[Editor's Note: The following press reviews are for the original April 1999 broadcast of this documentary. This report was updated and rebroadcast two nights after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.]
"'Hunting Bin Laden' is another strong hour from this durable documentary series, the difference this time being its collaboration here with the
New York Times on a story that raises doubts about the way the U.S. has chosen to counterpunch Bin Laden. That includes cruise missile attacks on
Afghanistan and Sudan, where the U.S. targeted a pharmaceutical factory that it claimed was making lethal nerve gas with Bin Laden's assistance.
'Frontline' finds 'problems' with that hypothesis.
'Frontline' reporter Lowell Bergman conducted a wide range of interviews for this documentary. Bergman is the very able former '60 Minutes' field
producer whose seminal role in that program's controversial Brown & Williamson tobacco wars is depicted in a coming theatrical feature in which he is
played by Al Pacino.
Who is Bin Laden, whom 'Frontline' titles 'the most wanted man on Earth?' The documentary provides no definitive answer but does pierce a bit of the
mystique. And in exploring his activities and U.S. fixation on him, it provides a rare Islamic view of some of this nation's policies in the Middle East."
The United States seems perennially in need of a monolithic enemy -- a Red Menace, an Evil Empire -- to stay motivated and unified, and the more simply
definable, the better. This is an underlying theme of 'Hunting Bin Laden," which examines Osama bin Laden as today's evil foil of choice
and the focus of an enormous US law enforcement effort and deadly military action.
While the program doesn't break any news, it casts serious and credible doubt on our whole approach to the issue of anti-American Muslim terrorism. Our
demon-driven foreign policy, this 'Frontline' persuasively suggests, creates more enemies by making martyrs of figures like bin Laden and obscures from
view a rising tide of populist anti-Americanism that needs to be understood rather than denied.
For all its worthy information and provocative implications, this busy word-and-talking-head-driven report is not always easy to stick with on television.
While more serious TV journalism on similar subjects is needed, it should not be too precisely modeled on 'Hunting Bin Laden,' which
unfolds like a long, challenging investigative newspaper article too literally translated to the small screen."
"Tonight's 'Frontline' contains no shocking factual revelations and no dazzling stylistic innovations, but it is an unusually clear and comprehensive look at
the messy business of anti-U.S. terrorism.
Using previous public statements by American officials, classified documents, interviews with a wide range of Islamic activists, the insights of former CIA
operatives and a group session with American citizens who are Muslims, 'Frontline' marshals a wealth of material suggesting that past and current U.S.
policies may be misinformed, misguided and counter-productive.
Understanding the forces that drive anti-U.S. terrorism and sorting out the motives and objectives of the players are not simple matters. Tonight's
"'Hunting Bin Laden,' a production of Frontline and The New York Times, is an ambitious attempt to profile the elusive Mr. bin Laden and to
investigate the motives behind last summer's terrorist bombings at embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, for which he has been blamed.
That is a lot to tackle in an hour, and not all the questions are fully answered. But the program does provide some interesting insights on the sources of Mr.
bin Laden's hostility and his movement, which seems to have had its roots in Afghanistan's war against the Soviet Union, in which Mr. bin Laden fought.
There are a surprising number of interviews with those who seem to sympathize with Mr. bin Laden. The intention was perhaps to be journalistically fair to a
terrorist who typically gets cast as the heavy. But at times the program seems to be
offering a few too many rationalizations for Mr. bin Laden's hardened attitudes.
"'Hunting Bin Laden' plays on camera like a well written Frederick Forsyth novel.
'Frontline' traces bin Laden's early personal and professional background, which led to his terrorist agenda. Correspondents also track other central figures
in the African bombing plots to points around the world to discover their connections and reasons for hating the U.S....
As it normally does, 'Frontline' has taken a complicated international news story and broken it down in terms average viewers can comprehend."
"A compelling 'Frontline' installment...
An amazing and frustrating aspect of bin Laden's hatred of America is that it stems from a good deed we did, the liberation of Kuwait. This entailed U.S.
troops using Saudi Arabia as a base. That some troops remain there -- near Mecca, the Islamic world's holy city -- is a religious affront to bin Laden and his
followers, who also oppose the pro-West Saudi Arabian monarchy...
But it isn't only Islamic hardliners who resent Americans occupying parts of their holy land. 'Frontline' interviews Muslims in the Dallas suburb of
Arlington, Texas, who have assimilated into American life yet hold the same views.
'Hunting Bin Laden' succeeds more in providing background and insights into bin Laden than revealing fresh information. It is also
compromised by the common bane of documentaries, too many talking heads. However, what they have to say is compelling. When someone is dedicated
to killing you, it's nice to at least know why."