The Unslammed Phone
By MAUREEN DOWD
Sandy Berger is lucky they didn’t show him stuffing government documents into his bra.
After all, cinematic license is cinematic license.
Regarding ABC’s tarted-up 9/11 movie that sparked a furor among Clintonites who felt they were unfairly blamed for the rise of Osama, I hate to be so quaint as to defend reality. There’s not much point. It’s as dead as dial-up.
In Hollywood, reality comes with quotation marks around it, as in fixed and scripted “reality” shows. In New York, hybrids of fiction and nonfiction are lavishly rewarded; publishers want the reality part to sell the fiction part and the fiction part to enhance the reality part. In Washington, the Bush team is on a cynical and dangerous new pre-election push to present its fantasies about Iraq as reality, accusing reality-based critics of “moral or intellectual confusion,” as Rummy put it.
When a reporter asked President Bush a couple of weeks ago what Iraq had to do with 9/11, he blurted out the truth: “Nothing.” But momentarily dismissing that fantasy isn’t about to dissuade him from others. “One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror,’’ President Bush told Katie Couric this week. I bet. Making up is hard to do.
The administration’s shameless mau-mauing was undercut yesterday by a 376-page Senate Intelligence Committee report slapping Bush hawks for relying on the flawed information provided by Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress to help make the case for war. The report also reaffirmed that Saddam viewed Osama in a negative light, and unveiled a C.I.A. assessment rejecting the president’s continuing claims about prewar links between Saddam and the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The 2005 C.I.A. finding concluded that Saddam “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates.”
W. is pulling out all the stops this week to try to make people forget he was in charge when the twin towers were hit, but if he’s doing so great, why is Osama releasing new tapes while Afghanistan crumbles while Pakistan stands ready to implode while Lebanon has already exploded while Iran goes nuclear and taunts us while Al Qaeda in Iraq calls on its followers to kill Americans “by a sniper bullet, spear, explosive or martyrdom car”?
Conservatives are crowing at the prospect of an ABC movie written by one of their own that blames 9/11 on a flaccid Clinton national security team.
Bill was distracted by the Monica fallout, just as W. was distracted, on Osama and Katrina, by his insistence on living life as usual in Crawford. Bill had no natural inclination to use American force and fumbled on how to strike back at Osama. W., petulantly, did not want to focus on terrorism because his predecessor had.
W. had a clear narrative thread in 2001; all he needed to do was go after the bad guys who hit us. Instead, he obsessed about other bad guys who happened to pose no danger to us.
Why do presidents and filmmakers dealing with the most stunning events in recent American history feel the need to go beyond facts? Isn’t the dire actuality enough? Oliver Stone implied that Lyndon Johnson and Nixon might have been in some tortuous way connected to plots to kill J.F.K.
The ABC movie promoted itself as a serious work based on the 9/11 commission report and featuring Tom Kean, the commission’s co-chairman, as a co-executive producer. (It’s impossible to imagine Earl Warren producing a movie about the events in Dallas.) But if it’s making a claim upon people’s attention as a trustworthy and accurate description of events that bear on all our lives, you’ve got to stick with the truth. You can’t pick and choose when you want it to be history and when you want it to be art. (Quel art.)
Sandy Berger yelped about a scene that depicted him refusing to authorize a military strike to kill Osama and slamming down the phone on a C.I.A. officer at a key moment. Cyrus Nowrasteh, the Republican and Limbaugh pal who served as the writer and a producer, told KRLA-AM in Los Angeles that the scene was improvised.
They distorted history to throw in a standard cliché of melodrama? (The 9/11 Commission Report as Douglas Sirk would have filmed it.) Why compromise your movie by adding tacky things that don’t increase its aesthetic power and detract from its moral power?
The argument over which president is to blame for 9/11 is tiresome. Both obviously bear some blame. There are no West Wing heroes in this story.