- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

Clarifying the record on PBS series

“Islam vs. Islamists: Voices From the Muslim Center,” a film I produced and directed and that was dropped from the PBS series “America at a Crossroads,” was never politically driven or agenda-driven in its content or its production until PBS and its affiliate WETA took over the series and consistently attempted to portray it as such.

Leo Eaton’s Saturday letter, “Failure to make the PBS cut,” was written in response to Wednesday’s Page One article “PBS shelves film on moderate Muslims.” Mr. Eaton’s letter ignores the fact that within weeks of taking over the series, he and Jeff Bieber, the WETA team, flew to Toronto to meet me in March 2006.

The sole purpose of this meeting appeared to be to demand that I fire my co-producers, Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev, for their political beliefs.

It was in that meeting that I heard the rather amazing question: “Don’t you check into the politics of the people you work with?” As someone who once made a film titled “The Hollywood Ten — a History of Politics in Filmmaking” and who had spent time with blacklisted screenwriters and directors, I was stunned to find myself being asked that question.

Even Mr. Alexiev’s role as a former analyst at the Rand Corp. was, incredibly, deemed to be evidence of how tainted my colleagues were by conservatism. Only much later did I hear the charge against Mr. Gaffney and Mr. Alexiev morph into their being “members of an advocacy group” as the rationale for removing them.

It should be noted that at the time of the March 2006 Toronto meeting, our film was half shot and edited and had been deemed powerful and complete enough to be included in an official press release announcing the films that were to be aired as part of the series.

Mr. Eaton asserts that he and the WETA/PBS team never asked me to fire my partners because of their political beliefs. Mr. Eaton’s claim is simply false. He also asserts that “long before WETA was involved” there had been concerns about Mr. Gaffney and Mr. Alexiev. I never once heard anyone express such a concern to me — until WETA became involved.

As producer and director of “Islam vs. Islamists,” I strove to keep agenda politics out of the film. There are only Muslims in the film, and among the courageous moderates we portray, there is every political stripe imaginable — from the socialist left all the way through to conservative.

I was able to hire a team of some of the best reporters working in the Western press — including a Pulitzer nominee selected for the excellence of his coverage of Islam in Europe; a reporter from Canada whose team was profiled last year by the New York Times for superior reporting; and an award-winning Scandinavian investigative reporter. In an irony unnoticed at the time, all these reporters were from distinctly liberal newspapers.

They were hired simply on the basis of their excellence at what they do. In contrast to the PBS/WETA team, we imposed no political litmus test to those with whom we worked. For the record: Not once did Mr. Gaffney or Mr. Alexiev try to impose any political agenda or try to mold any of my production decisions. As co-executive producers, they fulfilled their roles impeccably.

Mr. Eaton refers to an unnamed source quoted in the article as saying my claim “is the case of one disappointed filmmaker and his political partners overreacting.” This is a cheap and convenient attempt at a smoke screen to hide some journalistically unparalleled actions of the PBS/WETA team from the moment the team realized it was not going to be able to get rid of Mr. Gaffney and Mr. Alexiev. For example:

• Team members held up our funding for five months while e-mailing me that they were still mulling over the Gaffney-Alexiev situation. As other films were moving ahead, ours stalled from a lack of funding.

• They commissioned, without my knowledge, another film to cover some of the identical subject matter we were covering in one of our major stories. It threw our production into chaos as we found ourselves battling another “Crossroads” show for the same (confused) interview subjects.

• They hired as an adviser an active, outspoken supporter of one of the very groups we were investigating. We had a story about how the Saudi fundamentalists in Mecca and Riyadh were funneling money through the Saudi Embassy in Washington to the Nation of Islam in Chicago.

They appointed a Chicago professor, an open supporter of the Nation of Islam, as one of our “advisers.” When we protested this as a blatant conflict of interest to which no journalists should be subjected in a free society, we were met with a wall of silence.

• When that same “adviser” took our unfinished rough cut and screened it for the Nation of Islam, which subsequently threatened lawsuits, the PBS/WETA team saw nothing wrong with her actions. Only when I vehemently protested did team members respond.

• This response came in the form of a belated letter from WETA President Sharon Percy Rockefeller, who defended the hiring of this Nation of Islam supporter as an adviser overseeing our investigation of that same Nation of Islam.

• We were recipients of increasingly hysterical critiques of our film (“alarmist” and “failing to meet journalism 101” are two that come to mind) when I refused to shape it to suit PBS/WETA, which wanted a film that would virtually engage in apologetics for the Islamists.

• The fact that Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev backed my position was seen by Mr. Eaton, Mr. Bieber and the others at WETA and PBS as evidence of some nefarious conservative intent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr. Eaton asserts that this is a case of “ ’attack the messenger’ rather than trying to correct the message.” The PBS/WETA team — Mr. Eaton included — are far from messengers. The “correction” it so longs for is perhaps only in the eyes of those particular beholders. In numerous test screenings we held, no one else has shared their overheated opinions.

The news/public-affairs business is necessarily fraught with differing opinions, managerial changes and editing controversies. It is all fair game. Not fair game, however, are the political attacks, the blatantly destructive acts and the clumsy, heavy-handed ideological pressures, all designed to subvert a film whose sole purpose was simply to attempt to answer the questions: “Where are the moderate Muslims? Why aren’t they speaking out?”

We found the answer: They are often being silenced by the Islamists.

Now PBS and its funding agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, are silencing them, too. They both continue with the fiction that our film is “undergoing more work.” It is not. It is finished. If PBS does not want to show it, let other networks show it. Let American audiences see what they paid for. Let them make up their own minds.


Los Angeles

The Bush cabal and illegals

House lawmakers realize that Americans want no immigration surges, yet however strongly we voice opposition to forced population increases, the Bush cabal persists in attempting to ram in more illegal aliens (“Bush plan panned as rewarding illegal aliens,” Nation, Thursday).

Just as pre-emptively occupying a foreign country results in its bondage, pushing such foreign occupation on America would result in our oppression. Americans overwhelmingly know it would deprive us of our self-determination and future.

Then there’s crime. President Bush admits that one in 12 illegals has a criminal record; the Government Accountability Office states that nonnationals make up 27 percent of the federal prison population; Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, reports that illegals murder 12 Americans and kill 13 more in drunken driving daily; and the Violent Crimes Institute finds that illegals commit 1 million sex crimes annually.

That’s just the beginning.

In truth, the fiction of cheap foreign labor decimates America’s resources and impoverishes citizens. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has determined that low-skill households get $3 from citizen-worker-funded welfare benefits for every dollar they pay in taxes.

We are being inundated with millions of uneducated foreign nationals who neither comprehend our language, share our culture nor subscribe to our laws.


Lafayette, Calif.

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