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Saturday, September 09, 2006

ABC to air Path to Football

ABC follows a path to shame
Tim Rutten
Regarding Media

September 9, 2006

SURVEYING the smoking ruin that is ABC's reputation after the "The Path to 9/11" debacle, it's hard to know whether you're looking at the consequence of unadulterated folly or of a calculated strategy that turned out to be too clever by half.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn't make much difference because, either way, the lacerating controversy surrounding the network's docu-dramatic re-creation of events leading to Sept. 11 is an entirely self-inflicted wound. For most of the week, ABC rather haughtily attempted to characterize itself as the victim of philistines, or self-righteously as a champion of free speech or, more pathetically, as just plain misunderstood by people who just don't understand how television is done.

It is none of those things.

It's an opportunistic and self-interested organization that somehow thought it could approach the most wrenching American tragedy since Pearl Harbor with the values that prevail among network television executives — the sort of ad hoc ethics that would make a streetwalker blush — and that nobody would mind.


But did the people who run ABC Entertainment — the network division directly responsible for this mess — really believe that Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger would watch themselves on television doing and saying thing they never did or said and not object? When these fictional incidents were portrayed as contributing to the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent people, did they think that the former Clinton administration officials and others so caricatured simply would shrug and say, "Well, that's dramatic license for you?" Did they really expect anyone to accept the preposterous notion that — as some at the network argued this week — the film's facts were wrong, but its "essence" was true? These people really need to get out more.

What's easier to understand is what ABC thought it was up to with its marketing of "The Path to 9/11" and why it thought a successful marketing campaign might lead our politically polarized nation to feverishly overlook the network's irresponsibility toward history. After all, why should the many thousands of Americans still grieving for loved ones lost five years ago care about an accurate account of the governmental decisions that may have contributed to those deaths when they could get a good dose of "essence"?

Over the past weeks, the network flooded the country with advance copies of its film. Some sources put the number of DVDs in circulation at 900. An ABC spokeswoman, who demanded to be "off the record" said Friday that she couldn't confirm 900 copies, but that the number "certainly was more than 500." She promised to e-mail back an accurate count; she never did.............. in other words, appeared to have replicated the marketing triumph Mel Gibson scored by screening "The Passion of the Christ" to selected evangelical Christian audiences inclined to be sympathetic.

One of the most unfortunate consequences of all this was that most of the news media completely overlook a stunning affront to 1st Amendment freedoms that occurred when the Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate sent Iger a letter Thursday appearing to threaten the network's licenses unless "The Path to 9/11" was altered or killed:

"The Communications Act of 1934 provides your network with a free broadcast license predicated on the fundamental understanding of your principle obligation to act as a trustee of the public airwaves in serving the public interest … ," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge you, after full consideration of the facts, to uphold your responsibilities as a respected member of American society and as a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves to cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program."

We've all become accustomed to a Congress that behaves as if it's divided between Bloods and Crips rather than Republicans and Democrats — but this was a thuggish new low. If we were inclined to dramatic license, the guys with thick necks in "On the Waterfront" would come to mind, though it's doubtful even Harvey Keitel could plausibly play Harry Reid as threatening.

Ask the Outfit how unthreatening Harry Reid is. They found out the hard way he's no one to fuck with. Only in the movies are the scariest people tall and loud. Even in the movies, Jimmy Stewart played some of the most ruthless men ever to cross a screen.

Don't mistake his demeanor for his ability to cause pain.

Thuggish new low? I have two words for him: Kenneth Tomlinson. Who did his best to destroy liberal programming on PBS.

Hollywood only responds to power. If Harry Reid has to go for the source of their lavish profits to get their attention, so be it.

And how can a professional media critic fall for the conservative line about the first amendment, which doesn't apply to TV. TV stations are licensed to use the public airwaves. They are regulated by the FCC, which is why I now pay to listen to the radio. The First Amendment simply doesn't apply. If the Senate thinks ABC is abusing their license, they are legally permitted to go after their licenses. Airing propeganda is certainly a reason to mention their power.

I would prefer that the FCC didn't have the power to regulate speech, and that TV broadcasters had the freedom to air content as they do in other countries. But they don't. The Dems do not have to sit back and allow ABC to make money while running Republican propeganda.

Where was his outrage when the Republicans were pushing their years of attacks on CPB and PBS? What does he think that was about, a love of the First Amendment? Please. Freedom of speech is not the freedom to lie. Opposing a lie isn't censorship.

posted by Steve @ 10:20:00 AM

10:20:00 AM

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