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Fox News to air controversial `Path to 9/11' outtakes

THE NATION

It got them by taping a public talk by the docudrama's writer, who showed clips from a scene toned down after ex-officials' criticism.

January 26, 2007|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — In a move that could rekindle a heated political debate, Fox News said Thursday that it planned to broadcast footage from ABC's controversial miniseries "The Path to 9/11" that was edited out of the docudrama amid criticism that it inaccurately portrayed the Clinton administration's response to the terrorism threat.

The outtakes, scheduled to air Sunday, depict then-national security advisor Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger refusing to approve a CIA request to attack Osama bin Laden, an event that Berger and the Sept. 11 commission say did not occur.

The final version of the movie that aired on ABC in early September still included the scene, but it had been toned down after protests from top Democrats.

Several minutes were culled, including an exchange in which Berger is depicted hanging up on then-CIA Director George J. Tenet, according to a Fox News producer who has seen both versions.

The previously unaired footage is scheduled to be broadcast at 6 p.m. Sunday on "Hannity's America," a new show with Sean Hannity, one of the cable news network's most popular hosts.

Fox News obtained the outtakes by taping a public talk that Cyrus Nowrasteh, writer and producer of "The Path to 9/11," gave to a World Affairs Council chapter last Friday at Cal State Channel Islands. Nowrasteh discussed making the docudrama and played several minutes edited out of the movie.

Fox News had learned of his appearance from an article in a Ventura County paper, and it received permission from the World Affairs Council to record the event, "Hannity's America" producer John Finley said. The council is a nonprofit educational group.

"We saw an opportunity and sent a crew out there," Finley said.

Jay Carson, a spokesman for President Clinton, denounced Fox News' decision to air the scene.

"This movie was a completely false piece of right-wing propaganda when it was on ABC, and it will be exactly the same on Fox if they make the unfortunate choice to air it, though it should be right at home," Carson said.

ABC officials and a spokeswoman for Berger declined to comment, as did Nowrasteh.

Jay Berger, executive director of the California Central Coast chapter of the World Affairs Council, said that though Nowrasteh's talk to his group was interesting, he was surprised that Fox News was doing a piece on the unaired footage.

"I can't imagine what the news is here," he said.

An early version of the miniseries that ABC distributed to television critics is readily available on YouTube.com and other websites.

Fox News does not have ABC's permission to broadcast the unaired footage, but an attorney for the network said officials there believed that the newsworthiness of the material put it under the fair-use exception to the copyright statute.

Finley said the footage merited exposure because the original miniseries provoked such strong debate.

"It was a story that was so controversial at the time," he said.

"We here at Fox -- and myself personally -- feel the American people deserve both sides. We have the opportunity to show the viewers what they missed in September, the full story of the controversy surrounding the scene. We think people should see it and judge for themselves."

ABC initially characterized the five-hour, $40-million docudrama, which aired on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a highbrow project that would contribute to the public's understanding of the terrorist attacks.

The miniseries was based in part on the Sept. 11 commission's report, and former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, the Republican chairman of the commission, served as a consultant to the film.

But a version of the miniseries screened in August at the National Press Club in Washington generated vehement protests from senior Democratic leaders and former Clinton administration officials, who said the movie was riddled with inaccuracies.

Former national security advisor Berger said the docudrama "flagrantly misrepresents my personal actions," and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright termed "false and defamatory" a scene in which she is depicted as refusing to support a missile strike on Bin Laden without alerting the Pakistani government.

ABC trimmed out some of the controversial scenes before broadcast.

It also ran a disclaimer saying that "for dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression."

matea.gold@latimes.com

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