By Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro
Amid an election-year debate over who can best defend America, U.S. congressional Democrats urged ABC-TV on Thursday to cancel a miniseries about the September 11 attacks that is critical of former Democratic President Bill Clinton and his top aides.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada denounced the television movie, set to air in two parts on Sunday and Monday nights, as "a work of fiction."
"Yes, they should pull it," Reid said as he unveiled Democrats’ latest proposals to improve domestic security and reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
The furor comes as Democrats and Republicans jockey for political position in advance of the November 7 congressional elections over who can best secure the United States from another attack.
Democrats have chided Republicans for failing to implement security recommendations by the 9/11 commission, and Republicans have portrayed Democrats as soft on terrorism.
In recent days, members of the Clinton administration also complained about the movie and urged ABC and its parent company, the Walt Disney Co., to fix or eliminate what they called errors and fabrications.
ABC issued a statement saying the production, "The Path to 9/11," was still being edited and that criticism of the film’s specifics were thus "premature and irresponsible."
Chronicling events leading to the September 11 attacks, the movie suggests the Clinton administration was too distracted by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal to deal properly with the gathering threat posed by Islamic militants.
A number of Clinton administration officials, including then-national security adviser Sandy Berger, are portrayed as having bungled an opportunity to capture al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The September 11 attacks occurred about eight months after Clinton turned over the presidency in January 2001 to Republican George W. Bush.
ABC said the movie was not a documentary but a dramatization drawn from the official 9/11 commission report, personal interviews and other materials.
"As such, for dramatic and narrative purposes, the film contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue and time compression," ABC said.
The statement concluded: "The attacks of 9/11 were a pivotal moment in our history, and it is fitting that the debate about the events related to the attacks continue. However, we hope viewers will watch the entire broadcast of the finished film before forming an opinion about it."
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Ellen Wulfhorst)
Copyright © 2006 Reuters