Anatomy of a Propaganda Racket

Why does this not surprise me?

The producer of a tax-financed documentary on Islamic extremism claims his film has been dropped for political reasons from a television series that airs next week on more than 300 PBS stations nationwide.

Key portions of the documentary focus on Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser of Phoenix and his American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a non-profit organization of Muslim Americans who advocate patriotism, constitutional democracy and a separation of church and state.

Martyn Burke says that the Public Broadcasting Service and project managers at station WETA in Washington, D.C., excluded his documentary, Islam vs. Islamists, from the series America at a Crossroads after he refused to fire two co-producers affiliated with a conservative think tank.

“I was ordered to fire my two partners (who brought me into this project) on political grounds,” Burke said in a complaint letter to PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supplied funds for the films.

Burke wrote that his documentary depicts the plight of moderate Muslims who are silenced by Islamic extremists, adding, “Now it appears to be PBS and CPB who are silencing them.”

A Jan. 30 news release by the corporation listed Islam vs. Islamists as one of eight films to be presented in the opening series.

Mary Stewart, vice president of external affairs at WETA, said Burke’s documentary was not completed on time to be among 11 documentaries that will be aired beginning Sunday. Stewart said the picture may be broadcast by PBS at a later date.

“The film is a strong film,” Stewart said. “I’m still hoping to see this in the Crossroads initiative.”

Jeff Bieber, WETA’s executive producer for Crossroads, gave a substantially different explanation. He said Burke’s film had “serious structural problems (and) . . . was irresponsible because the writing was alarmist, and it wasn’t fair.”

“They’re crying foul, and there was no foul ball,” Bieber added. “The problem is in their film.”

The controversy involves a collection of documentaries financed with $20 million in federal grants from the corporation, which conceived Crossroads in 2004 to enhance public understanding of terrorism, homeland security and other crucial issues in the post-9/11 era. Independent filmmakers submitted 430 proposals. Full production grants were given to 21 of those, including Islam vs. Islamists, which received $700,000.
Subtitled Voices From the Muslim Center, Burke says his film “attempts to answer the question: ‘Where are the moderate Muslims?’ The answer is, ‘Wherever they are, they are reviled and sometimes attacked’ ” by extremists.
Michael Levy, a spokesman for CPB, said the corporation set up the Crossroads project and provided funding, but turned over management and content control to PBS and WETA 13 months ago.
After that, Burke says in his Feb. 23 complaint letter, he “consistently encountered actions by the PBS series producers that violate the basic tenets of journalism in America.”-PBS officials turned down interview requests.

The dispute adds to a running debate about political bias in the nation’s publicly funded television business. In 2004, filmmakers complained that CPB was pushing a right-wing agenda for the Crossroads series. A year later, CPB President Kenneth Tomlinson sought to eliminate what he saw as a liberal bias at PBS. He was forced to resign after an inspector general’s report found that he violated federal rules and ethics standards in the process.
Burke’s credits include Pirates of Silicon Valley, a movie about the founders of Microsoft, and The Hollywood Ten, a documentary about blacklisted leftists in the motion picture industry during the 1950s.
In the making of Islam vs. Islamists, Burke’s co-producers were Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, and Alex Alexiev, the non-profit organization’s vice president. Both men are neo-conservatives who have written on the threat of “Islamofascism” to the free world.
Before filming began last year, Burke says, Bieber asked him, “Don’t you check into the politics of the people you work with?”
Bieber said PBS was concerned that the Center for Security Policy is an advocacy group, so its leaders could not produce an objective picture. Because of that, he suggested that Gaffney be demoted to adviser.-Burke, who did not honor the recommendation, says that funding was delayed and WETA began to interfere with his film until it was “expelled” from Crossroads.
Among Burke’s examples of tampering:
• A WETA manager pressed to eliminate a key perspective of the film: The claim that Muslim radicals are pushing to establish “parallel societies” in America and Europe governed by Shariah law rather than sectarian courts.
• After grants were issued, Crossroads managers commissioned a new film that overlapped with Islam vs. Islamists and competed for the same interview subjects.
• WETA appointed an advisory board that includes Aminah Beverly McCloud, director of World Islamic Studies at DePaul University. In an “unparalleled breach of ethics,” Burke says, McCloud took rough-cut segments of the film and showed them to Nation of Islam officials, who are a subject of the documentary. They threatened to sue.
“This utterly undermines any journalistic independence,” Burke wrote in an e-mail to WETA officials.
In an interview, McCloud said she showed a single video frame to a Muslim journalist who was not a Nation of Islam representative.
However, in a January e-mail, McCloud told Crossroads producers that she had spoken with Nation of Islam representatives and “invited them over to view this section.” She also wrote that they were outraged “and will promptly pursue litigation.”
Stewart, the WETA executive, said McCloud was admonished for “inappropriate” conduct.-Otherwise, however, Stewart said Crossroads producers have dealt with Islam vs. Islamists in a fair and professional manner.

Frank Gaffney weighs in on the controversy
here. So here’s how it works: the Left can constantly accuse conservatives of hating Arabs & Muslims and portraying them all as terrorists and brutes. But when conservatives try to give voice to Muslims who genuinely are decent, humane, freedom-loving people, it’s silenced. Now that’s a pretty slick little propaganda racket.
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