Frontline Iran docu mixed bag at best
TAKE ACTION: PBS CEO misleads us about community control of public TV

Posted by Scott - October 25, 2007 (entry 577)

Frontline Iran docu mixed bag at best

Public TV is broadcasting an encore of the appalling performance it gave in the lead-up to the illegal attack on Iraq with its coverage of Iran. The October 23rd Frontline PBS broadcast “Showdown with Iran” was somewhat better than what we were handed by PBS stations in the run-up to the assault on the people of Iraq. But that is not enough. Especially when we have a president who suggested a nuclear-armed Iran could trigger "World War III", and a mainstream press that lacks sufficient skepticism.

Perhaps this Frontline documentary is a more compassionate form of war propaganda. Much needed Iranian perspectives and some important factually correct reminders are offered in the program: that Iran helped the U.S. in the months after 9/11; that the U.S. missed a major diplomatic opportunity in 2002 to repair its relationship with Iran; and how both countries' leadership may be blinded by religion.

On the other hand, “Showdown with Iran” incorrectly states that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Not so, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose experts have inspected Iran’s program on numerous occasions. Another unproven rumor from the non-reality based community that is given life in the program has it that hard liners in Iran’s government have harbored Bin Laden’s son.

We will however concentrate here on the third main point of misinformation in the program: that the government of Iran, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) “Quds Force”, is smuggling souped-up roadside bombs called EFPs (Explosively Formed Penetrators) into Iraq. It should be noted that two days after the Frontline broadcast, the U.S. designated the IRGC as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and the Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism.

A key element of propaganda is that it must be repeated over and over -- just like advertising -- to make its impact. The EFP claims are repeated four times in the PBS program. A Google search of the terms “Iran” and “EFP” yields about 250,000 “hits”; an article database yields 1,596 newspaper and magazine pieces containing the two terms. Like PBS, almost all of these information sources accept the U.S. government’s statements on the subject unquestioningly.

A variety of sources cast the issue in a much different light: intelligence columnist and former CIA middle east field officer Robert Baer states, “As with Saddam and his imagined WMD, the Administration's case against the IRGC is circumstantial”; Jane’s Intelligence Review writer Michael Knights (January 2007) observed that the kind of tools required to fabricate EFPs "can easily be found in Iraqi metalworking shops and garages". Andrew Cockburn asked a Pentagon analyst specializing in such devices how much each one would cost to make. "Twenty bucks," he answered after a brief calculation. "Thirty at most." And, as Juan Cole points out, “it is obvious that if Iran did not exist, US troops would still be being blown up in large numbers. Sunni guerrillas in al-Anbar and West Baghdad are responsible for most of the deaths. The Bush administration's talent for blaming everyone but itself for its own screw-ups is on clear display here.”

All of these sources were available to Frontline.

Lastly, this is what print propaganda looks like. It's an "article" on EFPs from the New York Times by Michael R. Gordon, who has written this kind of junk solo and with the infamous Judith Miller. Note the repeated use of unnamed -- but non-whistleblowing -- government sources.

Further administration EFP assertions are found in the Frontline program:

efp * GEORGE W. BUSH: “Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops.”

* FRONTLINE NARRATOR: “The U.S. military says the advanced roadside bombs known as EFPs, Explosively Formed Penetrators, now account for almost twenty percent of all U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. Washington said the operation was being run by the “Quds Force,” the elite foreign operations branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.”

* GEORGE W. BUSH: “I can’t say it more plainly: there are weapons in Iraq that are harming U.S. troops because of the ’“Quds Force’”.

None of these repeated and unproven statements claiming direct Iranian government involvement in arms smuggling into Iraq is rebutted in the program by any independent source.

So the too often unasked central questions persist:

Are U.S. claims that Iran's government has a “newkulur” weapons program and that it is supplying EFPs to the Iraqi resistance the sequel to its yellowcake fantasies and aluminum tube dreams? How can both countries' human rights violations and brinkmanship be addressed? And how does the U.S.'s position as invader and as the world's leading nuclear stockpiler and seller of arms factor in?

Since the administration has offered us no actual proof of its assertion here once again, we must remain highly skeptical. We are being driven toward the edge of a cliff and this film does not do much to divert us from that course. The Bush administration will likely use the unfounded assertions in the program as a casus belli for war against Iran. When we do not have proof, assertions become lies. (Update) Or worse. How do Frontline and PBS get away with repeatedly broadcasting such frightening and dangerous propaganda?

Perhaps it’s time to consider that PBS’s propaganda problem may be due in large part to the fact that the American public has no meaningful say in how public broadcasting operates.

PBS CEO misleads us about community control of public TV

In an interview recently conducted by veteran Chicago journalist Carol Marin, Paula Kerger, the President and CEO of PBS, claimed that all local public TV stations are controlled by their communities. The reality is that no so-called “community” public TV station in the U.S. has even one regular station trustee seat that is filled through direct election by the public.

A glance at the makeup of the self-selecting trustees of Chicago’s WTTW for example shows the station to be dominated by elites and the moneyed class. Not the community.

Here are some excerpts from a transcript of the interview, originally broadcast by Chicago public station WTTW-TV’s flagship news program Chicago Tonight on October 18, 2007:

* CAROL MARIN: So there has been real concern and a lot written about whether PBS has been buffeted by all kinds of different political winds. Ken Tomlinson who was the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting came in - was installed - to establish a more conservative agenda. One of his thoughts was to make Lynne Cheney the head of a children's program as I recall for a while and now he's gone. So is PBS susceptible to a sort of micromanagement (by) political forces? PAULA KERGER: (public television's decentralized structure) ...should give you some comfort... (because control is) the hands of the community.

* MARIN: Do you hate pledge weeks? KERGER: The fundraisers are annoying to some... MARIN: Some of the people... are yelling at the screen!

* MARIN: At the same time there is the whole question now about PBS used to be in the view of many more unique than it is now because there is a lot of quality programming on a variety of outlets and because PBS has of necessity - in terms of money - become more commercialized. So what is it that still makes PBS different, if it is? KERGER: ...I think we are unique. I would argue about the commercialization if we had more time I would argue about that I think in many different levels.

Ms. Kerger should correct her definition of community control. In our segmented, polarized, online age, some form of binding, direct public control of public broadcasting is necessary to insure an independent public media forum where citizens can receive and evaluate information, rationally discuss the issues of the day, reach a public consensus, and take action.

Further reading here.


Contact PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger. Tell her that you do not want public television programs such as Frontline to be used as government propaganda outlets as is the case with its recent broadcast “Showdown with Iran”. Tell her you do not want a repeat performance of PBS's 2002-2003 Iraq coverage. Tell her to stop PBS before it kills again. Explain that she needs to rethink her concept of community control over what is at least ostensibly a public media outlet. Tell her that if she will support a democratic restructuring of public broadcasting, you will support the creation of a trust to permanently fund it.

When contacting the media, please be polite and professional.


email Paula Kerger c/o
PBS ombudsman here.

regular mailing address:
Paula Kerger
Public Broadcasting Service
2100 Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202

Posted by Scott Sanders, Chicago Media Action
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