Liberals, claiming the Sinclair Broadcast Group is trying to “tip” the presidential election, are enraged by plans to air a documentary critical of John Kerry’s 1970s antiwar activities. The anti-Kerry exposé, however, pales in comparison to the current political high jinks at Robert Robert’s Sundance film channel.
Organizing what amounts to a Dump George Bush film festival, the Sundance Channel, which is under Redford’s “creative direction” but is operated by Viacom’s Showtime Networks, is preempting its scheduled lineup in order to devote nearly one-sixth of its airtime through Election Day to programming opposed to President Bush and the GOP. So far, however, this highly partisan scheme has slipped under the news media’s radar.
Not so, the Sinclair controversy. All Tuesday, the airwaves were filled with discussion of the proposal to broadcast, at least in part, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, which NRO’s Kate O’Beirne has called a “powerful documentary featuring highly decorated Vietnam POWs recounting how Lt. (jg) John Kerry’s antiwar activity affected them.”
Sinclair, with 62 local TV stations reaching a quarter of all U.S. households, is “hell-bent on doing anything to help elect President Bush even if that means violating basic journalism standards,” insists a Kerry campaign spokesman. The Nation’s Ari Berman claims, “Federal election law prohibits public corporations and labor unions from airing ‘electioneering communication’ sixty days before an election. But Sinclair dubs the anti-Kerry attackumentary ‘news content.’” And New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez declares, “For the first time in our history, a major television company is openly trying to tip a presidential election.”
Well, if Gonzalez thinks Sinclair is making history, wait till he looks at the Sundance Channel schedule from now through Election Day.
The unofficial kickoff was Monday night. Sundance preempted its scheduled programming for a ten and a half-hour marathon entitled National Anthem: Inside the Vote for Change Concert Tour, comprised of a documentary by noted filmmakers Albert Maysles and D. A. Pennebaker about a series of swing-state concerts, organized by MoveOn PAC, and a live broadcast of the final Vote for Change concert. Artists included Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Dave Matthews Band, the Dixie Chicks, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp, Pearl Jam, and R.E.M.
Sundance, which is owned by Redford, Universal Studios and Viacom through its Showtime subsidiary, followed up Tuesday night with The President Versus David Hicks, in which the “father of a young Australian, who embraced fundamentalist Muslim ideals and came to be labeled a ‘unlawful combatant’…by President Bush, retraces his son’s journey from Adelaide to Guantánamo Bay.”
The documentary With God on Our Side: George W. Bush and the Rise of the Religious Right in America (2004), also airing this month on the Sundance Channel, claims to “place the character and presidency of George W. Bush in context with a brief history of the religious right’s journey from isolation to influence.”
Then, on Election Eve, the Sundance Channel will let loose a twelve-hour fusillade against the president and the GOP, including what might be termed the “Un Trilogy,” comprised of Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War, and Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties.
With a focus on Florida, Unprecedented (2002) supposedly finds “a suspicious pattern of irregularities, injustices and purges of African Americans from the voter records.” Filmmakers Joan Sekler and Richard Ray Perez are described as engaging in “advocacy journalism that–contrary to suggestions to ‘just get over it’–prompts outrage.”
In Uncovered (2004), director Robert Greenwald (who was the executive producer of both Unprecedented and Unconstitutional and has been called a “provocateur” by the New York Times) reportedly “considers the Bush administration’s case for the Iraq war and finds among the alarmist rhetoric little supporting evidence to back it up.” And Unconstitutional (2004) argues that law-abiding innocents have been mistakenly swept up in the Bush administration’s effort to rid the country of would-be terrorists.
The Sundance Channel also will debut Bush’s Brain (2004) on Election Eve. Adapted from the book Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, the film is termed a “politically damning profile.”
Yet another partisan Election Eve film is A Perfect Candidate (1996), about Oliver North’s 1994 bid for a Senate seat from Virginia. It’s advertised as “a chilling snapshot of the current state of American politics, where image is everything, probing questions are evaded whenever possible and destructive tactics are an essential part of the game.”
By the time the polls close on Nov. 2, the Sundance Channel will have consigned roughly 35 hours of programming to films attacking President Bush and other Republicans. Meanwhile, it’s also televising the Al Franken radio show three times every weekday. In toto, Sundance will devote 81 hours over a 22 1/2-day period, or fully 15 percent of its airtime, to decidedly anti-Bush programming.
And you can forget about “equal time.” Not one film on Sundance’s schedule can be construed as pro-Bush, pro-GOP or even politically balanced. Its pre-election political film selection is instead uncompromisingly monolithic and deeply hostile to Republicans and President Bush.
Never before in the annals of U.S. broadcasting has a television network so vigorously and unabashedly pursued such a totally one-sided political agenda, unquestionably intended to influence voters ahead of what’s shaping up to be a very close presidential election.
–William P. Kucewicz is editor of GeoInvestor.com and a former editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal.