction either.

And why would anyone need to fictionalize 9-11? As Maureen Dowd wrote this past weekend, “Isn’t the dire actuality enough?” For a nation still mourning its losses, still trying to figure out how best to respond to the terrorist threat, still trying to understand how our leaders and intelligence services could have missed the clues leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, it’s just plain irresponsible of ABC to air a miniseries that does anything short of depicting truth as it happened. A mix of fact and fiction is the worst of both worlds, allowing us neither to dismiss it as mere entertainment or to embrace it as edifying.

I applaud ABC for re-editing the movie after the complains surfaced, but for me, the movie’s credibility is already lost, and I don’t know what to accept and what to reject in its portrayal of this crucial part of our recent history. “Truthiness” just doesn’t cut it here, and we deserved better.

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