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PBS Gives The Neocons A Free Propaganda Forum

Richard Perle

Last nite, on what was billed as part of the weeklong series on Iraq, America at a Crossroads, PBS gave a full hour to the views of uber-neocon Richard Perle to make The Case for War. These are my real-time impressions while I watched the show; I don’t have a transcript, so you may want to check for links to the full show. This link is to the excellent and sobering expose presented immediately before the Perle segment; it’s not the hour long film on/by Perle that PBS showed last night.

I’m upset about this because I misunderstood the Perle segment would be Frontline, with its usually excellent reporting and editing, but it wasn’t. Instead, PBS just gave Perle an hour to follow the prior film, and Perle used it to produce his own film. MacNeil let him do his own program, to say anything he wanted without anyone questioning his logic, his facts, or his conclusions. There was no follow up by critics to challenge his views or his facts or how he portrayed them. At times, we see him apparently speaking to someone, but it is only him we hear; we don’t hear the interviewer or the question or any followup questions. At other times he talks with others, including critics, but he is the editor, choosing the topics and what to show and how. It is obvious that PBS gave Perle full editorial control. [UPDATE: Per Peterr in the comments below, it appears that PBS planned a series of independently produced documentaries/films, one of which was Perle’s. That puts a different light on my final assessment of what follows, because I mistakenly assumed this was a Frontline series. My apologies for the mistake.]

Without any challenge, Perle repeated and misrepresented the two great lies that he helped the Bush/Cheney regime foist on the American public — that Saddam’s regime had WMD that represented a clear and imminent danger to the US, and that Saddam’s regime had extensive contacts and collaboration with terrorist organizations including the al Qaeda factions that attacked us on 9/11. He repeated the fact that both Democrats and Republicans originally agreed with those views, without ever mentioning the role he and other neocons, as well as Bush, Cheney, Rice, and others played in misleading both parties about the intelligence. We never hear about the intelligence manufactured by Doug Feith or Chalibi, or exposed by Joe Wilson or the bogus reports about Niger.

At one point, he interviewed a war critic, Simon Jenkins, but it is his interview, his editing that determined what we saw. And what was the topic he discussed with Jenkins? It was whether we should have invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban. We do not hear what Jenkins thinks or has said about the Iraq war.

He talks next with Pat Buchanan, who describes Perle’s views as contrary to traditional American foreign policy. It sounds like the “neo Comintern,” Pat says. It’s “democratic imperialism,” as though Bush can “eliminate evil” from the face of the earth. “Is he kidding,” Buchanan asks? “Iraq was perhaps the greatest blunder in our history.” “We should have stayed out of wars that are none of our business.” But Perle does not respond; he ends the diaologe by declaring, on his own, that he and Buchanan agree on fundamentals. Pat is no longer there to reply. But the point is made. Only the loudmouth isolationist uber-conservatives think the war was wrong.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran are all conflated. The problem, Perle says, is the anti-democratic tendencies of Islamic countries and the terrorism those countries breed. It is all one huge threat to America, with little differentiation.

He is left free to characterize and attack “the left,” and illustrate them with pictures of movie stars and photos of his choosing. He ridicules Tim Robbins for “crazy conspiracy theories,” and then shows us Jesse Jackson. Or they are just angry anti-war protesters, as at the beginning of the film, who are contrasted with the always polite, soft-spoken Perle. Joe Lieberman was the model for that one, I suspect. But you’d never know that growing majorities of the American people believe Perle is dead wrong, that the Iraq invasion was a strategic mistake and not worth the price. You’d never know that more than half the country is very angry at his regime, and for good reason.

And what of opposition to Bush? It’s from people “blinded” by hatred, Perle tells us. How can anyone equate Bush with Saddam Hussein, when Hussein caused so many deaths? He doesn’t mention Bush’s responsibility for any deaths. Not the Americans; not the Iraqis. We don’t hear about Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo, or Saditha.

He thinks only Ronald Reagan had the “courage to confront evil” in the Soviet Union. Oh really? What about Truman, and Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, and so on? Did he miss 40 years of containment? But Perle’s point here is to equate communism with Islamic terrorism. Neocons must have an evil empire to confront, to justify their endless war, so he trots out the Soviets and Reagan at the Berlin wall and interviews some guy who was imprisoned in the old Soviet system. By now, you’ve forgotten that the title of this film was “the case for war,” which implied a defense of our Iraq invasion and occupation.

Next he meets with Richard Holbrooke, to talk about Iraq. Holbrooke hears Perle say that we can win in Iraq “if we stay,” but Holbrooke reminds him they have not achieved a single stated goal there. As in other interviews, we don’t hear Perle’s response; instead Perle says Bush/Cheney were unfairly maligned about “lying,” and Holbrooke lets him off the hook: “We were all wrong [about the intelligence], but we went to war under a false premise.” Again, the dialogue ends and we hear Perle explain how he and Holbrooke agreed on other things. It is all carefully edited.

He describes Bosnia. We are now 45 minutes into the program, and we’ve spent less than 10 seconds on the principal critique of the neocon policies, the lies, the hyped expectations, the denials and imperialist fantasies. And yet the program was billed as a defense of why it was right to go to war in Iraq. We’ve been sold another bill of goods, by the same used-war salesmen who did it before, and PBS did it for them.

In Sarajevo, we hear another interviewee explain that “we cannot allow one country to decide what happens in another.” Again, the interview ends and Perle gives his unchallenged response about why unilateral US actions are warranted.

We return to Iraq — he’s not there, he just shows pictures of violent demonstrations by those unruly Iraqis burning flags. He then returns to D.C. and presumes to lecture us on liberty and democracy while standing in front of the Jefferson Memorial. As though the issue is whether we support liberty and democracy or whether we think Jefferson was a good man. He doesn’t mention habeas corpus, or the Military Commissions Act, or torture, or the corruption and lies. This is slick propaganda.

>While Perle begins his essay talking/listening to anti-war protesters at home, he uses the next hour to make us forget everything they said, their feelings, their facts, their connections with the tens of thousands dead. To make us forget and not think about why they — why we — are angry, we get an hour of America’s destiny, an hour of pro-democracy rhetoric that ends in the Jefferson Memorial, as though the Great Democrat of the American Enlightenment, the man who eschewed foreign wars, who hated unchecked executive power, who wrote much of the Bill of Rights that Perle’s favorite and dark regime has trampled, would approve of what Perle and his friends have done to this country.

The series host, Robert MacNeil, has a few closing comments after the Perle film. He notes that some people think the neocons no longer represent conservatism. Many observers say . . . others say . . . blah, blah, blah. End of show.

How did it happen that the Public Broadcasting System, our national network, allowed itself to be used as a neocon propaganda forum? What journalistic standards were they following by allowing an extreme anti-consitutional partisan with huge credibility problems of his own, have sole control over editorial content, to decide what to show, whom to interview, what topics to cover or avoid?

Pathetic. Shame on MacNeil. Shame on PBS.

For other views, here are Newsweek and the NYT, which contains some history on the controversy surrounding PBS’ decision. And I understand C&L may have a video segment up later this morning.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley