ABC 9/11 Docudrama's Right-Wing Roots
On Friday, September 8, just forty-eight hours before ABC planned to air its so-called "docudrama," The Path to 9/11, Robert Iger, CEO of ABC's corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company, was presented with incontrovertible evidence outlining the involvement of that film's screenwriter and director in a concerted right-wing effort to blame former President Bill Clinton for allowing the 9/11 attacks to take place. Iger told a source close to ABC that he was "deeply troubled" by the information and claimed he had no previous knowledge of the institutional right-wing ties of The Path to 9/11's creators. He reportedly said that he has commenced an internal investigation to verify the role of the film's creators in deliberately advancing disinformation through ABC.
After stating that she was "looking into" my questions about the production of The Path to 9/11, ABC Vice President of Media Relations Hope Hartman declined to comment on this story.
All week, ABC has withstood withering criticism for The Path to 9/11's imaginative screenwriting that depicts Clinton and members of his administration either ignoring threats from Al Qaeda or botching operations that could have eliminated terror-master Osama bin Laden. Iger conceded in a September 5 press release that key scenes in The Path to 9/11 were indeed fabricated, calling the film "a dramatization, not a documentary." Behind the scenes, Iger reportedly made personal assurances to some of the film's most prominent critics that those scenes would be edited out. But even though some deceptive footage was cut from the original, much of its falsified version of events leading up to 9/11 remains.
Iger now bears ultimate responsibility for authorizing the product of a well-honed propaganda operation--a network of little-known right-wingers working from within Hollywood to counter its supposedly liberal bias. This is the network within the ABC network. Its godfather is far-right activist David Horowitz, who has worked for more than a decade to establish a right-wing presence in Hollywood and to discredit mainstream film and TV production. On this project, a secretive evangelical religious right group long associated with Horowitz, founded by The Path to 9/11's director, David Cunningham, that aims to "transform Hollywood" in line with its messianic vision, has taken the lead.
Before The Path to 9/11 entered the production stage, Disney/ABC signed David Cunningham as the film's director. Cunningham is no ordinary Hollywood journeyman. He is in fact the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of the right-wing evangelical group Youth With A Mission (YWAM). According to Sara Diamond's book Spiritual Warfare, during the 1980's YWAM "sought to gain influence within the Republican party" while assisting authoritarian governments in South Africa and Central America. Cunningham, Diamond noted, was a follower of Christian Reconstructionism, an extreme current of evangelical theology that advocates using stealth political methods to put the United States under the control of Biblical law and jettison the Constitution. Cunningham instilled his radical ideology in young missionaries by sending them to "Discipleship Training School." A former student of Cunningham's school claimed "similarities between cult mind controlling techniques and the [Discipleship Training School] program instituted by YWAM."
When the young Cunningham entered his father's ministry, he helped found an auxiliary group called The Film Institute (TFI). According to its mission statement, TFI is "dedicated to a Godly transformation and revolution TO and THROUGH the Film and Television industry." Cunningham has placed over a dozen interns from Youth With A Mission's Discipleship Training School in film industry jobs "so that they can begin to impact and transform Hollywood from the inside out," according to a YWAM report.
Last June, Cunningham's TFI announced it was producing its first film, mysteriously titled Untitled History Project. "TFI's first project is a doozy," a newsletter to YWAM members read. "Simply being referred to as: The Untitled History Project, it is already being called the television event of the decade and not one second has been put to film yet. Talk about great expectations!" (A web edition of the newsletter was mysteriously deleted last week after its publication by the blogger Digby, but has been cached on Google at the link above).
The following month, on July 28, the New York Post reported that ABC was filming a mini-series "under a shroud of secrecy" about the 9/11 attacks. "At the moment, ABC officials are calling the miniseries 'Untitled Commission Report' and producers refer to it as the 'Untitled History Project,'" the Post noted.
Early on, Cunningham had recruited a young Iranian-American screenwriter named Cyrus Nowrasteh to write the script of his secretive Untitled film. Not only is Nowrasteh an outspoken conservative, he is also a fervent member of the emerging network of right-wing people burrowing into the film industry with ulterior sectarian political and religious agendas, like Cunningham.
Nowrasteh's conservatism was on display when he appeared as a featured speaker at the Liberty Film Festival (LFF), an annual event founded in 2004 to premier and promote conservative-themed films supposedly too "politically incorrect" to gain acceptance at mainstream film festivals. This June, while The Path to 9/11 was being filmed, LFF founders Govindini Murty and Jason Apuzzo--both friends of Nowrasteh-- announced they were "partnering" with Horowitz. Indeed, the 2006 LFF is listed as "A Program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center."
Since the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1992, Horowitz has labored to create a network of politically active conservatives in Hollywood. His Hollywood nest centers around his Wednesday Morning Club, a weekly meet-and-greet session for Left Coast conservatives that has been graced with speeches by the likes of Newt Gingrich, Victor Davis Hanson and Christopher Hitchens. The group's headquarters are at the offices of Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a "think tank" bankrolled for years with millions by right-wing sugar daddies like billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. (Scaife financed the Arkansas Project, a $2.3 million dirty tricks operation that included paying sources for negative stories about Bill Clinton that turned out to be false.)
In the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks, Horowitz led the right's campaign to pin the blame for attacks on Clinton. On February 19, 2002, Horowitz's organization mailed 1,500 lengthy pamphlets to major media outlets which claimed to expose how "the left" in general and Clinton in particular had "undermined America's security," thus causing 9/11. Two years later, Horowitz penned a lengthy manifesto for his FrontPageMag blaming Clinton once again for having "accepted defeat" in the fight against Al Qaeda. Horowitz singled out Clinton's National Security Council Director, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, as especially culpable for allowing the terror threat to fester, casting him as "a veteran of the Sixties 'anti-war' movement" who "abetted the Communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia."
This year, Horowitz's Hollywood hothouse finally spawned his most potent anti-Clinton propaganda device. With the LFF under Horowitz's control, his political machine began drumming up support for Cunningham and Nowrasteh's Untitled project, which finally was revealed last August as The Path to 9/11.
Like Iger, Horowitz has pleaded ignorance about the sectarian agenda of the film's creators. Responding to an article I wrote for the Huffington Post exposing Horowitz's involvement in The Path to 9/11 (on which this article is adapted), he claimed in a blog post, "In fact, I never heard of David Cunningham or his group before reading about them in Max's hilarious column."
However, Horowitz's public relations blitz on behalf of the film began at least a month ago with an August 16 interview with Nowrasteh on his FrontPageMag webzine In the interview, Nowrasteh described how The Path to 9/11 was filmed "under the very able direction of David L. Cunningham." (Doesn't Horowitz read his own magazine?)
Nowrasteh also foreshadowed the film's assault on Clinton's record on fighting terror. "The 9/11 report details the Clinton's administration's response--or lack of response--to Al Qaida and how this emboldened Bin Laden to keep attacking American interests," Nowrasteh told FrontPageMag's Jamie Glazov. "There simply was no response. Nothing."
A week later, ABC hosted LFF co-founder Murty and several other conservative operatives at an advance screening of The Path to 9/11. (While ABC provided 900 DVDs of the film to conservatives, Clinton Administration officials and reviewers from mainstream outlets were denied them.) Murty returned with a glowing review published by FrontPageMag that emphasized the film's partisan nature. "The Path to 9/11 is one of the best, most intelligent, most pro-American miniseries I've ever seen on TV, and conservatives should support it and promote it as vigorously as possible," Murty wrote. As a result of the special access granted by ABC, Murty's article was the first published review of The Path to 9/11, preceding those by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times by more than a week.
Murty followed her review with a blast e-mail to conservative websites such as Liberty Post and Free Republic on September 1 urging their readers to throw their weight behind ABC's mini-series. "Please do everything you can to spread the word about this excellent miniseries," Murty wrote, "so that The Path to 9/11 gets the highest ratings possible when it airs on September 10 & 11! If this show gets huge ratings, then ABC will be more likely to produce pro-American movies and TV shows in the future!"
Murty's efforts were supported by Appuzo, who handles LFF's heavily-trafficked blog, Libertas. Appuzo was instrumental in marketing The Path to 9/11 to conservatives, writing in a blog post on September 2, "Make no mistake about what this film does, among other things: it places the question of the Clinton Administration's culpability for the 9/11 attacks front and center.... Bravo to Cyrus Nowrasteh and David Cunningham for creating this gritty, stylish and gripping piece of entertainment."
When a group of leading Senate Democrats sent a letter to Iger urging him to cancel The Path to 9/11 because of its glaring factual errors and distortions, Apuzzo launched a retaliatory campaign to paint the Democrats as foes of free speech. "Here at LIBERTAS we urge the public to make noise over this, and to demand that Democrats back down," he wrote on September 7. "What is at stake is nothing short of the 1st Amendment."
At FrontPageMag, Horowitz singled out Nowrasteh as the victim of an unconstitutional crime. "The attacks by former president Bill Clinton, former Clinton Administration officials and Democratic US senators on Cyrus Nowrasteh's ABC mini-series The Path to 9/11 "are easily the gravest and most brazen and damaging governmental attacks on the civil liberties of ordinary Americans since 9/11," Horowitz declared. The next day, Horowitz reposted his 2004 manifesto holding Clinton responsible for 9/11, explaining that, "With tonight's premiere of the ABC-TV movie The Path to 9/11, the truth [sic] impact of the Left's policies in bringing about the nation's worst terrorist attack is finally coming to light."
Although Iger and ABC trimmed as much as thirty minutes of deceptive footage from Sunday's episode of The Path to 9/11, it appeared nonetheless as a mostly faithful adaptation of Horowitz's anti-Clinton essay. Indeed, The Path to 9/11 still contained its most egregiously false scene, in which Sandy Berger refuses to authorize a CIA officer's request to capture bin Laden, who is completely surrounded by rival Northern Alliance soldiers. After the halted (and totally fictional) operation, "Kirk," the (completely imaginary) CIA op played by Donny Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block fame, stands on a hilltop beside the Northern Alliance's quixotic warlord, Ahmed Shah Massoud.
"Are there any men left in Washington?" the script has a frustrated Massoud asking "Kirk." "Or just cowards?"
"Cowards?" The question is quietly being raised in the corridors of ABC-TV's headquarters in Burbank, California. Besieged in his lush office, Iger privately agonizes that he was complacent about an attack on his network's reputation by a band of political terrorists. But when faced with his own version of the Taliban, he appeased them.
© 2006 The Nation