Politics & Policy

Burning Burns

The Left censors.

The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican Party gets.

– Bill Moyers.

#ad#All right, Bill, try this one on for size: The vaunted filmmaker Ken Burns has just completed work on a multipart documentary about America during World War II. According to those who have seen the series, it is a powerful and highly educational testament to one of America’s greatest moments as a nation.

Burns has, in past endeavors, chronicled America’s history through sweeping documentaries on the Civil War, baseball, and jazz and sets the gold standard for public broadcasting. Yet Burns and PBS have just been mugged by censors and pressure groups demanding major changes to his critically acclaimed documentary.

So where were Bill and his platitudes against contemporary McCarthyism? Where were the other self-appointed protectors of public television? Where was Salon, which accused a recent Republican appointee at the Corporation of Public Broadcasting of leading a “jihad” against liberal bias in public broadcasting? Where was Rep. David Obey, the liberal committee chairman who has taken great pains to excoriate Republican overseers at CPB? Where were the liberal bloggers, who happily compare Republicans at CPB to the Nazi SS?

And what about the editorial pages of America’s newspapers, which usually can be counted on to take note of such outrageous forms of censorship, even if it means ticking off a few special interests groups? Again, near total silence. The Boston Globe ran an op-ed that attacked PBS and Ken Burns over their “lack of connection with our increasingly multicultural society.”

Perhaps the silence can be explained by one simple fact: the censorship was coming from a group of leftist Hispanic organizations who called themselves “Defend the Honor.” They protested when they found out that Burns’s documentary didn’t spend enough time talking about the Hispanic-American experience of World War II.

Not that this was done quietly; it all happened in plain sight: Hispanic members of Congress harangued the PBS chairman at a public hearing. Burns was petitioned heavily. And wilting under the pressure, Burns and PBS capitulated.

Without having seen the original Burns documentary it’s impossible to judge the merits of the complaint. What is clear is that the Left has shown exactly what it means by “independence in public broadcasting”: for me, but not for thee. If a Republican calls for editorial balance, it’s “a right-wing coup.” If a Democrat does, it’s “accountability.”

Common Cause, which has an entire section on its website “committed to preserving the vitality and independence of public broadcasting,” makes no mention of The War.

Moveon.org is circulating an online petition to “guarantee permanent funding and independence from partisan meddling” for PBS. Their website makes no mention of the partisan meddling of Defend the Honor.

These organizations have attacked repeatedly and personally former CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson and anyone else at CPB willing to fight for objectivity and balance in public broadcasting. They had a fine opportunity to make Ken Burns into a poster child for the need for total independence from partisanship; but that would have meant telling a minority special-interest group to drop dead. Given the choice between defending independence in public broadcasting and kowtowing to ethnic whining, the Left has predictably jumped into bed with the nose counters of contemporary political correctness.

All of which suggests the conclusion: If Ken Burns can be attacked for not appreciating America’s multicultural society, no one’s safe.

Garrett Moewe is a writer in Arlington, Va.

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