The path to "The Path to 9/11"

The ABC "docudrama" isn't its writer's only fact-challenged production.

Published September 12, 2006 7:16PM (EDT)

The New York Times reveals today that Cyrus Nowrasteh, the writer of the embattled ABC "docudrama" "The Path to 9/11," was hired after the executive producer and director of the project read his script for the 2001 Showtime movie "The Day Reagan Was Shot."

If that's true, they might have wanted to do a little more research. "The Day Reagan Was Shot" -- which was, ironically, produced by Oliver Stone -- was plagued with the same kind of substantive factual errors that riddled "The Path to 9/11." In both movies, administration officials were portrayed as dangerously incompetent, bringing the United States to the brink of disaster. In "The Path to 9/11," it is National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who come in for the harshest, and most disputed, treatment. In "The Day Reagan Was Shot," it was Secretary of State Al Haig whose reputation was impugned. He was portrayed as bringing the country to the verge of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

In December 2001, when "The Day Reagan Was Shot" premiered, Richard Allen, formerly the national security advisor under Reagan, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to castigate the film's creators, calling the movie's portrayal of the events inside the White House that day "fictional."

"How do I know it is fictional? Because I was there. Oh, and I had a tape recorder ...

"Situation Room meetings are rarely tape-recorded, but because we were dealing with a national emergency that afternoon, I placed my own small recorder in the center of the table. I captured the entire proceedings, about six hours. Written versions of these events have appeared since, some mostly accurate, others mostly inaccurate, but none has approached 'The Day Reagan Was Shot' for brazen distortion ...

"The film places generals in the Situation Room when they were not there; introduces conversations that never occurred; claims that a 'red alert from NORAD' was in progress (there is no such thing) and that a Soviet 'wolf pack' was off our coast with malign intent. (It wasn't: There were more Soviet subs than usual because it was the end-of-the-month changeover day, as we figured out within 20 minutes.) ...

"Messrs. Stone and Nowrasteh had completed their shoot by the time I wrote an account of the March 1981 events in the Atlantic Monthly, on the 20th anniversary. They then had a problem: They needed to validate their version and had not known about my tapes. I insisted on seeing the film before talking with Mr. Stone's people, and after I did, Mr. Nowrasteh had the temerity to say that the tapes 'corroborate our movie.' They do no such thing ...

"Maybe the whole thing was meant as a comedy. If not, it is simply a swindle."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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