Monday, April 16, 2007

Bias at PBS, etc.

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last year or so some friends of mine have been involved in a crash course in bureaucratic corruption and bias at PBS-TV. They were invited, initially, to contribute a documentary on the conflict between moderate and radical Islamists around the world. Their contribution was well received at first, slated to be included in a series of PBS-TV programs that have just hit the television airwaves, “America at a Crossroads.”

Martyn Burke, the producer of the documentary “Islam vs. Islamists,” says his film was dropped from the series for political reasons. As reported in The Arizona Republic, he claimed "I was ordered to fire my two partners (who brought me into this project) on political grounds." Burke sent a letter of complaint to PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supplied funds for the films. He said that his documentary shows the plight of moderate Muslims who are silenced by Islamic extremists, and added that "Now it appears to be PBS and CPB who are silencing them." Yet, as the newspaper reports, “A Jan. 30 news release by the corporation listed Islam vs. Islamists as one of eight films to be presented in the opening series.” The two partners were labeled neo-conservatives by those at PBS which they regarded a serious liability, enough to cause them to cancel the showing of the documentary.

I have seen portions of this film and it is riveting. There is hardly any commentary in it. Instead all those shown, as well as the events, are allowed to speak for themselves.

It is always risky to climb into bed with the likes of PBS and NPR, both media outlets that exist by virtue of the federal government. (Sure, they also receive private support—NPR recently got big bucks from Joan Kroc’s estate, the widow of McDonalds' founder, who died last October and left $225 million to the organization which, incidentally, eagerly invites opponents of trans fatty foods to air their views. But with the feds, they wouldn’t be.)

The few times I have gotten near such outfits I felt the censorial pinch—when, for example, in the late 80s, Bob Chitester produced a pilot for a political philosophy series, with me as the host and the late Sidney Hook as the expert guest. The show, “For the Love of Work,” dealt with the ideas of Karl Marx. (Chitester, you may recall, later produced Milton Friedman’s immensely successful “Free to Choose” program.) The pilot we did was turned down somewhere in Washington after I was identified by one of the judges, according to The Wall Street Journal, as “a mere popularizer of libertarianism.”

More pertinent is the recently shown program, produced by Filmmakers Collaborative of San Francisco, about America’s anti-trust laws, “Fair Fight in the Market Place.” This is pure, unabashed, and unadulterated statist propaganda. And badly produced to boot.

For one, it presents only anecdotal stories of how wonderful the anti-trust laws are, mostly based on some of the prosecutions of price fixers and industrial colluders and the hidden camera shots shown of their discussions in which they clearly indicate their knowledge that they are breaking anti-trust laws. Among those interviewed for the show there is but one (Purdue University) economists, very favorable to the Sherman and Clay anti-trust laws, with the rest all partisan state and federal prosecutors.

Not a single, solitary individual on the program gave any opinion disputing the ultimate wisdom of anti-trust law and of the history of anti-trust prosecution, not even when discussing the failed effort by the Justice Department’s anti-trust division to break up Microsoft Corporation because of its supposed illegal bundling of the operating system with its own Internet browser. (I recall this case well since I took part in numerous debates, both at my own university and elsewhere, making the point that bundling should not be illegal and that it occurs time and time again throughout the market place.)

The main idea in defense of anti-trust laws is “consumer choice.” As if it were a proven proposition that only with anti-trust laws can there be a truly competitive market. The late Yale Brozen of the University of Chicago’s graduate school of business and University of Hartford Professor Emeritus Don Armentano are just two of the prominent, well published authors who have argued against this idea.

But why be surprised? PBS, NPR and PRI (Public Radio International) are all instruments of the American federal government’s self-promotion. If anyone is featured on any of their programs who disputes statism, you can be sure that there will be strong voices opposing such an individual. The rest, the cheerleaders of statism, aren’t going to be allowed to be challenged.

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