Wrong on 9/11? It's not just ABC

The New York Times says the 9/11 Commission concluded that the Monica Lewinsky scandal distracted Clinton from terrorism.

Published September 8, 2006 1:16PM (EDT)

When the subject is a TV miniseries best known for getting its facts wrong, you'd think a reviewer would be careful to get hers right.

But as Think Progress reports, the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley's Clinton-is-more-to-blame-than-Bush review of ABC's "The Path to 9/11" includes an invented conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Stanley writes: "The Sept. 11 commission concluded that the [Monica Lewinsky] sex scandal distracted the Clinton administration from the terrorist threat." What the 9/11 Commission actually said: While Clinton's aides were obviously aware of his problems, he "told them to ignore them ... All his aides testified to us that they based their advice solely on national security considerations. We have found no reason to question their statements."

It's actually worse than that. After Clinton ordered missile strikes on Osama bin Laden's training camps in 1998, he suffered "Wag the Dog" criticism from Republicans who claimed he was just trying to change the subject. "The failure of the strikes, the 'Wag the Dog' slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the nature of the al Shifa evidence likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against bin Laden," the commission wrote. Translation: While the 9/11 Commission found no reason to believe that the Lewinsky scandal caused Clinton's aides to color their advice to him on terrorism, the Republicans' criticism of the steps Clinton did take against bin Laden may have made it harder for him to take more. To be fair to Stanley, she does acknowledge in her New York Times review that "the right-wing groups who drove for impeachment must look back at their partisan obsession with shame, like widows sickened by the memory of spats about dirty dishes and gambling debts."

Although Stanley's largely positive review won't help matters, the Daouian triangle that has come together against ABC's truth-challenged miniseries is starting to have some effect. Faced with critical stories in the Washington Post and elsewhere, a storm from the liberal blogs and setting-the-record straight letters from Clinton's lawyer, Senate Democrats, Media Matters for America and tens of thousands of Think Progress readers, ABC says it's making changes to the program. Meanwhile, Scholastic Inc. has abandoned the "classroom companion guides" it produced for the miniseries, pushing instead materials that stress, among other things, the questions students should raise about such productions.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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