Documentary on 'Anti-Islamist Muslims' Aired Nationwide as PBS Practices Called Into Question

August 30th, 2007 2:15 PM

Where are the moderate Muslims who willingly speak out against the Islamist agenda, and why are their voices not heard in the mainstream media?

These questions are explored in a documentary that is receiving national exposure over the next several weeks via an Oregon affiliate of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Producers and advisors with WETA, the Washington D.C. affiliate of PBS, had previously denied airing the film as part of the "America at a Crossroads Series."

Martyn Burke, a Hollywood veteran with ABG films in collaboration with Frank Gaffney, the president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. Gaffney's colleague, Alex Alexiev, a national security expert with CSP also took part in the endeavor.

Originally conceived through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) the "Crossroads" series absorbed $20 million in federal funds. It was designed for the purpose of exploring the unique set of challenges confronting America in the post 9/11 world. CPB had initially sought to bring a mix of viewpoints into the film, including conservative voices.

However, this inclusive attitude appeared to dissipate once the project moved within the purview of WETA, the Washington D.C. affiliate of PBS. Burke claims Jeff Bieber, the executive producer of WETA, called for Gaffney and Alexiev to be fired, since they were both conservatives.

"I'm not going to fire anyone from the right or the left unless their politics start skewing the truth as we understand it," Burke said in the interview. "So when WETA asked me `don't you check into the politics of the people you work with?' I said I can't believe I'm hearing this in America."

When PBS officials failed to blacklist conservatives associated with the project, they shifted strategy, Gaffney has surmised, and began to attack the film directly. Leo Eaton, the Crossroads series producer for WETA, and other PBS officials pushed for editorial changes that would greatly dilute the over-arching theme and central message of the film, Gaffney said in an interview.

In his written correspondence to the filmmakers Eaton described "Islam vs. the Islamists" as a "one-sided narrative" that featured the conflict between so-called moderates and extremists in "very subjective and very claustrophobic terms."

"What began as a struggle to prevent people like me from playing in the left's sandbox at PBS mutated into a concerted effort to ensure that a film that told the story of anti-Islamist Muslim never made it on the air," Gaffney said. "I am personally committed to preventing PBS from doing business the way it has been doing it up until now. There's no doubt that part of what was going at PBS with our film was a naked antipathy toward conservatives."

The criticisms outlined in Eaton's notes proceeded from a mindset at PBS that was "overly sympathetic" toward the perspective of Islamist radicals, Burke and his colleagues contend. Eaton's stated belief that "moderation and extremism clearly depend on where you're standing," for instance, stood out as a "glaring example of the fundamental misperception" WETA-PBS officials with regard to radical Islam, the filmmakers argued in their own written rejoinder.

Several members of congress have called on Kenneth Konz, the inspector general for CPB, to investigate the journalistic practices at PBS and to examine how the film was handled. A key point of contention between AGB films and PBS concerns multiple allegations of conflicts of conflicts, that in Burke's words, amount to "an assault on the way journalism is practiced in America."

Ironically, the film may receive greater exposure across the country than it would have otherwise received via the Oregon affiliate thanks in part to the press coverage the dispute has generated and the potential inspector general's investigation.

"Whenever something becomes the object of controversy not because people have seen it, because people haven't seen it, my general approach is to put it out there and let people make up their own minds," Steve Bass, president and CEO of Oregon Public Broadcasting said. "It may be that at least as many people or more people may see the film.

The film will be accompanied by a panel discussion affiliates have the option of using, Bass explained. While it is difficult to weed out what may have been legitimate creative differences from the political disputes that have beset the film, Bass has found that some changes could have been made for the benefit of viewers who are not as familiar with the issues raised.

"If I found any fault with it [the film], there were parts of the story that to me needed a little bit more information," he said. "The film assumed a level of understanding on the part of the viewer that may not be there universally. That's why we decided to add the panel discussion. We think it poses the film in a greater base of understanding with more information."