Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Free Speech Down One: PBS Sleeps Torture Documentary Till Bushco Walks

It's simply obvious. And predictable. This report says

Scott Horton reports today that PBS may have refused to nationally air a controversial documentary on the use of torture by the U.S. government in order to protect its funding.

You can view the documentary called "Torturing Democracy" here.

What stinks about it is that PBS is supposed to be "viewer supported" and hence above the level of government censorship and influence. But apparently not:

According to producer Sherry Jones, PBS told her that “no time slot could be found for the documentary before January 21, 2009″ — the day after George W. Bush and Dick Cheney leave office.

So what made PBS stoop so low? Did Bush-Cheney threaten them in some way? It can't be that Bushco suddenly became a huge contributor. And what does this mean for freedom of speech?

As for motives, maybe prior experience contributed to PBS's backtrack:

This spring, PBS’s distinguished Frontline series aired a mildly critical account of the lead-up to the Iraq War entitled “Bush’s War.” As the airing of the program was announced, the Bush Administration proposed to slash public funding for PBS by roughly half for 2009, by 56% for 2010 and eliminating funding entirely for 2011. Did PBS get the message? Perhaps.

So it's all about funding, eh? Well, there's some explosive material in this new documentary, more explosive, absolutely, than "Bush's War".

The show delivers impressively on a promise to “connect the dots in an investigation of interrogations of prisoners in U.S. custody that became ‘at a minimum, cruel and inhuman treatment and, at worst, torture’” (quoting Alberto Mora, who served as general counsel of the Navy under Donald Rumsfeld, and features in an interview). In one dramatic scene, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage describes being waterboarded as part of a training program he went through before being sent to Vietnam. Did he consider waterboarding to be torture, Armitage was asked? “Absolutely. No question.” And he continued, “There is no question in my mind—there's no question in any reasonable human being, that this is torture. I'm ashamed that we're even having this discussion.”

And of course, that wouldn't help the GOP in an election year, would it? I think "wouldn't help" is, of course, a gross understatement.

No one who has seen this dramatic documentary is likely to buy into the “rotten apples” narrative any longer.

Which may help explain why PBS appears to be suffering from acute corporate indigestion over the work. The project was first offered to PBS in September 2007, with the representation that it would be available to air after May 2008. It was completed and circulated to PBS decision makers on schedule in May of this year.

And from May to December? Well, the time slot just wasn't there. Burp! Or maybe it was... that indigestion again. Why can't we have brave journalists in corporations anymore? Should corporations' stomach ailments block the truth from coming out when it should come out - when the culprits it's exposing are still in power????

Freedom of speech isn't won by the soldiers in the war on terror - sorry, Sarah. It's won by the journalists in the battle for truth.

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