Hollywood is replete with awards ceremonies of all sorts, but during the weekend of November 10, it was the location of a novel one–the Liberty Film Festival. Inside the gleaming new Pacific Design Center on Melrose Avenue, conservative activists devoted to advancing their agenda within the film industry presented ABC’s vice president of special projects Judith Tukich with their Freedom of Expression Award.
Tukich was the ABC executive in charge of producing The Path to 9/11, the factually challenged “docudrama” that was broadcast for two nights in September to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Tukich not only brought the program to the air but also helped mobilize right-wing groups to rebut criticism that it had fabricated stories and distorted events to smear the Clinton Administration from former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, President Clinton and members of the 9/11 commission, among others. It was for her enterprise and tenacity that Tukich earned her award at the festival.
Accepting her prize before the assemblage of Republican consultants, conservative film producers and members of the far-right website Free Republic, Tukich radiated gratitude. “It was really my honor to work on such an important project,” she chirped.
I approached Tukich after the ceremony in the theater lobby and asked her if she thought it was appropriate for ABC to accept an award from an organization openly pushing an ideological conservative agenda inside Hollywood. After attempting to cover my voice recorder with her hand, she said, “ABC is a nonpartisan network.” When I repeated my question, she replied, “You should really talk to our media relations department.”
When I asked why she didn’t want to explain her involvement in producing and promoting The Path to 9/11, she bristled. “Accountable? What do you mean I have to be accountable?” Then she hustled toward an exit.
While Tukich can claim that ABC is “nonpartisan,” she can hardly say the same of herself. Indeed, Tukich is a right-wing evangelical described in a newsletter for the Foursquare Church as “radical about reforming political endeavors…especially in television and other areas of popular culture. She believes it is the grace of God that has allowed her as a conservative Christian Evangelical in the television and film industry, to influence projects that are released on the air today.” In 2000 Tukich told the newsletter of the National Religious Broadcasters Association, the Christian right’s media lobby, “The single greatest way to evangelize the world is through the media.” In 2004, Judith Tukich donated $1000 to George W. Bush’s campaign.
But before I could ask Tukich about her ulterior sectarian agenda, the screenwriter of The Path to 9/11, Cyrus Nowrasteh, rushed to her aid. “What are you going and harassing Judith for?” Nowrasteh demanded angrily. “Why don’t you come talk to me?”
Earlier that evening, Nowrasteh had stood beside Tukich to receive his own Freedom of Expression Award. “Cyrus is such a friend to this festival and to so many conservatives in Hollywood,” Liberty Film Festival co-founder Jason Apuzzo said in giving Nowrasteh the prize. Indeed, Nowrasteh is an outspoken conservative who claimed in an interview with the right-wing FrontPageMag.com, a month prior to the airing of The Path to 9/11, that Clinton’s “lack of response” to terrorism “emboldened bin Laden to keep attacking American interests.” Even as ABC denied requests from members of the Clinton Administration and even from the former President for advance DVDs of the film, Nowrasteh’s friend Govindini Murty, the other festival co-founder, was given an advance screening (thanks in part to Nowrasteh) and wrote the first review of it a week before critics from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times were able to view it. (“The Path to 9/11 is one of the best, most intelligent, most pro-American miniseries I’ve ever seen on TV, and conservatives should support it and promote it as vigorously as possible,” Murty wrote in FrontPageMag.com.)