Monday, March 3, 2008

America at a Crossroads

(Originally posted April 5, 2007)
Public broadcasting has always had a slight tilt to the left, but it remains the best U.S. broadcast news service available. While the BBC has lost ground, its international coverage is second to none. I spend most of my broadcast listening time with National Public Radio, but I'm about to invest a significant block of time watching "America at a Crossroads" on PBS later this month.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times dedicated most of its Television page on April Fools Day to PBS. And this time it's worth the ink. Reporter Elizabeth Jensen outlined the forthcoming bloc of independent documentaries that will likely range from the far left to the "neo-conservative" right. PBS has dubbed the twelver hours of diverse views "America at a Crossroads," and just which way she will go we can't be certain.

We can, however, take solace in the fact that this series of programs will be tied together by the thoughtful introductions of Robert MacNeil, long-time journalist with PBS and the BBC. It's hard to believe that MacNeil would risk his well-earned credibility becoming associated with a project without merit. His participation -- for many of us -- is a testament to the quality of the project.

Not that we'll all like everything we see and hear. More likely, it will offend those with extreme views on both sides, who will then try to enliven the perennial question regarding federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Jensen reports that the concept of "Crossroads" emanated at CPB, which plowed $20 million into helping make the concept a meaningful reality.

Viewers with strong opinions on the war in Iraq will find much fodder for debate in this six-day series. Let's hope they find merit in diverse examinations of the war, Islam, and the sharpening conflict between national security and personal liberties.

And let's hope they're more tolerant than John Schidlovsky, an outside adviser to the "Crossroads" project. Founding director of the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University, Schidlovsky resigned as an adviser, apparently because a "neo-conservative" film featuring former Bush advisor Richard Perle was given the green light for broadcast on "Crossroads." Never mind that it's just one of numerous perspectives to be aired.

The anticipated diverse content of "America at a Crossroads" is the kind of thing that we seldom find anywhere on television.....except at PBS. The first broadcast will be Sunday evening, April 15th. Kudos to CPB and PBS for taking on what will undoubtedly cause a stir along the Potomac.

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