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TV REVIEW : A Tougher Peter Jennings Probes Cambodia Quandary

It takes a great journalist to bring out the best in a good TV reporter.

Potent proof of this airs at 10 tonight (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) with “From the Killing Fields,” the latest in the series, “Peter Jennings Reporting.” On his own, as in “The AIDS Quarterly” on PBS, Jennings can become somewhat soft in the center, his erudite delivery compromised by a plaintive tone.

Now that he’s teamed up with producer-writer Leslie Cockburn, the hard-hitting investigative journalist behind such controversial broadcasts as “Out of Control” and “Israel: The Covert Connection,” Jennings is reborn as a tough-minded guy out to get to the bottom of things.

It’s not easy, since “From the Killing Fields” inquires into U.S. foreign policy toward Cambodia, still the most abused country in Southeast Asia. Some 10 years after the end of the reign of the Khmer Rouge, which turned Cambodia into a kind of nationwide Auschwitz, they are threatening a return to power.

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This is well known. Less known is the tacit cooperation spelled out here between non-Communist forces, led by the former Cambodian leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and the more skilled Khmer troops attempting to topple the Vietnam-backed regime of Hun Sen. Even less known is that, because of the prince’s unholy alliance, current U.S. support for Sihanouk translates into support for the Khmer Rouge, whom Rep. Chester Atkins (D-Mass.) terms “the most genocidal people on the face of the earth.”

The two on the Jennings/Cockburn hot seat are Sihanouk and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon. When Sihanouk alludes to “U.S. officials (and) diplomats . . . who appreciate the efficiency of the Khmer Rouge army,” Jennings presses him into an embarrassing corner (Jennings: “Senior American officials?”). Solomon defends an indefensible policy with a glacial indifference, avoiding every hard question with the diplomatic mantra that “we’re trying to get a U.N. peace process here.”

Underlying this, as explained by Swedish journalist Bertil Lintiner, is a joint American and Chinese anti-Vietnam strategy, so that any enemy of Vietnam is our friend, regardless of their past crimes.


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