BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This Sunday, in time to mark the anniversary of 9/11, the Showtime cable channel is offering a docudrama called DC 9-11 which purports to be an intimate look at the first nine days of the tragedy from inside the White House. Two solid hours of resolute, unwavering leadership. [CLIP PLAYS]
"PRESIDENT BUSH": If we succeed in ridding Afghanistan of Al Qaeda, we send a serious message to other regimes -- Iran, for example -- that there is no future in harboring terrorists.
"PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR:" Do we? Sir I can assure you the entire international community is in the coalition to eliminate Al Qaeda, but if we begin extending to other groups or states, those allies will begin dropping away.
"PRESIDENT BUSH": At some point, we may be the only ones left standing, and that will have to be okay. That's why we're America.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lionel Chetwynd wrote and produced the docu-dramatic portrayal of the president under pressure called DC 9-11: Time of Crisis. Lionel welcome to On the Media!
LIONEL CHETWYND: Pleased to be here, Brooke!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So first of all describe the kind of access you had with the administration while you were writing and shooting. Who did you get to interview?
LIONEL CHETWYND: I interviewed amongst others Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, Mary Matalin, Karen Hughes -- and then I had a-- a meeting, one on one, with the president in the Oval Office that lasted 57 minutes, actually.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And did the White House have to approve your script?
LIONEL CHETWYND:No. Absolutely not. The White House has been scrupulous from the beginning -- I make no secret of my political affiliation -- I am a Republican -- and as such, immediately after 9/11 I was approached by a number of people in Hollywood who are typically Democrats. They said, you know, what can we do for the government? I made contact with the people whom, whom I knew in the White House -- I said, look there's a lot of people out here who want to do things - they, they want to be involved -- major filmmakers who want to do documentaries and so on and so forth. And the White House immediately said look, we don't want to get involved in that. First of all, we are not particularly media savvy when it comes to Hollywood, which is true -- they're not. But most particularly we don't ever want to be involved in content --ever. And that was the way they approached this film.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So what you're saying is that if to some viewers, to this viewer, for instance, the, the movie plays like a two hour campaign commercial, that isn't because the White House made it that way.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- the viewers' supposed inside look runs counter to the facts as they've emerged after 9/11. The supposed threat to the president's plane which subsequent investigations suggests was bogus, the repeated assertions in your film that Iraq definitely harbors weapons of mass destruction -- now they may have believed those things at the time, but did it make you cringe in retrospect that there's no effort in the film to offer a corrective?
LIONEL CHETWYND: I would have been quite prepared, and would be quite prepared now to do a film that takes into account all of our subsequent knowledge and our subsequent information. A very clear decision was made not to do that, and let me tell you why. The conceit of the film is inside the White House -- see what they see -know what they know -- understand what they understood -- only in the context of their existence for those nine days.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And in your view, this is an -- to the best of your knowledge -- the way that people in the White House talk. I mean what looked like comic strip heroes to me -- a kind of Justice League dressed in suits sharing in the commander in chief's articulate wisdom as in the scene when the president is speaking to Condoleezza Rice about what motivates terrorism and what is great about life in America -- in your view this is how people really speak in the White House.
LIONEL CHETWYND: In my experience -- not in my view -- in my experience. [CLIP PLAYS]
"CONDOLEEZZA RICE": Terrorists don't hate people for what they do. They hate them for what they are.
"PRESIDENT BUSH": Modernity. Pluralism. Freedom. These are good things, Connie. Liberty is God's gift. It is not negotiable on this watch, and that is the policy.
LIONEL CHETWYND: Modernity and pluralism! People really do talk about this! It's one of the reasons why this president is likely to be re-elected in my opinion!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I noticed you also took the opportunity to clear away some untidy media myths, I guess, as Ari Fleischer calls them in this scene with presidential image maker Karl Rove. [CLIP PLAYS]
"KARL ROVE": See the op-ed column? [PAPERS RUSTLING] The one about the photograph of POTUS on the Air Force One telephone? [PAPERS RUSTLING] [READING] "Is he demanding that his real keeper, Cheney, let him go home?" [LAUGHS]
"ARI FLEISCHER": Karl, it's to be expected.
"KARL ROVE": Is it?
"ARI FLEISCHER": Most of them get it. The Cheney-runs-the-show myth is always going to be with some of them, but every day more and more see what's really going on here.
"KARL ROVE": Good!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm just curious -- why'd you put that in?
LIONEL CHETWYND: Well because at the time I was writing the script, that was a dominant theme, and it was one of the things that they were wrestling with, and I was trying to reflect what was going on and at the time, this was what was being said. Maureen Dowd was saying it, Paul Begala was saying it -- with due respect to a, a number of people on NPR -- they were saying it -- ah, he's just a dummy and he's a-- not up to this and Cheney is really doing it. That was -- in those nine days -- that was the issue with which Ari Fleischer had to deal!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Was there ever any debate over using the actual news footage from September 11th in combination with the scripted and, and dramatized material? Let, let me just say for the listeners who haven't seen it -- it sometimes had the effect of watching Forrest Gump with news clips interspersed with the dramatic events at, at Ground Zero and the Washington Cathedral, on the floor of the Capitol and so forth.
LIONEL CHETWYND: You, you know you can hold this program if you wish to a different standard, but I would say that the use made of that footage is a lot less maudlin and exploitive than a lot of what you see on the so-called news programs that proliferate on a lot of the networks in prime time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I noticed you used the actual image of President Bush in close proximity with the actor playing him, Timothy Bottoms. Was this device intended to drive home the message that this docudrama is in fact the real truth?
LIONEL CHETWYND: At the end of the film, the very last moment of the speech is turned over to President Bush. Lot of discussion about that -- but at the last moment, it's just really an attempt not to push Bush but really an attempt to remind people there was a moment, and the moment that's selected is very specific, and it's not about politics, it's not about policy -- it's a very gentle moment that is worth putting in the hands of the president, trying to remind us all who we were at that moment and how we felt-- not about him so much as about one another and about who we had lost on that day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Lionel Chetwynd is the writer and producer of DC 9-11 which airs on the Showtime cable channel this Sunday. Thank you very much!