Days before its scheduled debut, the first major television miniseries about the Sept. 11 attacks was being criticized on Tuesday as biased and inaccurate by bloggers, terrorism experts and a member of the Sept. 11 commission, whose report makes up much of the film’s source material.
The six-hour miniseries, “The Path to 9/11,” is to be shown on ABC on Sunday and Monday. The network has been advertising the program as a “historic broadcast” that uses the commission’s report on the 2001 attacks as its “primary foundation.”
On Tuesday, several liberal blogs were questioning whether ABC’s version was overly critical of the Clinton administration while letting the Bush administration off easy.
In particular, some critics — including Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar — questioned a scene that depicts several American military officers on the ground in Afghanistan. In it, the officers, working with leaders of the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel group, move in to capture Osama bin Laden, only to allow him to escape after the mission is canceled by Clinton officials in Washington.
In a posting on ThinkProgress.org, and in a phone interview, Mr. Clarke said no military personnel or C.I.A. agents were ever in position to capture Mr. bin Laden in Afghanistan, nor did the leader of the Northern Alliance get that near to his camp.
“It didn’t happen,” Mr. Clarke said. “There were no troops in Afghanistan about to snatch bin Laden. There were no C.I.A. personnel about to snatch bin Laden. It’s utterly invented.”
Mr. Clarke, an on-air consultant to ABC News, said he was particularly shocked by a scene in which it seemed Clinton officials simply hung up the phone on an agent awaiting orders in the field. “It’s 180 degrees from what happened,” he said. “So, yeah, I think you would have to describe that as deeply flawed.”
ABC responded Tuesday with a statement saying that the miniseries was “a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 commission report, other published materials and from personal interviews.”
“The events that lead to 9/11 originally sparked great debate,” the statement continued, “so it’s not surprising that a movie surrounding those events has revived the debate.”
Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, the chairman of the Sept. 11 commission and a consultant on the miniseries, defended the program, saying he thought the disputed scene was an honest representation of a number of failed efforts to capture Mr. bin Laden.
“I pointed out the fact that the scene involving Afghanistan and the attempt to get bin Laden is a composite,” Mr. Kean said, adding that the miniseries format required some conflation of events. But, he said, “The basic fact is that on a number of occasions, they thought they might have been able to get bin Laden, and on those occasions, the plug was pulled for various reasons.”
Mr. Kean conceded that some points might have been more drama than documentary. “Some of the people shown there probably weren’t there,” he said.
Online commentators seized on remarks made last week by Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio host, who said “The Path to 9/11” had been written and produced by a “friend of mine out in California” named Cyrus. “From what I’ve been told,” Mr. Limbaugh said, according to a transcript on rushlimbaugh.com, “the film really zeros in on the shortcomings of the Clinton administration.”
Reached Tuesday, Cyrus Nowrasteh, the film’s screenwriter and one of its producers, said he had met Mr. Limbaugh on the set of “24,” the serialized thriller on Fox.
“I met him briefly,” Mr. Nowrasteh said, declining to say if the two men were close. “And that’s it.”
As for criticism that his movie was soft on the Bush administration, Mr. Nowrasteh said, “Let the movie speak for itself.”
ABC said it planned to run a disclaimer with the broadcast, reminding viewers that the movie was not a documentary.
But Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, said genre confusion would not be a problem for commission members, several of whom saw part of the miniseries last week.
“As we were watching, we were trying to think how they could have misinterpreted the 9/11 commission’s finding the way that they had,” Mr. Ben-Veniste said. “They gave the impression that Clinton had not given the green light to an operation that had been cleared by the C.I.A. to kill bin Laden,” when, in fact, the Sept. 11 commission concluded that Mr. Clinton had.
Mr. Ben-Veniste said he did, however, approve of the casting. “I like Harvey Keitel,” he said of the actor who plays John O’Neil, the onetime F.B.I. counterterrorism expert who died in the attacks. “I liked him in ‘Mean Streets.’ I’m a fan.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company