Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007


 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Cartoons - Hollywood to the Rescue (notes on the ABC-Disney 9/11 movie)

There are those who are experts in cartoons. There's Pixar Animation Studios, based up in Emeryville, now a division of the Walt Disney Company, down here in Burbank. On January 24, 2006, Disney agreed to buy Pixar for well over seven billion dollars in an all-stock transaction. The acquisition was completed on May 5, 2006 - Pixar is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney. The old-style cartoons, actually drawn, frame by frame, by humans, are pretty much dead. It's all computer-generated now. Bambi and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and Fantasia, are curiosities now - much like silent films. Hardly anyone alive now remembers when silent films were just fine. Things change.

But cartoons aren't dead. Disney knows that. They didn't shell out those billions of dollars for nothing. Kids like cartoons, so do adults - from The Yellow Submarine to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to South Park, not to mention The Simpsons. The impossible is made visual and funny, with a little life lesson, and some tears along with the jokes. Cartoons are a real trip, as they say.

Disney had lost its preeminence in the field, and they simply bought it back. And they could afford it. They are a massive conglomerate, producing live-action films, and they have their theme parks, their subsidiary ESPN and their cable channels and radio stations. And they have ABC. Disney acquired Capital Cities/ABC in 1996. They have a major television network of their very own.

But they still do cartoons.

Disney's ABC is about to air the new "documentary" on 9/11 - more than four hours long, spanning two evenings, offered without commercials. It cost them thirty million to produce, and this is, one assumes, Disney's commemorative gift on the anniversary of that day. But it's not the same old stuff. The folks they hired to make this thing have a point of view - an attitude - and the premise here seems to be that no one in the Bush administration at any point at any time in the whole thing did anything wrong, and there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Saddam himself might have planned the 9/11 attacks. And all those people died that one day because of just one guy - Bill Clinton. He didn't do his job and Bush got stuck with the results. Perhaps this view is a bit biased. It created a firestorm.

You can find a complete script review here, with snippets like this -

    Clarke tells O'Neill that Clinton won't give the order to get bin Laden in this climate, with Republicans calling for his impeachment. O'Neill says that Clinton wants bin Laden dead - but not if he has to order it. "It's pathetic," he declares.

    Back in Afghanistan, the operatives plan for the snatch job anyway, hoping for approval once it's clear they have their man. One night, they call Langley - they are ready to get bin Laden, he is nearby. "Do we have clearance?" they ask. Berger says he doesn't have authority, he would have to check, they're not all on "the same page."

    A CIA official tells Berger the president has approved snatches in the past. Berger wonders about the quality of the intelligence. The CIA woman says it's never 100%. With that, Berger punts and asks Tenet if HE wants to offer a recommendation to the president. Tenet asks: Why does the buck always stop with me, like with the Waco disaster?

    At that point, Berger simply hangs up - and the operatives abroad pack up and leave. Massoud asks if they are "all cowards in Washington." Again there is an immediate cut to Clinton, parsing sexual terms in his taped testimony on the Lewinsky case - and then a clip of him hugging Monica.

    A little later in the film, the U.S. embassy in Nairobi is attacked, with many deaths. A CIA agent in tears yells at Tenet, saying he should have ordered the killing of bin Laden when they had the chance. O'Neill to Clarke: "Clinton has to do SOMETHING."

You get the idea. Every cartoon needs a villain.

All the right wing "pundits" got a pre-release copy. No one else has seen it. ABC refused to provide a copy to Clinton, or Madeline Albright or Sandy Burger - the villain and his crew - or to any mainstream columnist. In the House, John Conyers, John Dingell, Jane Harman, and Louise Slaughter wrote the president of Disney asking what's up with this (their letter is here).

The New York Times covers the controversy here, noting this television event was being criticized as biased and inaccurate by terrorism experts and a member of the September 11 Commission. ABC was advertising the program as a "historic broadcast" that uses the commission's report on the 2001 attacks as its "primary foundation."

A number of commissioners and those who were there at the time find that ludicrous -


    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 CIA 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 CIA 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 then issued 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." And they said they plan to run a disclaimer with the broadcast, reminding viewers that the movie was not really a documentary.

But then they are planning to send out teaching materials to schools so this can be shown in classrooms, for discussion.  Then Scholastic Press backed out and said, no, they'd not go along with the whole thing, so there won't be classes on the film in all the classrooms in all the public schools in America.  Oops.

It is a bit confusing, and there's confused Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the original commission who 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. They gave the impression that Clinton had not given the green light to an operation that had been cleared by the CIA to kill bin Laden."

The commission concluded Clinton had. Oh well.

But this is cool -

    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 FBI counterterrorism expert who died in the attacks. "I liked him in 'Mean Streets.' I'm a fan."

That's nice.

Dean Barnett, one the writers at the hyper-pro-Bush Hugh Hewitt blog, is, unlike all the others on the right who got their advance copies, having second thoughts about this whole thing. The short version of what he says comes down to, yes, Clinton was evil, the most evil president ever, but making up stuff may not be the way we want to go here.

By the weekend, most on the right, including Bill Bennett, were saying it's just wrong to make stuff up - showing real people doing what they just didn't do. They all like the idea that Clinton can be blamed for everything, but mocking and slandering real people - having them say and do things they didn't say or do - and just making up events - seemed a bit much. 

Digby on the left side offers this -

    The reason this matters so much, and why Democrats are so apoplectic at the way ABC has handled this material, is that popular culture has a way of inculcating certain concepts into people's minds, especially young minds, far more effectively than talking head programs or earnest debates among political bloggers and columnists. This is the kind of thing that could taint the debate for generations if it takes hold.

    The right howled mercilessly at Oliver Stone's depictions of JFK and Nixon, claiming that he was rewriting history. He was, and he used very clever techniques to do it - particularly the odd, dreamlike optical montages that feel like memories. But the key is that these films were about events that happened long in the past - they were re-writing history, not writing the first draft while the immediate events were still being debated. Certainly, nobody sent out high school study guides saying they were based on fact or claimed they were based on The Warren Commission Report or Nixon's memoirs. Stone never claimed that he was depicting a factual account but rather always said that he was providing an "alternate history."

    "Path to 9/11" is using the sophisticated techniques (if not the talent) of Stone's "alternate history" style to create an alternate reality in real time.

    … If this nonsense is allowed to stick, we will be battling these inaccurate demagogic, phantoms for another 50 years - and I don't think the country will survive it. These new right-wingers make the red-baiters of the 50's look like Gandhi. In order for the Republicans to maintain power as often and as much as possible, they must find a way to blame the Democrats for terrorism and ensure that neither party can ever stray from the most hard line they can possibly maintain. It's the same formula that killed over 50,000 Americans in Vietnam and it's going to do far worse this time out if we let it happen again.

But it's too late. Disney is determined.  What are you going to do, admit you've been had by a bunch of right-wing zealots? That's just too embarrassing.  So ABC is trapped.  They seem to think they have to show it now.

And who knows what they're really up to?

They're losing thirty million here, on this freebie. And the Walt Disney Company a few years ago blocked its Miramax division from distributing the documentary by Michael Moore that grossed two hundred million, Fahrenheit 9/11. Then they sold Miramax. One wonders about their agenda.

Note this -

    Disney/ABC cancelled the reality show featuring a gay couple, "Welcome to the Neighborhood," ten days before it was to air when James Dobson and the religious right threatened to withdraw their support for the conservative classic "Narnia."

    Disney refused to allow its subsidiary Miramax, which specialized in controversial fare, to distribute "Fahrenheit 9/11" allegedly because they felt it was too political.

    They made a deal with Mel Gibson, beloved on the religious right for his film "The Passion," to produce a film about the Holocaust even though they knew at the time he held extremely controversial views about the Holocaust and Judaism. They only cancelled the project when he was caught by the police drunkenly saying "all the wars in the world are caused by the Jews."

    Now they have produced a blatantly rightwing work of fiction which they are saying is based on the official 9/11 Commission report and they are giving it away without any advertising. They sent out hundreds of screening copies but failed to send any to the Clinton administration officials who are trashed in the film or to liberal columnists….

    There's a pattern here folks and it isn't a pattern that shows ABC knuckling under to liberals. There is a huge amount of money at stake in all these decisions, but for some reason Disney seems to be more than willing to throw it away when it benefits the right wing: already produced films and TV shows are either cancelled or allowed to be distributed by others, while hugely expensive, controversial rightwing mini-series' are broadcast with no advertising and allowed to be downloaded for free by I-tunes.

    Isn't that something that Disney shareholders should be just a little bit concerned about? If ABC is protecting its "Narnia" franchise, at some point you have to look at whether the price they are paying is too high. If they have thrown this kind of money away to appease the GOP for business reasons then their shareholders have just been taken to the cleaners. The old K Street Project is dead and when Democrats take congress this fall they aren't going to be happy. They are on to it.

    If Disney/ABC is giving away free air time for conservative projects and denying distribution to programs that don't favor the Republican Party, then perhaps somebody needs to look at whether this stuff is legal. There are laws regulating corporate giving to campaigns. By not showing advertising it seems to me that it's not impossible to make a case that this latest is a free gift to the Republican Party just weeks before an important election.

Oh heck, when you own your own network you can do anything you'd like. Ask Rupert Murdoch. But if I were a shareholder, I'd begin to wonder what's up here.

And of course, a friend just said he will no longer take his kids to Disneyworld or Disneyland. He sees no point in funding the Cult of Bush.

Hollywood does matter, it seems.


Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik