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Time for PBS to Go?

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PBS is broadcasting what amounts to a neoconservative propaganda series entitled “America at a Crossroads,” which has included a full hour info-mercial for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq written and narrated by Richard Perle, one of the war’s architects.

The Perle segment, entitled “The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom,” treated anti-war Americans as deranged individuals. Perle, though known as the “prince of darkness,” spoke in a quiet almost regretful tone, expressing disappointment that “conspiracy theories” and hatred of Bush had blinded so many people to the rightness of the Iraq War.

To show examples of these pathetic anti-war lunatics, the PBS program included short clips of actors Martin Sheen and Tim Robbins while Perle did a voice-over that talked about them like a psychiatrist who sadly saw no choice but to sign commitment papers.

The implication of the PBS program was that there was only one reasonable and moral conclusion, which was to support President Bush wholeheartedly in his invasion of Iraq and his conduct of the “war on terror.”

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PBS officials also have declared that they see no reason to give a similar length of time to opponents of the Iraq War. Indeed, Jeff Bieber, an executive producer at PBS’s Washington affiliate WETA, endorsed the right-wing bias of “The Case for War” as an opportunity for PBS to “showcase a conservative viewpoint.”

Beyond the journalistic violation represented in such an acknowledged bias, the history of the series reveals a willingness of PBS to transform itself into a compliant propaganda organ for the Bush administration and the congressional Republicans.

PBS’s parent, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, commissioned the neoconservative series a couple of years ago when the Republicans controlled all branches of the U.S. government and the Bush administration dominated the information reaching the American people, from Fox News to the New York Times.

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So, instead of offering an outlet for the widely ignored Americans who questioned Bush’s Iraq invasion, PBS chose to go with the flow and join with the powers-that-be in taking cheap shots at war critics.

“America at a Crossroads” was financed directly by CPB, a quasi-public institution which used both tax dollars and contributions from “viewers like you” to pay for the avowedly pro-Bush series.

The original idea was to air “America at a Crossroads” before Election 2006, possibly around the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, all the better to help ensure continued Republican one-party control of the federal government.

But production delays and internal PBS disputes pushed the broadcast date back to April 2007. Now, the series is helping energize Bush’s supporters to fight Democratic proposals for setting a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Decline of PBS

PBS has been sinking into this pattern of corrupt behavior for years, especially after the Right took aim at public broadcasting in the 1980s and early 1990s. CPB was intended to insulate PBS from political pressure, but the Reagan administration began a systematic process of salting the board with partisan Republicans and neocon ideologues.

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By reshaping the CPB board, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush turned CPB from its original purpose as a shield to defend professionalism at PBS into a weapon for breaking down the network’s editorial independence. Simultaneously well-funded right-wing pressure groups went after individual PBS journalists and programs.

When I worked for the PBS documentary series “Frontline” in the early 1990s, I saw this process first-hand, as CPB and PBS increasingly bent to Republican pressure. At one PBS conference, Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan gave a keynote speech trashing “Frontline” – and few PBS executives dared come to the program’s defense.

After Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994 and targeted PBS funding, the network twisted itself more to the Right, hoping to appease the angry Republicans by adding more and more conservative content while taking for granted the bedrock support of the Democrats and liberals.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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