Monday, September 11, 2006

PhotoShop history

The line between news and entertainment has blurred so thoroughly that we may never again be able tell truth from fiction, faction or friction.

The latest example of PhotoShop history is ABC’s controversial “The Path to 9/11,” which is airing – or erring? – on the most depressing date in the modern calendar.

Though the mini-series purports to be a dramatization of the real-life events leading to the tragedy, the program is unclear about which events are true, which compress reality into dramatic constructs and which elements are entirely fabricated. The result mangles both history and the network’s credibility.

In a key scene reportedly toned down at the eleventh hour after vigorous protests from alumni of the Clinton administration, a proactive strike on Osama bin-Laden’s Afghan redoubt in 1998 was nixed at the threshold of success by the powers that be in D.C.

The show portrays Sandy Berger, the White House national security adviser, as the guy who called off the mission. In a 15-minute special edition of Nightline following the program on Sunday, however, Richard Clarke, the White House anti-terror czar at the time, blamed CIA Director George Tenet for scrubbing it.

What really happened? Who said what to whom? Or, did it happen at all? I still can’t tell.

This isn’t the only place ABC couldn’t get its story straight.

The web page at ABC.Com promoting the show includes a video entitled “Keeping It Honest,” in which director David L. Cunningham and some of the cast members talk about their efforts “to capture life in an honest way” in the production.

Over at ABC News, the network news department posted a squirrelly summary of the controversy over the show, shrugging off the many questions raised and unanswered by it.

“What was fact and what was fiction?” asked ABC News, without endeavoring to find the answers. “Tonight the miniseries focuses on the Bush administration and its failures – whether fact or fiction, or a little bit of both.”

The cavalier disrespect for truth in a case as sensitive as this portends frightening consequences for our democracy.

Growing cynicism and suspicion are eroding confidence in the institutions and values that, whatever their flaws, have made the United States a generally pleasant and respectable place to live.

If this continues, the terrorists will succeed beyond their evilest dreams.