NEW YORK (AP) - ABC aired its miniseries "The Path to 9/11" on Sunday but made editing changes after former Clinton administration officials complained it contained fabricated scenes about their actions prior to the terrorist attacks.
ABC's editing of the five-hour movie, airing on two successive nights starting Sunday, was evident from the very beginning. Twice, the network de-emphasized the role of the 9/11 commission's final report as source material for the film.
The version that aired Sunday also changed a scene that, in a copy of the movie given to television critics a few weeks ago, indicated President Clinton's preoccupation with his potential impeachment may have affected an effort to go after Osama bin Laden.
In the original scene, an actor portraying White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke shares a limousine ride with FBI agent John O'Neill and tells him: "The Republicans are going all-out for impeachment. I just don't see in that climate the president's going to take chances" and give the order to kill bin Laden.
But in the film aired Sunday, Clarke says to O'Neill: "The president has assured me this ... won't affect his decision-making."
O'Neill replies: "So it's OK if somebody kills bin Laden, as long as he didn't give the order. It's pathetic."
The critics' version contained a note in the opening scenes that the film is "based on the 9/11 commission report." That was omitted from the film aired Sunday. A disclaimer aired three times emphasized it was not a documentary.
"For dramatic and narrative purposes the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression," the note that ran before the movie said.
The note said the material is "drawn from a variety of sources including the 9/11 commission report and other published materials and from personal interviews." That differs from a note in the critics' version that said the dramatization "is based on the 9/11 commission report and other published sources and personal interviews."
Critics, such as historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., said it was "disingenuous and dangerous" not to include accurate historical accounts in the movie.
A scene in the movie depicting a team of CIA operatives poised in darkness outside of bin Laden's fortess in Afghanistan, ready to attack, was substantially cut down from the original. Pictures of the waiting Afghanistan operatives are interspersed with those of officials in Washington, who had to approve the mission.
The original version depicted national security adviser Samuel R. Berger hanging up on CIA chief George Tenet as Tenet sought permission to attack bin Laden. The movie aired Sunday did not include Berger hanging up.
The affect of the changes is to deflect specific blame. It ends with actor Donnie Wahlberg, head of the CIA team in Afghanistan, saying, "Are there no men in Washington?"
Another scene in the critics' cut pictured O'Neill asking Clarke on the telephone: "What's Clinton going to do (about bin Laden)?"
Clarke replies, "I don't know. The Lewinsky thing is a noose around his neck."
This was cut entirely from the film that aired Sunday.
Editors left intact a scene that had angered former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, portraying her as being behind a move to inform the Pakistani government in advance of a U.S. missile strike against bin Laden. The movie indicated that was a key factor in bin Laden getting away.
The movie, scheduled to air from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., finished at 10:40 p.m. ET.
ABC has said little about the controversy, and said Sunday it would not comment.
Thomas Kean, head of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks and a backer of the film, said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that he hadn't seen the final cut of the movie but urged Americans to watch it.
"If people blame Bill Clinton after seeing this, then the miniseries has failed," said Kean, the former Republican New Jersey governor. "That's wrong and it shouldn't happen."
John Lehman, another Republican commission members, said on the ABC News show that he's told the film is equally harsh on the administrations of President Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush.
"And if you don't like the hits to the Clinton administration, well, welcome to the club," Lehman said. "The Republicans have lived with Michael Moore and Oliver Stone and most of Hollywood as a fact of life."
AP Television Writer Frazier Moore contributed to this report.
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