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American Airlines Threatens Legal Action Over ABC’s ‘Path to 9/11’

Sep 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

ABC’s airing of its “Path to 9/11” docudrama last night has drawn its first lawsuit threat, and the surprise is that it’s coming not from angry Democrats but from an “outraged” American Airlines.

One scene in the show’s first night featured hijacker Mohammed Atta walking up to an American Airlines counter in Boston. A warning pops up, but airline employees allow him to board anyway. Two American Airlines planes were hijacked in the 9/11 attacks, and Flight 11, with Mr. Atta aboard, crashed into the World Trade Center.

The warning depicted in the movie actually popped up when Mr. Atta went to board a plane from Maine to Boston, not in Boston, and the airline wasn’t American. Pre-9/11, warnings issued were to ensure that bags of last-minute passengers traveled with them.

Roger Frizzell, American’s VP of corporate communications and advertising, in an e-mail posted on liberal Web site Americablog.blogspot.com and confirmed by American as genuine, expressed astonishment at the scene.

“I think it is important for you to know that ABC had factual errors in its dramatization, and we are looking at possible legal actions as a result,” Mr. Frizzell said in the e-mail. “According to the 9/11 Commission Report, it was not American Airlines, nor was it even the right airport that was depicted.

“Please know this was a tragic incident in our company’s history and we hope you will be

sympathetic to our employees and our airline on this day especially.

“Again, we are outraged by this situation, and we alerted ABC about its

gross error. It is very unfortunate.”

In a public statement today, American was more restrained. “The Disney/ABC television program, ‘The Path to 9/11,’ is inaccurate and irresponsible in its portrayal of the airport check-in events that occurred on the morning of September 11, 2001,” said spokesman Tim Wagner. “A factual description of those events can be found in the official government edition of the 9/11 Commission Report and supporting documents.”

Up to now, Democrats have been the most outspoken about the program and had been trying to get changes or get the program pulled. They won some changes, but former Clinton Administration National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said today that the edited version was still flawed.

Mr. Berger didn’t say whether he plans to take the issue to court.

The original version of the show featured a segment in which Mr. Berger is shown slamming down a phone after refusing to order the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. The phone-slamming was edited out, along with some other changes ABC made. Berger said the scene still misrepresented the facts.

“ABC had an opportunity to edit this film to eliminate scenes that were untrue and in many cases directly contradicted by the 9/11 Report. They did not do so,” Berger said in a statement.

“It is an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Clinton Administration’s commitment to fighting Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. In particular, a scene depicting a meeting involving [CIA director] George Tenet and me about a proposed operation in Afghanistan against bin Laden never occurred—nor did anything like it ever occur—as we have repeatedly told ABC.”

ABC did not immediately return calls seeking comment.