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Partisanship Underlies Veneer of Fairness in 'Fox and Friends' Treatment of ABC Film

Reported by Judy - September 11, 2006 -

Fox News began its coverage of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 on Monday (September 11, 2006) with somber video and music and interviews recalling the day of attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, but then quickly switched to subtle partisan messages.

The "Fox and Friends" co-hosts dispensed with most of their usual smarminess and sarcasm to try to bring a dignified air to the occasion. They mostly succeeded, except when it came time to discuss ABC's airing of its controversial film "The Path to 9/11." The two-hour show featured two segment on the film, and after an interview with Republican 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Tom Kean last week, finally brought on a Democratic member to respond.

Co-host Steve Doocy stressed ABC's decision to edit the film after public pressure and its failure to term it a "docu-drama" or a "documentary." He seemed to think that should allay any concerns about its factual accuracy, even though ABC still said it was based on the 9/11 Commission report and other non-fiction sources to give the impression of authenticity. "It was 20 minutes shorter after all the chopping," he said.

E.D. Hill referenced the removal from the film of inaccurate claims that former President Clinton was too distracted by the Republican-led impeachment effort over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky to focus on Osama bin Laden.

"People who have seen it in its entirety now say that what the effect has on the movie, the changes that they’ve made since the criticism arose, is that it deflects blame from basically everyone. You can’t point a finger and say Sandy Berger messed up here, and George Tenet messed up there, and Madeline Albright messed up there, and now it just sort of softens everything out," she said, apparently disappointed that the world is so gray rather than black and white.

Brian Kilmeade, however, did find a way to blame Madeline Albright, claiming that in August 1998 Albright messed up a chance for cruise missiles to hit bin Laden because she called Pakistani officials to tell them of the missile strike. "She said we had to call to tip them off, it's a very hot region, we don't want to have a conflict with India because they think that India is bombing them and that essentially they say and lay blame on that phone call, not saying that she did it where it was originally in the final cut, but the new cut just showed a phone call was made over there, that is true," he said.

The commission report actually says that "the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was sent to meet with Pakistan's army chief of staff to assure him the missiles were not coming from India." (p. 117) There is no mention of Albright.

Hill then seemed to criticize the makers of the ABC film, saying, "I agree with Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the historian, and he said, if you’re going to do something like this, you have so much specific source information, you could do it, and you could make it a documentary. I don’t think that it takes away any of the thrill of it, the sinister aspects of it. It doesn’t take away any of that stuff that sells a movie by making it honest and real."

Missing from the discussion was any reference to the right-wing in financing, writing, and producing the film. Nor did they mention any conservative criticism of the film, although there was.

Instead, "Fox and Friends" chose to portray this as purely a partisan fight, with Democrats all on one side and Republicans all on the other. To further drive home that inaccuracy, they paired the controversy over the 9/11 film with a report on the screening in Toronto of a British film showing a fictional assassination of George Bush in Chicago in 2007.

"Not much outrage there from the Clinton camp with this assassinaton attempt, but a lot of people upset obviously here in this country about the taking out of the president because it looked so real," said Kilmeade, apparently not understanding that the president is never "taken out."

Added Hill, "It is interesting when it goes after a Republican you hear from one group. When it goes after a Democrat you hear from another goup and we’re seeing both of that today. It makes you question regardless of where you stand politically whether or not this sort of thing is acceptable and you take something and fictionalize it about a living president."

After a few intervening segments, "Fox and Friends" returned to the subject with an interview with former 9/11 Commission member Democrat Tim Roemer, a former Indiana congressman.

Doocy again claimed, falsely, that only Democrats had complained. "Before the movie ran last night, there were a number of Democrats, a number of Clinton administration officials, who said, wait a minute, this is not accurate, abc’s going to have to pull the film. I watched it last night. I thought it ws really powerful."

Roemer set him straight, saying, "Certainly it’s powerful, Steve, but I think it also has to be factually accurate, and we put together a 9/11 accurate, factual report. We put politics aside. We tried to look at what the families lost and how it affects the country, how to heal the country and how to move forward and I think it’s just a shame if the facts are there that you have to compress events, and make up characters and fictionalize a fact-finding report."

In questioning Roemer, Doocy also stated as fact one of the disputed scenes of the film, saying, "A couple of scenes were pulled. One scene wrhere Madeline Albright apparently tipped off the Pakistanis and eventually led to bin Laden's skedaling so that we couldn't take him out. That was left in."

It was left to Roemer to point out another inaccuracy in the film, which none of the "Fox and Friends" had bothered to mention. "I think I’d give ABC some D’s and F’s for the accuracy of some fact-finding that the 9/.11 Commission did in terms of a couple of scenes from Afghanistan. In particular, there was one that showed that there was an operation going on in the field with Massoud who is a northern alliance chief. In fact, Massoud was never there. The operation was never in the field. There were no CIA people there on that particular operation. There were tribals."

Although trying to look balanced, "Fox and Friends" managed to leave out enough information and to include enough questionable information to result in a viewer thinking the film was a fair representation of the events leading up to 9/11.