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BATTLE OF REBUTTALS SPILLS OVER PBS ZONE

This is absurd.

PBS presented a 13-part documentary titled “Vietnam: A Television History” in 1983. Though generally praised, it was attacked by some conservatives as being distorted.

So PBS agreed to air an outside-produced rebuttal tonight called “Television’s Vietnam: The Real Story.” But the hour rebuttal is part of “Vietnam: OP/ED--An ‘Inside Story’ Special,” a wider two-hour PBS program (8 p.m. on Channel 28) in which the rebuttal is rebutted.

But after that, in a discussion segment concluding tonight’s PBS program, the rebuttal of the rebuttal is rebutted by Reed Irvine, head of Accuracy in Media (AIM), the politically conservative media watchdog organization behind the original rebuttal.

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The battle also spills over into print.

WGBH, the Boston public station that co-produced the original 13-part documentary, has released a 43-page rebuttal of AIM’s “The Real Story.” And AIM has released a 26-page rebuttal of WGBH’s rebuttal. What a mess.

Here is my own rebuttal of all other rebuttals.

Swirling in controversy, “The Real Story” arrives at a time when the public broadcasting industry is already in an unsettled state following the recent resignation of Edward Pfister as president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (see accompanying article).

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PBS was widely criticized for bending to the will of AIM--which regularly accuses media of having a left-wing bias--and airing a slanted, outside-produced critique of its own program.

There was justifiable concern that PBS was opening a door that should remain shut, that critics of other productions aired on PBS would now demand air time for similar counterprograms.

Not everyone at PBS endorsed the network’s action. But those who did argued that PBS was merely providing a forum for an exchange of opinions within the context of a wider program.

The PBS decision to accommodate the AIM rebuttal was a “stunning misapplication of priorities,” former PBS chief Larry Grossman, now the president of NBC News, charges on tonight’s PBS program.

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And a stunning blunder.

It’s one thing to do the right thing by encouraging public response and welcoming criticism. It’s quite another to air the AIM rebuttal and then proceed to knock it down, as PBS does, thus again giving TV the last word.

If PBS thought that the AIM rebuttal was so deficient or misleading, then it shouldn’t have run it at all, or at least not in its present form.

Narrated by Charlton Heston and excruciatingly dry and tedious, the AIM hour claims that the original documentary was “flawed by serious errors and distortions.” The AIM critique is short on specifics, long on unsubstantiated, subjective sweeping charges.

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It also uses Vietnam as an excuse to trash views on El Salvador unshared by AIM, and it warns of a “repetition of our Vietnam War” in Central America.

The AIM hour uses some shabby tricks. For example, Heston says that Central American nations could fall to communism like dominoes--all the way to Mexico. Footage instantly follows of undocumented Latinos being apprehended at the U.S. border. The apparent message? They are Red infiltrators.

The AIM hour is followed by a mostly critical examination of it a la “Inside Story,” the former media-watching series on PBS. Peter C. Rollins, producer of the AIM hour, adds a touch of the exotic here by saying that not everything in his own critique should be believed. Oh, swell.

That’s followed by a discussion that includes some of the principals in the two programs, including Irvine, who attacks the portion of the PBS program that attacks the AIM hour. Then Irvine is attacked. Then Irvine endorses freedom and democracy.

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The discussion ends with host Arthur Miller publicly endorsing the two-hour PBS program that he has just hosted.

Like the Vietnam War, there are no winners on this program, only losers. The biggest loser of all is PBS.

My rebuttal of my rebuttal :

I found my rebuttal flawed by serious errors and distortions.

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I left the erroneous impression that only conservatives criticized the original 13-part documentary. My characterization of the various rebuttals as a “mess” was shrill and uncalled for.

I asserted that PBS was widely criticized for agreeing to air the AIM hour, yet I neglected to identify these so-called critics. And PBS had no right to attack the AIM program it agreed to air? Who says?

I mentioned the undocumented Latinos as being unfairly smeared by AIM as being Communist infiltrators, yet I had no proof that they were not Communists. This has me wondering if I am a Communist infiltrator myself.

My mentioning of Irvine’s endorsement of freedom and democracy was snide and tasteless. In ridiculing Miller, meanwhile, I dishonestly neglected to mention how good he looked in his suit. I should apologize.

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My rebuttal of my rebuttal of my rebuttal:

Just who do I think I’m kidding? My rebuttal of my rebuttal of the other rebuttals was a vicious personal attack on me that was totally unfounded. Answering it would only lower me to my own sniveling level. I will add only that I thought Charlton Heston was lousy as Moses.


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