To borrow once again from newspaperman extraordinaire Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…
DON’T BLAME THOSE FORMER CLINTON ADMINISTRATION officials who, along with Bill Clinton, remain highly exercised over the scheduled ABC 9/11 docudrama (“The Path to 9/11”) which includes fabricated scenes suggesting that they approached the threat of Osama bin-Laden and al-Queda with less than proper zeal. They are right to pressure Disney, parent company of ABC, for changes in the program prior to its televising, and if Disney/ABC does the right thing, they’ll remove the made-up scenes (the Washington Post reports that ABC plans “minor changes” in reaction to the criticism.)
Inventing dialogue and placing it in the mouth of real people—like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger—distorts history and misleads viewers (who may think that it’s a reenactment of real events). Veracity matters. Whether or not the “higher truth” is that Clinton and his top aides took a too narrowly legalistic approach to terrorism during his two terms in office, fabricating scenes in an entertainment program is not the way to prove your point.
Disney/ABC can’t have it both ways—advertising the series as being “based on the 9/11 Commission” but then defending the fabrications as needed for dramatic purposes. The last I checked, ABC had a news division: how do news managers there feel about the blurring of fact and fiction in this “alternative universe”? An example of truthiness (to use Stephen Colbert’s phrase)?
One irony: ABC’s flirtation with fabulism comes just as director Oliver Stone has curbed his paranoic fantasies. Stone’s “artistic license” in the movie JFK introduced millions of young moviegoers to multiple bogus Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. But in his new film, World Trade Center, Stone has dealt with the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers without straying too far from the established historical reality of that horrific day.
The shame is that ABC News could have developed a documentary on 9/11 that could have explored unanswered 9/11-related questions? One puzzle involves Sandy Berger. Berger has never given a plausible explanation for why he furtively removed classified documents from the National Archives about the Clinton Administration’s response to terrorism, documents being reviewed by the 9/11 Commission. What was his motive? What was he thinking?
Other questions: what is the real story on Able Danger, the Defense Department team using data mining to track terrorists? Did the team truly identify terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11, as Congressman Curt Weldon claims? Why did some government officials tell New Yorkers that the air quality around the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11 was safe to breathe? Who is responsible for those public assurances—now shown to have been wrong?
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER of pop culture: the bronze statute of the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa will be placed on a spot near the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum after a 6-2 vote by the city’s art commission. The statue had been donated by Sylvester Stallone, who played the underdog fighter in a series of films (one more on the way!), in 1982—it had been rejected by the museum and found a home for several decades outside the Spectrum sports arena. Rocky always was persistent.
For traditionalists the best way to swallow this: think of the bronze Rocky Balboa as the Little Mermaid of the City of Brotherly Love—after all a statue of Hans Christian Anderson’s character is a famous tourist attraction in Copenhagen.
WILL ANTI-SEMITES get the point that they are being mocked in British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen’s new movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”? Or will they revel in the broadcasting of slurs and stereotypes, figuring that airing them is a victory even if they are ridiculed? The New York Times describes it as a “raucous comedy that makes its points by seeming to embrace sexism, racism, homophobia and that most risky of social toxins: anti-Semitism.”
As a First Amendment advocate, I can’t quarrel with Baron Cohen’s right to make the movie, and I haven’t seen the “mockumentary” so I’ll reserve final judgment—after all, the Producers and Bulworth mine some of the same comedic territory without, from what I can tell, encouraging bigotry—yet having the buffoonish protagonist of the movie worry that “the Jews (will) repeat their attack of 9/11” (a line from the movie, according to the New York Times) may be appreciated for its irony by American multiplex cinema audiences but taken literally by some in the Middle East.
The Washington Post‘s bland headline is “Frey and Publisher Settle Lawsuit” but the details of the story are weird. As a disgruntled reader your refund for “A Million Little Pieces” (in hardcover), the memoir by James Frey tainted by falsehoods, will apparently require the following: proof of purchase of the book on or before January 26, 2006; page 163 of the memoir/novel; and a sworn statement that you would not have bought the book if you knew certain facts had been fabricated or embroidered. That will bring you the $23.95 hardcover refund from Random House, not that anyone is copping to anything.
This has to be one of the more bizarre stories of the year: it is the Culture of Litigation writ large, another example of how some lawyers bring discredit upon themselves and their profession. The crowning legalistic touch is the provision that refund seekers have to return page 163 (chosen at random, we are told). While Frey and Random House haven’t covered themselves in glory, is this really a matter for litigation? Are consumer protection statutes meant to include memoirs?
I’m sure some will argue that it’s the principle, blah, blah, blah–—if that is the case, then the lawyers on both sides should have worked pro bono, or for a token amount (how about the minimum wage?)
THREE CHEERS FOR ALLEN WEINSTEIN, head of the National Archives, who now says thousands of government historical documents, withdrawn because of security concerns, will be made accessible to the public again. Weinstein’s announcement proves that he is independent and not the partisan some on the Left have made him out to be.
DON’T EXPECT KATIE COURIC to work wonders with the ratings for the CBS Evening News. And the trends for one-time Big Three—CBS, NBC and ABC—are dismal. The numbers released this summer by the Pew Media Survey tell a grim tale for the nightly network news; American viewership has dropped from 60% in 1993 to 28% in 2006. That decline reflects a more fragmented media world—and that, along with partisan viewing patterns (conservatives trust Fox News; liberals gravitate to PBS and CNN)—makes agreeing on shared facts harder and harder. The civic implications aren’t pretty.
Bill Clinton; Sandy Berger; Disney; Oliver Stone; ABC ; 9/11 ; Madeleine Albright ; Sasha Baron Cohen ; Sylvester Stallone; James Frey; Allen Weinstein ;Classified information ; National Archives ; Katie Couric ; Jefferson FlandersCopyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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