Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

16 January 2013

The Continuing Subversion of “Frontline”


Last night came as a shock for people who still consider PBS a bastion of reason on American TV. For the second time in three months, the producers of its “Frontline” news show seem to have sold out to Fox.

After his two predecessors failed to do so, President Barack Obama killed bin Laden. After a century of presidents of both parties failed to do so, he got Congress to reform health insurance. He struck exclusions for pre-existing conditions, which had let many ostensible insureds suffer or die.

His administration managed to stanch the bloodletting from our financial sector and prevent the Crash of 2008 from become another Great Depression. It did so over treasonous opposition from Republicans, who stiffed a stimulus bill larded with the tax cuts they claim to love.

The President got the auto industry—without legislation or litigation—to agree to increase cars’ fuel efficiency by a factor of two. He pushed through legislative reform of Wall Street. And he wound down Dubya’s two needless wars by doing what cooler heads than Dubya would have done from the start: decimating the few hundred dangerous Al Qaeda and international terrorists with ninjas and drones.

Not only that. The President did all these things over mindless, scorched-earth opposition of the Republican Party and its very own Frankenstein monster, the Tea Party.

And that’s still not all. Against personal opposition so intense that it borders on hatred (and treason), he managed to get re-elected. He won the presidency twice by a margin not seen by any president since 1956. And he did it, again, with the backing of more than two thirds of the nation’s productivity, and against the opposition of states that take more than they pay in taxes.

Based on these facts, it sound like a pretty successful record, no? So how do you make it seem like failure?

Watch last night’s “Frontline” episode and see. You’ll have to Google it yourself: I link to news and reasoned analysis of facts, not propaganda.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post pronounced the program’s theme. The producers had him state it twice, as if PBS’ educated audience needs repetition like the morons who watch Fox. The President, he said, is a “polarizing figure,” who cannot make progress unless he changes.

Viewers who like their facts raw will remember the program’s early moments, which tell a different story. There it detailed how Republicans met in closed session days after Obama’s first election to nurse their wounds and fix their strategy of lockstep opposition. Instead of cooperating to face a financial crisis that all agreed was horrendous, they determined, as Rush put it, to make the President fail.

Balz’s Foxish bookends contradicted even the facts in this bastard program. But never mind. That’s what Fox’ actors and PR folks do—stay “on message” regardless of facts or sense.

A fact-averse message was not the only thing wrong with this show. Its video style aped Fox. Instead of reporting facts, it created “impressions” of them, using overlapping sound bites from various observers. The effect was like an audio collage by a mad abstract painter, or like Jon Stewart’s echo chamber, which is supposed to be funny.

Willy nilly, “Frontline’s” propagandists let some contrary impressions ship through. Take a close look at Mitch McConnell’s and John Boehner’s faces in the few shots of each alone with Obama. They show where these men are coming from in a way that no sound bites can disguise.

Through his character James Bond, Ian Fleming once said, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.” I have seen only two subversions of news on “Frontline,” but the writing is on the wall. Whoever produces the show now is an enemy of both the President and credible journalism.

American commercial TV “journalism” has long been all junk, all the time. With the subversion of “Frontline,” PBS may now be en route to the same destination.

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