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A film PBS wants unaired
For decades, conservatives have been among the taxpayers whose money has been made available in immense quantities to underwrite public broadcasting. Over the years, they have justifiably considerably resented that very little of that funding — by some estimates as much as $2.5 billion yearly — has been expended on projects that warrant their support.
In fact, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and its flagship stations (including Washington’s WETA) have frequently allowed use of the public airwaves to promote various agendas with which as much as half the population strongly disagreed. These have included many hourlong documentaries and other programs featuring vitriolic critiques of our government and its leaders, disparaging portrayals of our country’s policies and values and flattering portrayals, if not effusive endorsements, of those who share such sentiments.
To its credit, the leadership of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) launched an initiative several years ago to diversify the sources of documentary films in hopes of bringing different perspectives to the PBS audience about some of the most critical issues of our time. Thus was born the $20 million “America at a Crossroads” series which will begin airing on the PBS network in 11 prime-time segments starting Sunday night.
Unfortunately, the original vision of the CPB sponsors of the “Crossroads” series suffered at the hands of PBS and WETA when the project was turned over last year to those organizations to execute. To be sure, a few films about or by people perceived to be “conservatives” were among the 20 selected out of 440 proposals originally submitted as part of a rigorous competition. These included, notably ones featuring former Defense Department official Richard Perle and an outspoken critic of Islamofascism, Irshad Manji.
The rest are mostly from the usual suspects — “Frontline,” the New York Times (which recently published a very friendly review of the series) and various PBS-related organizations. Among these is a film about Muslims in America by MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, in which the host of “Crossroads,” Robert MacNeil, is a partner. Interestingly, Mr. MacNeil’s film was not in the original competition; it was added on by PBS and WETA and assigned one of the 11 prized slots in the initial line-up.
As it happens, I was involved in making a film for the “America at a Crossroads” series that also focused on, among others, several American Muslims. Unlike Mr. MacNeil’s, however, this 52-minute documentary titled “Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center,” was selected through the competitive process and was originally designated by CPB to be aired in the first Crossroads increment.
Also unlike Mr. MacNeil’s film, “Islam vs. Islamists” focuses on the courageous Muslims in the United States, Canada and Western Europe who are challenging the power structure established in virtually every democracy largely with Saudi money to advance worldwide the insidious ideology known as Islamofascism. In fact, thanks to the MacNeil-Lehrer film, the PBS audience soon will be treated to an apparently fawning portrait of one of the most worrisome manifestations of that Saudi-backed organizational infrastructure in America: the Muslim Student Association (MSA). The MSA’s efforts to recruit and radicalize students and suppress dissenting views on American campuses is a matter of record and extremely alarming.
In an exchange with me aired on National Public Radio last week, however, Robert MacNeil explained why he and his team had refused to air “Islam vs. Islamists,” describing it as “alarmist” and “extremely one-sided.” In other words, a documentary that compellingly portrays what happens to moderate Muslims when they dare to speak up for and participate in democracy, thus defying the Islamists and their champions, is not fit for public airwaves — even in a series specifically created to bring alternative perspectives to their audience.
The MacNeil criticism was merely the latest of myriad efforts over the last year made by WETA and PBS to suppress the message of “Islam vs. Islamists.” These included: insisting yours truly be removed as one of the film’s executive producers; allowing a series producer with family ties to a British Islamist to insist on sweeping changes to its “structure and context” that would have assured more favorable treatment of those portrayed vilifying and, in some cases, threatening our anti-Islamist protagonists; and hiring as an adviser to help select the final films an avowed admirer of the Nation of Islam — an organization whose receipt of a million dollars from the Saudis to open black Wahhabi mosques is a feature of our documentary. The gravity of this conflict of interest was underscored when the latter showed an early version of our film to Nation of Islam representatives, an action that seemed scarcely to trouble those responsible for the “Crossroads” series at WETA and PBS.
At this writing, it remains an open question whether PBS will get away with suppressing this film. The decision rests with the CPB, whose vision and support for “Islam vs. Islamists” in the face of sustained hostility for it exhibited by PBS and its friends has made this documentary possible.
Unless and until a way is found to translate into widespread distribution CPB’s stated assessment that ours is a powerful and important film, though, the intention of the “Crossroads” series to diminish, if not end, the tyranny of the public airwaves by the left, will be substantially unfulfilled. And “Islam vs. Islamists” will remain the film PBS does not want you to see — and can keep you from doing so.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is a partner with Hollywood veteran Martyn Burke, who directed and produced “Islam vs. Islamists,” and Islamism expert Alex Alexiev in ABG Films Inc.
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