David Horowitz: Sticky Fingers

At The Huffington Post, Max Blumenthal exposes the secret right-wing “network within the network” responsible for ABC’s “The Path to 9/11.”

“The Path to 9/11” is produced and promoted by a well-honed propaganda operation consisting of a network of little-known right-wingers working from within Hollywood to counter its supposedly liberal bias. This is the network within the ABC network. Its godfather is far right activist David Horowitz, who has worked for more than a decade to establish a right-wing presence in Hollywood and to discredit mainstream film and TV production. On this project, he is working with a secretive evangelical religious right group founded by The Path to 9/11’s director David Cunningham that proclaims its goal to “transform Hollywood” in line with its messianic vision.

Before The Path to 9/11 entered the production stage, Disney/ABC contracted David Cunningham as the film’s director. Cunningham is no ordinary Hollywood journeyman. He is in fact the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of the right-wing evangelical group Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The young Cunningham helped found an auxiliary of his father’s group called The Film Institute (TFI), which, according to its mission statement, is “dedicated to a Godly transformation and revolution TO and THROUGH the Film and Television industry.”

Cunningham hired a screenwriter with a suitably right-wing pedigree, Cyrus Nowrasteh, who was a featured speaker at the Liberty Film Festival, also a David Horowitz operation. Etc., etc., etc. The web of interconnections includes prominent members of the rightie media echo chamber and Richard Mellon Scaife, who bankrolled the Arkansas Project.

This isn’t the first time a rightie cabal connected to David Horowitz presented historical revisionism as drama to an unsuspecting television audience. Back in 2003 Showtime ran “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis,” which J. Hoberman of The Village Voice called “a shameless propaganda vehicle for our superstar president George W. Bush.” President Bush, played by Timothy Bottoms, was portrayed as clear and decisive rather than frozen and befuddled; the actual events of the day were re-ordered to show other administration officials (notably Veep Dick “the Dick” Cheney) in a better light. Hoberman observed,

The upcoming Showtime feature DC 9/11: Time of Crisis is a signal advance in the instant, ongoing fictionalization of American history, complete with the president fulminating most presidentially against “tinhorn terrorists,” decisively employing the word problematic in a complete sentence, selling a rationale for preemptive war, and presciently laying out American foreign policy for the next 18 months. …

…Scheduled for cablecast on September 7, DC 9/11 inaugurates Bush’s re-election campaign 50 weeks before the 9-11 Memorial Republican National Convention opens in Madison Square Garden. DC 9/11 also marks a new stage in the American cult of personality: the actual president as fictional protagonist.

There are, of course, precedents. “One of the original aspects of Soviet cinema is its daring in depicting contemporary historical personages, even living figures,” André Bazin dryly observed in his 1950 essay, “The Myth of Stalin in the Soviet Cinema.” It was one of the unique characteristics of Stalin-era Soviet movies that their infallible leader was regularly portrayed, by professional impersonators, as an all-wise demiurge in suitably grandiose historical dramas. So it is with DC 9/11, where documentary footage of the collapsing WTC is punctuated by the pronouncements of Bottoms’s Bush. …

…The movie is thus the story of Bush assuming command, first of his staffers (who attest to his new aura with numerous admiring reaction shots) and then the situation. He is the one who declares that “we are at war,” who firmly places Cheney (Lawrence Pressman) in his secure location—not once but twice. (To further make the point, Chetwynd has Scott Alan Smith’s Fleischer muse that the press refuses to get it: “The Cheney-runs-the-show myth is always going to be with some of them.”) Rudy Giuliani, who eclipsed Bush in the days following the attack, is conspicuously absent—or, rather, glimpsed only as a figure on television.

Rumsfeld (impersonated with frightening veracity by Broadway vet John Cunningham) emerges as the Soviet-style positive hero, embodying the logic of history. In the very first scene, he is seen hosting a congressional breakfast, invoking the 1993 attack on the WTC, and warning the dim-witted legislators that that was only the beginning. Rumsfeld is the first to utter the name “Saddam Hussein” and, over the pooh-poohs of Colin Powell (David Fonteno) goes on to detail Iraq’s awesome stockpile of WMDs. But there can be only one maximum leader. Increasingly tough and folksy, prone to strategically consulting his Bible, it is Bush who directs Rummy and Ashcroft to think in “unconventional ways.” This new Bush is continually educating his staff, instructing Rice in the significance of “modernity, pluralism, and freedom.” (As played by Penny Johnson Jerald, the president’s ex-wife on the Fox series 24, Condi is a sort of super-intelligent poodle—dogging her master’s steps, gazing into his eyes with rapt adoration.)

The screenwriter and co-executive producer of this monstrosity was Lionel Chetwynd, who in December 2001 had been appointed by Bush to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (quid pro quo?). Hoberman continues (emphasis added),

Chetwynd, whose vita includes such politically charged movies and telefilms as The Hanoi Hilton, The Heroes of Desert Storm, The Siege at Ruby Ridge, Kissinger and Nixon, and Varian’s War, is a prominent Hollywood conservative—a veteran of the 1980 Reagan campaign who, after Bill Clinton’s election 12 years later, was recruited by right-wing pop culture ideologue David Horowitz to set up the Wednesday Morning Club (“a platform in the entertainment community where a Henry Hyde can come and get a warm welcome and respectful hearing,” as Chetwynd later told The Nation).

Back to Max Blumenthal at The Huffington Post and the present:

Since the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1992, Horowitz has labored to create a network of politically active conservatives in Hollywood. His Hollywood nest centers around his Wednesday Morning Club [The link takes you to an article written by David Corn in 1999 about Chetwynd, Horowitz, and the establishment of the Wednesday Morning Club.], a weekly meet-and-greet session for Left Coast conservatives that has been graced with speeches by the likes of Newt Gingrich, Victor Davis Hanson and Christopher Hitchens. The group’s headquarters are at the offices of Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a “think tank” bankrolled for years with millions by right-wing sugardaddies like eccentric far right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. (Scaife financed the Arkansas Project, a $2.3 million dirty tricks operation that included paying sources for negative stories about Bill Clinton that turned out to be false.)

Make no mistake; “Path to 9/11” is a considerably more ambitious project than “DC 9/11.” “Path” is on broadcast network instead of cable, creating a larger potential audience. And ABC tried to pass “Path” off as the official film version of the respected p/11 Commission report, complete with school classroom materials furnished by Scholastic.

But there’s another big difference between Then and Now: reaction from the Left. The 2003 drama came and went with little more than grumbling. But this past week has seen the Left Blogosphere and many “establishment” media writers and Democrats work together to discredit if not stop the broadcast of “Path to 9/11.” It’s a good change.


Back in 2003 Kristen Breitweiser called “DC 9/11” a “mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.”

Interesting take from Billmon, writing in May 2003, on “DC 9/11”:

The Republican campaign to turn President Bush into an imitation war hero is definitely one of the more interesting propaganda tactics to emerge from the Iraq invasion. The made-for-TV movie — like the Top Gun scene filmed aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln — seems aimed at filling in a weak spot in Bush’s public image, something which must have been identified in the campaign’s polling or focus group work. …

…The odd thing is that the American people seem inclined to give Bush a pass on his 9/11 performance — as they did on his less-than-heroic record during the Vietnam War. The polls I’ve seen all show Bush scoring very high on the “strong leader” question.

So why is the Karl Rove Construction Co. pouring so much concrete into building Shrub his very own cult of personality?

Maybe there is something in the polling details — or the focus group interviews — that makes Rove uneasy about the true strength of Bush’s strength on the strong leader question. Maybe they’re afraid more evidence will come to light about the president’s actions on 9/11 — or about his mysterious absence from his National Guard flight duties — and they’re trying to inoculate him in advance.

Or, maybe they’ve concluded that John Kerry is the likely Democratic nominee, and are already moving to counter Kerry’s war bio, which they know will be both his main defense against the “Massachusetts liberal” charge, and his main credential for attacking Bush on his conduct of the war on terrorism.

Maybe it’s all of the above.

18 thoughts on “David Horowitz: Sticky Fingers

  1. I know that there are major political issues one could get worked up about right now (growing evidence that Bush & Co. are fixing to attack Iran currently tops my list). But I am REALLY steamed about this “Path to 9/11” BS. The filmmakers are rewriting history two months before a major national election, in direct contradiction to the 9/11 Commission Report upon which the film is supposedly based.

    Thanks maha for pointing us to the Blumenthal article and to Horowitz’s involvement in all of this. I think these are also particularly good analyses:

    This incident – especially how ABC and Disney miscalculated the public backlash – also seems to lend strong support to your contention that righties think they “own” 9/11 as their own personal historical tragedy.

  2. The only relevant question is: Did Bill Clinton or any other president, while in office, require that his political allies put up millions to produce, direct ,broadcast and disseminate to schools docudrama movies that cast him favorably while lying about the roles of everyone else in events that happened during his presidency? The answer is no, but Stalin did it while in office and perhaps Kim Jong Il. This movie ABC is airing is the 2nd such movie made this way. And what does that tell you ? The United States has sunk this low?
    Seriously- when Bill Clinton was in trouble with Monica, did we watch movies rewriting the events so we would judge him differently, 2 months before an election?

  3. Tim Bottoms plays the POTUS in the film, eh?
    I was wondering where he has been since “That’s My Bush!” was cancelled soon after the attacks on 9/11.
    What a world of coincidences. Looking at recent history, isn’t it strange that everything rolled to the right after a certain President had a sexual relationship with a young Jewish girl who somehow weaseled her way into the Pentagon, then the White House.How a presidental election was tainted, the new president installed by the Supreme Court after votes counted by an appointee of the new presidents brother ( a person about to win an impossible race for a congressional seat!). How another brother of the president was connected to a security company contracted by the WTC and Dulles International Airport. The web is large and deep.A conspiracy nut’s dream soon to be a nightmare.
    Well, it looks as if the roll to the right is about to hit a brick wall, too many lies, too much implausible fiction. even the conservatives are waking up to this brave new world filled with fairies, demons, orcs, wizards, and trolls. the sunshine is breaking through, and sunshine is the best disinfectant
    “It is no measure of health to be sane in an insane society”

  4. Tim Bottoms plays the POTUS in the film, eh?

    In the Showtime 2003 film, yes. Bush doesn’t seem to have a part in the ABC film.

  5. Ah, yes, the docudrama. An effective propaganda genre – if that’s a genre. Non-fictional event, non-fictional characters, non-fictional date, non-fictional referenced source. The viewer will naturally surmise that none of the content is fictional. There’s the contrived deception. Why intersperse fiction with fact other than to deceive.

    Hopefully the American viewers, steeped in “reality” shows as we are will take it with a grain of salt. I have my doubts. Afterall, most people believe that a bunch of “survivors” on an island are the only people on the island. The production crew? None. Perhaps a spectral presence? Ghost writers yes, but a ghost film crew? Even Hollywood couldn’t pull that one off.

  6. I am imagining another docudrama put together by very creative types. In my imagined docudrama, all the rewriting bits to make
    Bush look good are drawn out and dramatized to utter peak levels. Every once in awhile, in this docudrama, do a low-key, quick but unexplained insert of pictures of reality [Katrina photo, Baghdad photo, gas price photo, Abu Ghraib photo, graph of national debt, photo of Jack Abramhoff, etc] Let the public get so saterated with the disconnects that they want to vomit.

  7. I’ve been outraged for days by this blatant propanda stunt. I wouldn’t care if PT911 were a theatrical release, like Fahrenheit 9/11: you go to the theater, pay your money, and see what you want. But this is such an abuse of the public airwaves, timed to appear before the election, and with companion indoctrination materials for millions of kids provided by Scholastic. What’s especially nauseating/frightening to me is Bush’s scheduled pre-emption of airtime during the middle of it.

    The whole thing is so eerily orchestrated. It reminds me a great deal of an old Star Trek episode, where the good guys landed on a planet that was kind of a parallel to Nazi Germany. The planet’s Great Leader – who as it turned out, was drugged – preempted the days’ TV propanda to give a speech, which of course was written by somebody else.

    The good news, as you point out, is the way the left has pulled together to close ranks around this turkey. I’m glad to see the Big Guns – Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the Democratic Senate Leadership rise up in outrage, in concert with millions of us nobodies who write on blogs. I’m glad, in particular to see the Senate Democrats threaten Disney/ABC with a hard look at their broadcast license and the copyright they’ve been holding on Mickey for what seems like perpetuity (Mickey was “born” in 1928 or so, and by any normal reckoning, his copyright should’ve expired years ago).

    I’m always amazed at how conservatives feel so threatened that they have to lie and distort the truth, and will go to extreme ends to do so. Reality is never good enough for them, because at their heart these people are so pathetically weak. And so they choose to be willfully ignorant, and try to enforce this ignorance on the rest of us, through stunts like PT911. They see themselves caught in a life or death battle, which sends their minds into disaster mode, justifying any nefarious deeds. For them, life is all about winning this titanic struggle, not in finding and trying to live by the truth, a truth that might cause them discomfort. And the rest of us, until we can overcome this childish pathology, get dragged down with them.

  8. I don’t know much about Walt Disney’s politics, but I would imagine that he wouldn’t be too happy having his successors use his name to create this ‘documockery’ in order to play partisan politics. More importantly, the Disney legacy was created from the entertainment of children. I think that Walt would be rolling over in his grave knowing that Disney had something to do with the attempt to ‘educate’ our children using such propaganda.

  9. Walt Disney was a right winger, there have been some posts in recent days detailing this (which of course I can’t find right now). I seem to remember reading about him testifying in Congress about how many in Hollywood were communists, a philosphy which he repudiated. Wish I could give you more than just my anecdotal impressions.

  10. At the heart of this issue must to be the issue of propaganda – not right-wing propaganda. The Constitution granted the press, which has evolved into the media, including TV radio & Internet, a special protected status. This is because they are the last defense of a free society, if Government has failed completely. With this privilege comes a huge responsability. Dan Rather was exiled for his failure to be perfect in living up to that responsability. It is appropriate and NESCESSARY for the viewing public to levy a huge penalty for ABC & Disney in their viewing habits and vacation choices, and be sure the corporate airheads who made this decision, pay the price. But on a larger scale, the broadcast and print media needs to examine unethical practices , selective reporting, or broadcasting propaganda for ANY point of view.

  11. Off topic…I just watched a video segment of Charles Gibson interviewing our Commander-in-Chief aboard Air Force One. Gibson asked how long will the war on terror last( what victory is)?. Bush responded by saying,” when the ideology of hate is overcome by the ideology of hope”…DUDE! Does anybody got any ideas of how to interpret that abstraction? It’s like the twelfth of never.

    A link to the video can be found at digby’s…If you want to see a study in evasiveness and deciet..check it out.

  12. I think if some enterprising blogger did some digging around we’d find that Roves slimy fingers are in this pie.
    It has all the hallmarks of a Rove production complete with the “steely dedider, Shrub” and trashing and smearing of a democrat (Clinton) with someone to put his dirty stuff in front. It comes complete with Bushyboy making a speech (tie in) sandwhiched between the 2 parts and just in time for elections.
    October surprise!

  13. It’s like the twelfth of never.

    It’s how children think. Someday all the bad things will stop and we will live happily ever after.

  14. I have yet to here any talk of economic retribution such as boycotting the sponsers of this broadcast. Is there any movement to do this?

  15. Ed – Oddly enough there are no sponsors for this show. How convenient!

    Might it be for one of the following reasons:

    Companies that were approached declined because they have a moral compass and did not want to sponsor such propaganda…… naaah!


    ABC/Disney did not ask for sponsors because they knew that people with half a brain would threaten to boycott them……. maybe?


    Sponsors were not needed because some rightwing zealots with deep pockets who believe that only they know the ‘truth’ is funding the entire thing and they don’t want to be accountable to anyone…………hmmmm!

  16. The show might have sponsors even if it is being shown without commercials. But does anyone know when the decision was made to run it without commercials? Was in awhile back or recently?

  17. Here’s an interesting idea…let ABC broadcast it and give the people decide. I know that’s a silly freedom of speech and expression argument…but this is America…or is it?

  18. Here’s an interesting idea…let ABC broadcast it and give the people decide.

    How can people “decide” if they’re shown only one version of events? And why should they “decide” when what they’re being shown is a pack of lies?

    If a “docudrama” represents itself as an honest and accurate version of events, and it isn’t, that’s propaganda. Not to mention fraud.

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