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Sep 9, 2006 3:31 pm

Historians Petition ABC

"Leading Historians Call for Cancellation of ‘Fraudulent' ABC 9/11 Docudrama," Open Letter to ABC: Don't Airbrush 9/11, 8 September. The list of historians signing the letter is in process, but it already includes: Arthur Schlesinger, Princeton's Sean Wilentz, Georgetown's Michael Kazin, Harvard's Lizbeth Cohen, Cornell's Nicholas Salvatore, Yale's David Blight and Beverly Gage, CUNY's Eric Alterman, Ted Widmer of Washington College, and Rick Perlstein, an independent scholar. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.
See also: John Podhoretz,"'Path' Missed the Real 9/11 Story," NY Post, 8 September.
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Jonathan Dresner - 9/10/2006


If you really want to get into it, I think this is one of the more-or-less-canonical rebuttal sites (it's certainly the one I keep seeing links to).

I don't make any claims for or against the movie, the site, or the issue. I merely note the source, and that, much as I don't bother citing specific errors in Michelle Malkin's "research", many people feel that Moore's flaws have been sufficiently flayed to be not worth rehashing.

Adam Kotsko - 9/9/2006

I know it's self-evident that Moore's movie must be absolute filthy lies -- but no one ever seems to cite a particular lie. Surely if it's full of them, you can humor me and name one outright falsehood.

Oscar Chamberlain - 9/9/2006

Christopher. You mistake my point.

the proper comparison would be if ABC--or any other brodacaster--had promoted Moore's movie in the same manner that it has promoted this movie.

If from the beginning, ABC had promoted this as, let's say, a "fact-based, controversial movie of the war on terror before 9/11 from the perspective of the Bush administration" there would be much less reason for objection.

Brett Abbott - 9/9/2006

Pre censoring the discussion is foolish. If 'leading historians' have something to say on this topic they are welcome to. I am very, very reluctant to pre censor the marketplace of ideas, even if the sources are biased. This is a prime time television show, honestly the public is plenty smart enough to know everything depicted isn't exactly as it happened. I wasn't surprised by the politicians hollering, but the 'leading historians' disappoint me.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/9/2006

You know the hottest DVD on the GOP block is going to be the "pre-protest edit." Nobody's being restrained in any meaningful fashion. "Putting pressure" isn't censorship: it's free speech and free association.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/9/2006

You do understand, I think, that the historians' objection to "the falsification of history" would include, but not be limited to, the defamation of Albright. I think the historians have every obligation to object to a partisan hack job on a deeply felt emotional issue as we move into mid-term election season in which the administration's last desperate hope is to appeal to our fears.

Christopher Newman - 9/9/2006

There you have it, folks. If it ain't the unvarnished truth, untainted by any spot of falsehood, deception or distortion -- like Fahrenheit 911 -- Mr. Kotsko and the rest of the philosopher kings are going to make sure you won't see it.

Christopher Newman - 9/9/2006

And, by the way, the potential specific defamation of Albright isn't what the Leading Historians object to -- they want ABC to pull the plug because they're apparently on some grand mission to prevent the American public being misinformed about their history. Well, to paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, they've got a lot of preventin' to do.

Christopher Newman - 9/9/2006

No, of course I don't have a problem with Madeline Albright complaining about defamation. That's what the whole free speech idea is about, isn't it? I have a problem with her suggestion that the entire movie be pulled instead of edited to correct the defamation (if indeed it occurs in the film).

Let me ask you this, though. What did you think of the CBS decision not to air the Reagan movie?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/9/2006

You have a problem with Madelyn Albright complaining about defamation? If it defames her, is it your position that you have a right to see the defamation take place simply so you can decide for yourself whether she's been defamed or not? Must I insist that you be defamed on national television so that I can make up my own mind about whether you've been defamed or not? Even Tom Kean admits that words and actions are attributed to her in the scripted version that were not her position.

Christopher Newman - 9/9/2006

Ralph, the issue for me is that I don't want partisans from either end of the political spectrum deciding what's propaganda and what's not -- especially when they haven't even seen it -- and then patting me on the head and telling me I shouldn't be able to watch it. The assumption is that the I'm too stupid to figure it out for myself and I need a priesthood of Leading Historians ringing a bell in the back of the church, a la Cinema Paradiso, to make sure I don't see anything that will confuse or corrupt me.

Adam Kotsko - 9/9/2006

What falsehoods did Moore's movie include?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/9/2006

That's what you say the issue is. Why won't you deal with the fact that the producers hired writers who were inclined to write the story to benefit the Bush administration, hired only the Republican co-chair of the 9/11 commission as a consultant (excluding the co-chair who is a Democrat), and aired the previews only to Republicans? Because you want to be propagandized; and you want the public to be propagandized in an election season.

Grant W Jones - 9/9/2006

Actually the issue is no longer the truth of a documentary that most who are interested in have not yet seen. The issue are United States senators who believe they have the right to exercise prior retraint to prevent the viewing of any documentary. The day will come when the shoe is on the other foot and the historians will cry foul. However the precedent will be in place if the Senators get their way.

Manan Ahmed - 9/9/2006

I’m Irish and I believe in ghosts,” he said. “I don’t want to be haunted.”

Ralph E. Luker - 9/9/2006

Absolutely. If you want to check Cliopatria's archives, you'll find that I was among the first to congratulate those who discovered and proved that the report Dan Rather gave was bogus.

Christopher Newman - 9/8/2006


Read the letter. The "leading historians" aren't protesting the presumed lack of objectivity; they're protesting the distortion of history -- a sin that Moore's "documentary" was as guilty of as the ABC "docudrama" is (or presumably is). Or are you suggesting that once Moore admitted his bias or retroactively designated his work a "satire" instead of a "documentary," he is absolved of the responsibility to be careful about accuracy and historical distortions?

Ralph, I'll take your word for it that everything that you say is clear about the production *is,* in fact, clear. If so, how is it different from any number of other narratives (of both the news and drama variety) which could be called partisan propaganda? Dan Rather's "fake but accurate" National Guard memo story comes to mind. Would you have advocated pulling that report if critics had raised questions -- based on advance descriptions on its content -- about its objectivity prior to its airing?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/8/2006

It's very clear that the producers of this docu-drama intended to produce -- not an even-handed narrative -- but a partisan piece of propaganda -- on the anniversary of 9/11 in what just accidentally happens to be the outset of the fall election's campaign. From the writers they hired, to the consultants they chose (Tom Kean's a decent man, but his son _is_ a candidate for the Senate from New Jersey this year; why wasn't Lee Hamilton hired as a consultant for the sake of balance?), to the audience who pre-viewed it.

Oscar Chamberlain - 9/8/2006

I'm uncomfortable in all sort of directions. ABC's PR has been to sell this as fact. They underscored this with the sort of commercial free ambiance that is reserved for serious documentaries or movies like Schindler's List. To the extent the protest has centered on that, on ABC's pretending that this was more than a glorified TV movie produced in a manner that legitimately raises questions of bias, I support it wholeheartedly.

But to ask not simply for honesty about what the movie is but for its cancellation is something else. It's not wrong, but it does smack of countering bias with bias, particularly when some of the historians listed, Wilentz comes to mind, usually only enter the debate over contemporary issues in a partisan fashion.

(PS Michael Moore never pretended to be objective; so taking them to task for not protesting that is a false comparison.)

Christopher Newman - 9/8/2006

Gotta hand it to those "leading historians." They're all over that "preventing Americans from being misinformed about their history" stuff.

Remember this one?

"We write as professional historians, who are deeply concerned by the continuing reports about the release of 'Fahrenheit 911.' These reports document that this drama contains numerous flagrant falsehoods about critical events in recent American history. The key participants and eyewitnesses to these events state that the script distorts and even fabricates evidence into order to mislead viewers about the political aftermath of September 11.

The claim by the show's producers and defenders that these falsehoods are permissible because the show is merely a dramatization, is disingenuous and dangerous given their assertions that the show is also a documentary, based on authoritative historical evidence. Whatever the studio's motivations might be, screening these falsehoods, connected to the most traumatic historical event of our times, would be a gross disservice to the public. A responsible film studio should have nothing to do with the falsification of history, except to expose it. We strongly urge you to stop the film's distribution and prevent misinforming Americans about their history."

Oh, wait a minute . . . they never sent that one. Can't catch 'em all, eh, Leading Historians? But keep fighting the good fight, O brave defenders of Hitorical Truth, Justice, and The American Way.

Anyway, I kinda wish those "leading historians" had been around to urge prior restraint in the case of Hogan's Heroes.

[And yes, Ralph, I understand the difference between broadcasting a "docudrama" on the public airwaves and asking people to pay to see a film in a movie theater, but for the purposes of the "Leading Historians" who signed this letter, the imperative of preventing Americans from being misinformed about their history seems to apply in both cases.]

I lauged at whatever network it was that pulled the Reagan show, and I'm laughing now. I do find it kind of troubling, however, that in this case, censorship is being urged by a lot of people I would have expected to know better.

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