Sunday, April 22, 2007

TV: Pigs and Prigs on PBS' NOW

David Brancaccio strives to be irritating but not in a good way, such as by asking the hard questions and making people squirm. Brancaccio is more like the pushy little kid that kills the school production of The Nutcracker -- intent upon turning the "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" into a Bob Fosse modern dance number -- with gusto and flourish.

While Bill Moyers listened on the program NOW with Bill Moyers, Brancaccio sees the latest version of NOW as a screen test. That's really the only explanation for Brancaccio's determination to 'emote.' When asking questions, he's especially fond of this pose where he throws his head back and America gets to see inside his flaring nostrils. When 'listening' in reaction shots, he makes a point, mid-way, to resort to head tilts -- either to one side or slightly back. Sporting those nostrils is his version of the Sharon Stone leg cross in Basic Instinct.

Last week, Robert Parry's "Time for PBS to Go?" (Consortium News) created a bit of a stir with his strong (and right on) critiques and the suggestion that it might be time for people to consider no longer contributing PBS. Focusing on the latest crap offering by PBS (or, rather, by the CPB and shown on PBS stations) and writing of his own first-hand knowledge via Frontline, Parry made strong points -- ones we agree with. But we know the knee-jerk argument. We've heard it before. "What about NOW! What if we lose NOW!"

NOW is apparently mecca for some on the left. They must visit it each week, they must pay their homage and, most of all, they must lie to themselves that they're seeing something amazing.

A Friday phone call from Betty, on another topic, was interrupted when she exclaimed in shock at what was displayed on her TV. At her suggestion and the suggestions of others, we agreed to tackle the crap-fest that is NOW.

Bill Moyers left some time ago and Brancaccio became the solo host (near the end of Moyers' tenure, Brancaccio came on as a co-host) as the show dropped from a one hour, once a week broadcast to a half-hour, once a week broadcast. (This is PBS, air times and dates vary from station to station.) We need to comment on that before we go further. Bill Moyers, who has worked in television since somewhere around the time of the invention of the test pattern, stepped down. And who got groomed to replace him? Another White male. Apparently Gwen Ifell is much bigger and wider than we knew since she provides a lot of cover for PBS to hide behind in terms of both the issues of representation of women and people of color. Though PBS' mandate is one that calls for progress and advancement, it bears noting that it was CBS, not PBS, which finally made a woman the solo anchor of the evening news.

With NOW, Moyers out meant -- and remember PBS has a mandate for diversity -- that his replacement be different in that Brancaccio is . . . younger. It's that same sort of thinking that allows The New York Times to provide one token female (currently Maureen Dowd) and one person of color (currently Bob Herbert) on their op-ed pages. Apparently, the real quotas that we're not supposed to notice, let alone talk about, derive from the unwritten rule that a White male's departure means a White male's arrival.

So let's be really honest and upset a few pseudo-lefties, if NOW were a left show -- by and for the left -- we think you can be damn sure that a person of color would have been the replacement and not some little whiney punk from the business sector.

The pseudo-left does realize that, right? That the show's been taken over by a man who sharpened his eye teeth on one of PBS' multitude of shows that look at business -- from the top down and, let's face it, they never really get down below the executive suites. Possibly the elevator's broken?

Now Brancaccio shows up on NOW around the time the CPB pulls all funding for the program. You want to pretend the two weren't related?

When Moyers was with the show, NOW was MUST SEE TV. That was because it wasn't afraid to address issues (they were the only mainstream outlet to address the push for ever more media deregulation in ownership limitations). The guests were an interesting blend (though not as diverse as we would have liked) and it really was a bonus to appear on the show. Moyers gave a much linked to speech not that long ago where he noted a letter from a former conservative who thanked him for his fair treatment. The guest should. He went from crazy prude to someone worth listening to judging by the mail he admitted to receiving.

How did that happen? Well it happened with many guests (though it often felt as if conservatives were more likely to be booked than actual liberals). The reason was that Moyers did his work ahead of time. During the interview itself, he listened. A conversation took place because something like a passing aside by the guest might prompt Moyers to pursue that strand. It wasn't left TV (not even under Moyers) but it was intelligent TV.

Those days are gone. Brancaccio can't listen because he's so busy posing. When not posing, he's working his way through a list of questions prepared ahead of time. That was obvious on the broadcast that many saw this weekend (Friday was the earliest some PBS stations began broadcasting it). He interviewed two people and we really shouldn't say "people" because what he interviewed were two men.

His topic, like the laughable multi-part series PBS is airing, was the Iraq war. That series is rightly being slammed for its conservative tilt. We're willing to bet all the lefties and pseudo-lefties giving their 'props' to NOW won't bother to say a word about what Brancaccio did.

The first segment revolved around an interview with Paul Hughes who was part of Jay Ganer's transition team and, when Garner was fired, part of Paul Bremer's. The thrust of the segment was that the US screwed up.

Hold your hosannas. The thrust was that the if the reconstruction had taken place, all would be well and good in Iraq today. If the argument seems familiar, Allawi and Chalabi, along with several neocons, have advanced it. It's a lie, but it's a pleasing lie. In "Baghdad Year Zero" (Harpers, 2004), Naomi Klein brilliantly demonstrated how the 'reconstruction' was not about serving the people of Iraq, it was about taking the system down to year zero in economic terms so that a necon's wet dream of an economy could be created. Klein's piece remains one of the must-reads on Iraq -- one of the few since so little exploration of the war actually takes place despite all the pretense.

If Brancaccio is familiar with "Baghdad Year Zero," he demonstrated nothing to reveal that. Instead, he bought into the hoary platitude that the war would have been "won" if only the reconstruction had progressed more quickly. It's a lie and lies are all Brancaccio has to offer.

At one point, Hughes and Brancaccio touched on the fact that reconstruction is the State Department's terrain but it had been moved from State to the Department of Defense (with Donald the Rumsfled overseeing). A real journalist might have explored the whys of that but a real journalist is damn well required to note what the move reflected. Brancaccio, for all the posturing, isn't a real journalist.

This segment utilized footage as well, to show cheering Iraqis. Some did exist. Some didn't. You didn't see the footage of the ones who weren't cheering. Why is that? Because it doesn't fit into today's lie: The war was won! The occupation was lost!

Today's lie exists for a reason and a real journalist should be expected to explore that. The lie exists because War Hawks want to keep war front and center as an option of first choice. So they offer up platitudes about how Iraq would have been wonderful today were it not for the lack of planning. As if anything happening in Iraq today is (a) a surprise or (b) not planned. The planning goes far back (and it's one reason War Hawk Hillary Clinton still won't call out the illegal war). At one point, that could have emerged. Hughes mentions years-old (they predated the Bully Boy) plans for Iraq. Brancaccio seizes upon that but not to make the point that the illegal war was sought for years, just to note that there were other plans.

Yes, there were other plans. But we can't explore that on NOW. We can get Brancaccio repeating the lie (as fact) that roses were strewn in the paths of soldiers. If you're one of the people who identify left and applaud this crappy show, it may be time for you to confront reality.

If that doesn't do the trick for you, maybe you could take offense at Brancaccio embracing and repeating another (false) selling point for the war: Saddam Hussein was Hitler. He does that by, while discussing the Baath Party, noting that they had to be removed because the same thing was done with the Nazis. The Baath Party is now the Nazis?

Saddam Hussein was a petty tyrant put in place and supported by the US government for decades. When he became less pliable, it was time for him to go (in the eyes of the US government). It had nothing to do with human rights abuses or torture. Watching Brancaccio make the comparison of Baath Party members to Nazis, we were reminded that as much as we loathe the Bully Boy, we've yet to liken the GOP party faithful to Nazis. But if we're going to discuss torture, secret prisons, et al, Bully Boy and Saddam Hussein aren't all that different. Of course, Brancaccio didn't touch on that either. He shied away completely from the Abu Ghraib scandal because that really doesn't jibe with the myth that "if only the power had been turned on sooner, Iraqis would love them some America!"

The second guest was Omar Fekeiki who worked for The Washington Post (translation, one of our hands is severely bound in discussing this segment). We can and will note that it was nonsense from both the host and the guest. What we can note is that Fekeiki wanted to comment on the changes in Iraq that had taken place (for the worse, as Fekeiki noted) but somehow neither he nor the host thought the issue of women was important. (He did discuss how it effected his family -- or at least the male members of his family.) At one point, an early photo was shown that included women in normal street clothes (they weren't the focal point), then a photo was shown of the more recent period and damned if all the women weren't cloaked in black from head to toe. But we won't talk about that, apparently. There's all the time in the world to blather on about every other subject in the world but not the very real femicide going on against Iraqi women. Again, one of hands are bound behind the back, but we can note that the sounds you heard were "OINK! OINK!" -- two pigs entertaining themselves in the mud.

Throughout the half-hour, shout outs were given to the crap-fest that is No End In Sight. Why plug a documentary? If you think Sir! No Sir! or The Ground Truth got plugged on NOW think again. But No End In Sight's not really a documentary and the director, Charles Ferguson, isn't really a director. (The hint may be the lack of film credits.) What is he? Council on Foreign Relations and Brookings Institute. The Council, for those who missed its most laughable mistake made while promoting war, recently hailed a decline in the number of deaths in Iraq. What they're smoking in the halls of CoF, we don't know, but we doubt it's legal.

Now Sir! No Sir! and The Ground Truth will get no program devoted to them. In fact, while CNN can interview war resisters and cover the topic (both Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper have), while CBS can continue to do so (Dan Rather interviewed Camilo Mejia early on and, most recently, the Sunday morning show offered a look at those who had gone to Canada), the program NOW, which some lefties and pseudo-lefties want to work themselves into a lather over, can't and won't.

There's a reason for that. It's not against the war. It's against the strategies used. That's why it works in a (really bad) advertising blitz for the piece of crap that is No End In Sight.
The half-hour broadcast accepts the premise that war was the answer. That needs to be pointed out and pointed out loudly. Brancaccio and company are only interested in dickering over strategies.

How is that different from the right wing? (Brancaccio is a centrist.) It's not. Four years and counting, the 3400 mark of US military fatalities around the corner, the 1 million mark of Iraqi fatalities around the corner, and 'brave' is supposed to be offering the same crap that you can find in a column by David Brooks?

The left needs to grow the hell up. That means cutting out some of their trusted voices who push this crap. An illegal war was launched not in response to an attack but because Iraq might someday (this was the lie) attack the US. A pre-emptive war of choice was engaged by the US government and sold on lies and along comes Brancaccio gladly sidestepping those realities, making comparisons of the Baath Party to Nazis, lying about roses being strewn in the paths of US soldiers and wanting to dicker about the strategies utilized -- while never noting the reality that Iraq today did not result from a lack of planning -- everything was planned.

Those who were bothered by Parry's suggestion that people stop donating during pledge drives can hide behind Big Bird or the characters of Sesame Street but that's really about it. Only that one program continues to reflect the PBS mandate. If that's not clear to you, a supposed examination of the illegal war never addressed any of the realities of the war -- just strategies.
It's easy, it's self-stroking and it promotes the idea that "We can get it right next time!" It's just not reality. And the claim that NOW is either worth watching or good for the country isn't reality either.
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