The PBS slogan for its coverage of the upcoming presidential election is “PBS Election 2012: Trusted. In-depth. Independent.” But if a Frontline documentary which aired on that network last weekend is any indication, the slogan could be more appropriately rephrased as “PBS Electioneering 2012: Untrustworthy. Shallow. Slanted.”
PBS and its Sesame Street icon Big Bird became a political football recently when candidate Romney mentioned in a presidential debate that, as President, he would wean PBS from the government teat. The Obama campaign foolishly responded by trying to elevate the beloved Big Bird into a symbol of victimization at the hands of cruel Republicans who hate children and art. The move backfired by trivializing the nation’s real problems and focusing on a goofy kids’ show character instead. Even PBS distanced itself from being politicized. But to avoid ending up on the chopping block after the election, perhaps PBS is now attempting a pre-emptive strike at Romney with a little electioneering.
The two-hour Frontline special called “The Choice 2012” ostensibly presented a balanced portrait of the candidates Obama and Romney, to better educate the PBS audience about the choice to be made on November 6. Sure, it’s structurally balanced enough, cutting back and forth to compare and contrast the candidates’ formative years, political development, triumphs and failures; but by the end Obama has been depicted not as a divisive radical who is driving the country to the brink of ruin, but as a bipartisan idealist who strove to unite the country behind a plan for Obamacare, only to be thwarted by Republican racists and hard political realities. Romney, on the other hand, is painted as a calculating, politically cynical flip-flopper whose ruthless managerial style benefits the wealthy and ravages the working class.
In an almost comically blatant attempt to erase any doubt about Obama’s legitimacy to the throne, the documentary omits any mention of the controversy surrounding his murky origins but goes straight to closeups of his purported birth certificate, which his administration only reluctantly and belatedly provided and which many still suspect is falsified.
Then we move on to Obama’s unrooted youth. He is described as “a product of the world,” embracing its diversity but struggling with an absence of fathers in his youth and a constant sense that he didn’t belong or wasn’t “black enough” for some communities like Chicago, where his political career began. Romney, on the other hand, is “a man born to privilege” into a lily-white family that kept tightlipped about the Mormon polygamy in their recent past. Obama has a cool, easygoing, marijuana-mellowed style; Romney has perfect hair and starched shirts, and is so uncool that he protested college protesters.
Along their respective roads to this election, Romney is shown orchestrating Bain Capital’s leveraged buyouts, with devastating results for many employees; meanwhile Obama is shown “building bridges” between left and right at Harvard Law School. The Frontline narrator announces that Obama at that point “could have gone to work for a Supreme Court Justice or at a prestigious law firm,” but his aim was higher than that; he wanted to make a difference. By contrast, the documentary shows Romney’s Mormon-inspired commitment to public service but portrays him as morally inflexible and out-of-touch, especially on women’s issues like abortion, single motherhood, etc.
The program states briefly that Obama at one point became a community organizer, but there is no mention of the fact that it was community organizing of the Saul Alinsky model. There is no mention of what the “fundamental change” was that Obama promised to bring to America. No mention of Marxism or the redistribution of wealth. No mention of Obama’s dissatisfaction with the Constitution, with free speech, with the Second Amendment. He’s referred to as “very intellectual,” but there is no mention of his sealed college transcripts or how he breezed his way into Harvard Law School, or how he won President of the Law Review in only his 2nd year there.
There is no mention of his associations with influential subversives Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. No mention of his spiritual mentor, the racist anti-American Rev. Jeremiah Wright. No mention of Obama’s radicalism or indeed, of any ideology at all. In fact, Barack Obama is depicted as a messianic, history-making, bipartisan uniter (we all know how that turned out) who is not soft on national security but has been even tougher than Bush on terrorism (needless to say, the documentary omits any discussion of Obama and Islam).
But Romney? More than one interviewee expresses in the documentary that “I’m not sure what he believes” or what his values really are, which they find “disquieting.” He has tried, the documentary asserts, to “rebrand himself” on controversial issues like gun rights and abortion rights. He attacks Obamacare even though he authored Romneycare. The suggestion is that Romney will be whatever the market demands that he be. “This time around,” the narrator intones, “Romney would sell himself as the turnaround specialist.” Sell himself. “His skills aren’t ideological,” we’re told, “they’re about managerial process” – in other words, his political vision is short-sighted and business-like, unlike Obama’s grander, forward-thinking one.
Obama’s not a schmoozing backslapper or arm-twisting political bully, we learn, just a sincere man with a plan. He is shown forging that plan – Obamacare – which he believed would bring all sides together to prove that America could solve big problems together again. But on Obamacare as well as debt agreement, he faced obstructive Republican partisanship and a growing, angry, nationwide movement spinning conspiracy theories about who the unvetted Obama actually is. We’re shown selective footage that falsely paints his Tea Party opposition as raging racists being escorted out of town halls, bearing signs equating Obama with Hitler, etc.
“The Choice 2012” ultimately paints the choice for Americans as either the unifying vision of Obama the multiculturalist, or the socially regressive, economically polarizing plan of an uptight rich white guy. So much for PBS’ “Trusted. In-depth. Independent” motto.
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