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Frank Gaffney vs. PBS

Behind PBS's "America at a Crossroads" series.

12:00 PM, Apr 17, 2007 • By SONNY BUNCH
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Before a station manager could decide just what programs they would air, however, the programs for the Crossroads series needed to be filmed. "We received about 440 proposals in June of '04," Levy recalled, which were submitted by "producers from around the world. . . . And those proposals went through a really rigorous review process and selection process that drew heavily on the advice and expertise of a number of individuals." No one could accuse the CPB advisory board of bias; included were conservative luminaries such as Jeane Kirkpatrick and John O'Sullivan, liberal journalists such as NPR's Mara Liasson and the Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page, and other heavyweights such as Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens. "We provided research and development funds as we boiled down the 440 proposals to 32 projects," said Levy, "and then production funding from 32 projects to approximately 21, and the 21 were given funds at the end of January in 2006. At that time, we transferred control over the actual process to a managing/producing station, WETA."

IT WAS THEN that the problems began for Gaffney and his crew. "About that time," Gaffney said, "we started hearing that PBS was telling CPB that they would never air a film that I was associated with. . . . We began hearing that there was an argument being made by PBS that if I were associated with the film in a senior role--they would allow me to be an adviser but I couldn't be, as I am, a co-executive producer--because of my day job" with the Center for Security Policy, then the program could not run. "There are guidelines that PBS adheres to, evidently selectively shall we say, that prohibit people who have association with advocacy organizations from being involved in content decisions on their airwaves."

Martyn Burke, a producer working on Islam vs. Islamists with Gaffney, was equally perturbed by PBS's protestations. "We . . . encountered what was a form of blacklisting," Burke wrote to the PBS board of directors as WETA was trying to decide what to do with the film. "During my first meeting with the series producers I was ordered to fire my two partners (who brought me into this project) on political grounds. Having once produced a program on the Hollywood Ten, I was asked in that meeting, a question I never thought I would hear: Do you not check into the politics of the people you work with?" [Emphasis in original.] Gaffney, Burke, and Alex Alexiev (another producer who works with Gaffney at CSP) then provided a raft of evidence that PBS had no problem partnering with liberal advocacy groups, noting in a letter to Michael Pack, the senior vice president for television programming at the CPB, that "PBS and its affiliates also directly partner with and sponsor advocacy organizations and individuals. The network's ITVS, for instance, claims on its website (www.itvs.org/outreach/about) that its partners include 'advocacy groups' and 'committed individuals' with well-known agendas such as the Sierra Club, the National Council of La Raza, the National Coalition of Churches, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and many others." Eventually, PBS backed down and allowed Gaffney to remain as a producer.

GAFFNEY'S TROUBLES were just getting started, however. WETA hired a group of five consultants to examine the films, including Aminah McCloud, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University. "This woman," Gaffney explained, "turns around once she gets her hands on the rough cut of the film, and she shows it to the Nation of Islam!" While there is some dispute over McCloud's intentions (several sources told me that she showed only a frame of the film to members of the Nation of Islam, and then only to confirm that Gaffney and his co-producers had misidentified a key figure in the documentary), this move was considered a serious break of professional and ethical standards. "It violates every norm of journalism that you can think of," Gaffney said.