I called WPLG this morning to try to persuade them not to run the ‘Path to 9/11’ movie. (I emailed a couple of days ago but didn’t get an answer.) The Miami number (305) 576-1010 just takes you to an unhelpful automated telephone menu with no options that seemed appropriate for complaints about programming. I finally picked the news desk and asked for the general manger; they sent me back to the automated menu.
Fortunately, Google allowed me to find the name of the general manager, so on my next call I was able to pick his name out of the automated directory. I’m not going to print it here in the hopes that he won’t get too inundated with telephone calls, just those from the well-informed and highly motivated. I don’t think harassment is likely to be effective here. If you do call, please be polite. I also suggest writing out the main points you want to make before you place the call. (Good sources of inspiration include ThinkProgress and Open Letter to ABC and this post at The Carpetbagger Report.)
It was a frustrating conversation, which got off the wrong foot when the GM tried to suggest his hands were tied without actually saying so in so many words and I forcefully said that since WPLG isn’t ABC-owned it has a choice to make. (In fact, Wikipedia says that WPLG is owned by a subsidiary of the Washington Post.)
Main point: WPLG plans to air ‘The Path to 9/11’. During a 20 minute or so call with a generally polite but sometimes exasperated and occasionally almost bullying GM (in all fairness, I gave as good as I got), I was offered the following justifications which I’ve summarized and paraphrased below (my responses in parenthesis):
- It’s just a movie. (But that’s not how it was promoted, including a big glossy ad that came with this morning’s Miami Herald saying “based on the 9/11 commission report” right across the top. Anyway, running a one-sided drama on a critical national issue shortly before a key election can be harmful in itself).
- We’ll be running a disclaimer several times during the show, the full text of which is quoted below. (But these are not as effective as images; they will fail to undo the harm done by the film; and of course they can’t substitute for what’s missing.)
- They are proud of the news division and hold it to the highest standards of accuracy. (I said, does that mean those standards don’t apply to movies, and was accused of putting words in his mouth).
- Wasn’t their coverage of 9/11 tremendous? (I said I didn’t have a photographic memory for what they did five years ago, and even if it was great that didn’t alter the choice facing them now).
- People like me want to censor everything they disagree with on TV and in Blockbuster (I said I didn’t want the government to prevent him from showing it, I wanted him to make an independent moral choice. And there’s lots of stuff on TV I disagree with, but this was the first time I’d ever called him.)
- I can’t (or shouldn’t) criticize the movie until I’ve seen it (I suggested that  ABC had controlled who could see it in advance and  there were many actions in life where it was appropriate to try to prevent something rather than wait until after the damage was done — and this was one of them).
- The effects of this movie will be positive as it is creating a useful debate that we wouldn’t otherwise have had. (Couldn’t you justify airing any false thing with that argument?) [Incidentally, this counter-argument, and the hypos I offered to support it produced the most anger: how could I make such generalizations!?! I’m afraid I didn’t say what I do for a living.]
- I’ve made up my mind on the issue. (Yes, I said, and now I want to change yours.)
The only thing I said that seemed to even give him pause was when I said I’d be contacting local advertisers. To the response that there will be no ads during the program I said that money was fungible, that advertisers in other parts of the country were pulling ads for a week around the show to make a point. He didn’t like that. To the claim that I was trying to interfere with his freedom of speech, I said, no, I supported his freedom and wanted him to use it in a responsible way; if he didn’t I had the freedom to criticize him and to urge others not to support him financially.
At one point towards the end of our conversation I asked what it would take to convince him that the film shouldn’t run, if there was any amount of error or misleading that would suffice, but never got a straight answer. When I suggested that meant there was no amount of error that could block a ‘docudrama’ I was again told not to put words in his mouth. But if there is a local standard here, I was unable to get an articulation of it.
So, left with no alternative, I’ve started by contacting ABC’s national advertisers whose products I currently use. But doing it on a local level would be much, much more effective. Anyone have a list of local WPLG advertisers?
Meanwhile, here’s the full text of the disclaimer that WPLG’s General Manger kindly faxed me; he told me they will be running this “throughout” the ‘Path to 9/11’:
The following movie is a dramatization that is drawn from a variety of sources including the 9/11 Commission Report and other published materials, and from personal interviews. The movie is not a documentary. For dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression.
My impression is that disclaimers do almost nothing compared to the impact of a dramatic scene and that they fail utterly at making up for what’s left out if a story is told in a one-sided way; WPLG’s manager emphatically disagreed.
I was invited to call back after I saw the show, but frankly I don’t think I would want to spend several hours of my life being propagandized and then have to make an effort to sort truth from fiction. As someone who reads history books and newspapers, I’ve always avoided watching docudramas in the past to avoid the mental confusions they threaten to create and I don’t think I want to start with this one. But if there are any local experts around who want the job, I have someone you might like to talk to afterwards. Not that I expect it could possibly achieve anything meaningful after the damage is done…