The Dangers of Government-Sponsored Art

This is a tale of the danger of government sponsored art. Arguably, it is even worse than that. It is the nefariousness of government sponsored political art and it is the criminal convergence of the agenda of the PC Elite with that of the Islamic Jihadists who would murder Americans, all Americans including those patriotic American Muslims brave enough to speak out, together as infidels.

As the attorney who represented ABG Films, Inc., in its contractual battles with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the danger and nefariousness I will describe here is why government should never be given leave to do more than is minimally necessary especially because we know it doesn't do minimally well that which we all agree it must do at a minimum.

My client, ABG Films, Inc., was formed by three accomplished men in their respective fields: Martyn Burke, a well-respected Hollywood producer of documentaries; Alex Alexiev, a former Rand Corporation researcher studying the threat from totalitarianism the world over; and Frank Gaffney, the well-known former Reagan administration official and conservative who has made his reputation in Washington D.C. circles as a strong opponent first to the Soviet threat and now to what he terms the war being waged by "Islamofascists" against the West. Whatever one might think of such nomenclature, it is clearly designed to capture the notion that Islamic Jihadists are at war with the US and other Western nation states in an effort to impose Shari'a or Islamic law the world over.

So it was that in March 2004 these three men joined forces to enter a competition to write, direct and produce a documentary for PBS on the inability of "moderate Muslims" to be heard in or out of their own communities because the Jihadists either murder them, threaten to do so, or join forces with the PC Elite to silence them as "too westernized" to be real Muslims. The name of this film was to be Islam vs. Islamists.

When CPB announced the competition to receive proposals for documentaries to examine "America at a Crossroads", promoted as a means to begin a national dialogue on America's war against Islamic terror, there were an unprecedented 440 entries. CPB was to commit 20 million US taxpayer dollars to fund the final 20 or so winners. PBS would air the top 11 as a series over a one week period in mid-April 2007 during prime time.

To understand this proposal correctly, the reader should know that CPB was created at the height of the Great Society push of the Johnson administration. In 1967 Congress created CPB as a "non-governmental" non-profit corporation which Congress would fund to create the physical and financial infrastructure for what has become the nationwide network of public television and radio stations most of which are members of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Today, CPB receives $400 million annually from US taxpayers and is seeking an increase to $440 million in the form of an advance for fiscal year 2010. PBS receives hundreds of millions of dollars worth of broadcast rights paid for by CPB. In other words, the taxpayer funds PBS.

On January 30, 2006, CPB announced that the PBS flagship station WETA based in Washington D.C. would be the "presenting station" for the main series:

 "‘America at a Crossroads' is a series of documentaries that illuminate the changes that have taken place in America and the world since 9/11," said CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison. "I am delighted that WETA has agreed to be the presenting station for the initial eight films in the series, which will begin to air in the spring of 2007."
In that announcement, the public was advised that the ABG Films' documentary, "Islam vs. Islamists", had made the final cut and would be part of the Crossroad Series.

But it was at this point that everything started going badly. Once WETA came on board, it joined hands with the executives at PBS to bring a perverse Leftist pro-Islamist agenda to the CPB initiative seeking to redirect and control the political agenda of the series. What follows is a partial listing of their shenanigans.

Example 1: Political Blacklisting. Almost immediately after coming on board, WETA officials contacted Martyn Burke, the writer, director, and producer of the ABG Films documentary and told him he should fire Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev. Why? Because they were "advocates" for conservative causes. At one point, the point man for WETA literally asked Burke why he didn't run a political litmus test on his co-executive producers before joining forces with them. Mr. Burke, who had previously made a highly acclaimed documentary on Hollywood blacklisting, was aghast.

Burke stood his ground. He considered Gaffney's and Alexiev's expertise and experience in the subject matter of the documentary quite important to the film's integrity.

But WETA would not budge and the months dragged on and the documentary's production was stalled. WETA's agenda was clear: the war against terror must be reduced to hyperbole and Islam must be established as another religion like all others - no more or less a threat than Christianity. With Gaffney and Alexiev on board, Burke might prove too difficult to manipulate or simply to marginalize.

Ultimately, WETA enlisted PBS to join the chorus that Gaffney represented an "advocate" that would taint the entire Crossroad Series and the integrity and objectivity of PBS.

ABG Films, after turning to CPB with evidence of one self-described advocacy personality after another appearing on and hosting PBS programs, turned to Congress and the public. After months of wrangling, by July 2006 WETA understood they had lost this battle, at least on the face of it.

Example 2: Advisory Boards with an Agenda. WETA and PBS officials saw yet another opportunity to control the agenda of the Crossroads Series. WETA would appoint an advisory board to provide a high-level of professional feedback on the winning films that had won final production grants. This advisory board was appointed notwithstanding the existence of the CPB advisory board originally tasked with this responsibility. The nefariousness of this move was almost patent.

First, the five-member WETA group included some serious and respected experts, but as a group they were not of the caliber of the existing CPB advisory board.

Second, and more troubling, was the inclusion on the WETA group of two (out of five!) advisors who were quite public "advocates" for Islam and its more extremist elements.  It would not take much by way of an open source search to find out that one of these two, Omid Safi, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaches his students that anyone who presents Islam in a negative light is part of a cabal of "unrepentant Orientalists, outright Islamophobes, Neo-conservatives, Western triumphalists, Christian Pentecostals, etc.". To make matters a bit easier for his young charges, the good professor includes an illustrative list of this cabal which includes the likes of Bernard Lewis and Ibn Warraq on one side and Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell on the other.

But it was the other Islamist advocate retained by WETA that was to prove her bona fides to her adopted Islamic kin. Aminah Beverly McCloud, the director of World Islamic Studies at DePaul University, an African-American convert to Islam and a devotee of the infamously hateful Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, took matters into her own hands. She would kill this film even if it meant jeopardizing her career.

An important part of the documentary seeks to establish how the "Islamists" have successfully dominated the Muslim scene in America and Europe and how they use this domination to silence Muslims who might otherwise embrace western civilization. One method used by the Salafist Wahhabis out of Saudi Arabia has been to use their oil money spigot to finance and control the building of mosques, Islamic community centers and day schools throughout the US, and thereby control their understanding of and approach to Islam.

In the ABG Films documentary, a former Nation of Islam leader and lieutenant of W. D. Mohammed, explained in detail how Saudi Arabia and its highest ranking oil sheiks had financed the building of a facility for this Nation of Islam splinter group with the specific agenda to gain control of this already virulent anti-American Muslim sect. (W. D. Mohammed is the son of the founder of the Nation of Islam and has competed with the infamous Louis Farrakhan for the title of the American Black Muslim leader.)

When WETA handed over a rough-cut version of Islam vs. Islamists to its advisory board, Professor McCloud saw her opportunity and took it, even if that mean a breach of the most rudimentary journalistic ethics and of the purported confidentiality agreement she was required to sign with WETA/PBS (we say purported because WETA won't make that agreement public), and what also amounts to a violation of federal law.

McCloud personally contacted representatives from W. D. Mohammed's group, the very subjects of the film, and let them view the film in her office. The result was immediate and predictable. When McCloud turned in her "notes" and "analysis", she informed WETA officials that this part of the film was factually inaccurate and that her Black Muslim friends were ready to sue for defamation.

When ABG Films protested this obvious violation of confidentiality and journalistic ethics, WETA officials smirked, literally.

Example 3: Violation of Federal Law. According to the law which established the CPB and the very law that provides for the funding that keeps PBS and WETA in existence, no advisory board may meet in secrecy. The federal law is quite explicit:
Funds may not be distributed pursuant to this subsection to the Public Broadcasting Service or National Public Radio (or any successor organization), or to the licensee or permittee of any public broadcast station, unless the governing body of any such organization, any committee of such governing body, or any advisory body of any such organization, holds open meetings preceded by reasonable notice to the public. All persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the board, or of any such committee or body, and no person shall be required, as a condition to attendance at any such meeting, to register such person's name or to provide any other information. 47 U.S.C. 396 (k) 4 (Emphasis added.)
While there is a provision for meeting privately to protect confidentialities, the law requires that "thereafter (within a reasonable period of time) [the advisory board shall] make available to the public a written statement containing an explanation of the reasons for closing the meeting." In the case of the WETA advisory board and Professor McCloud's egregious breach of confidences, no advisory board meeting was ever made public or any statement explaining why. Instead, when ABG Films protested what amounted to a violation of federal law, WETA officials dismissed it as inconsequential.

This list of such behavior could continue. I will not here detail how Robert MacNeil formerly of the well-known MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour was also appointed a member of this WETA advisory board even though he was to narrate the overall Crossroad Series. But beyond this obvious conflict of interest as both a participant and a third-party expert, somehow he was given a budget and automatic approval to produce and narrate his own version of Islam vs. Islamists, except that in his world, there is no such thing as a dangerous Islamist or Imam in America. And, even though he produced a quite obvious whitewash outside of the very competitive system established by CPB, his hour special was aired in lieu of Islam vs. Islamists. And, guess who made important appearances as his Islamic experts? You guessed it. None other than Professors McCloud and Safi, WETA's "independent" non-advocacy experts, the former of which advises the Nation of Islam.

It was at this point when I entered the picture. The Crossroads Series had aired and Islam vs. Islamists had been rejected by PBS and WETA. The officials involved refused to even evaluate the documentary for technical compliance thereby rendering ABG Films' "delivery" defective. Moreover, PBS and WETA officials refused to even receive the second hour produced by ABG Films within the same budget, a separate documentary now entitled Muslims against Jihad. Segments of this "Second Hour" were broadcast this past Sunday evening on Fox News to rave reviews.

While we had asked for a meeting with CPB officials to work out a settlement, initially CPB lawyers demanded that we simply turn over the master that we had originally delivered to PBS/WETA. They informed us that CPB had no obligation whatsoever to broadcast the film and ABG Films had failed to perform its duties under the Grant Agreement.

In response to this rather hostile environment and in light of the actual facts, I wrote CPB officials and informed them that the gig was up. The documentary was now ours and that CPB had lost its rights to broadcast this important documentary based upon several theories of breach of contract and tort law. Apparently, this was enough to get their attention. Within a week, Frank Gaffney and I were sitting in their offices flanked by their in-house lawyers and other assorted officials.

I laid out our factual and legal case and explained that while we did not want to get involved in a long and potentially embarrassing litigation, we most certainly would to protect the integrity of this documentary and the right of Americans to watch it in the near term. We also put out the olive branch: we understood full well that the real bad actors here were PBS and WETA but CPB bore ultimate responsibility.

Thankfully, CPB was well-represented by serious and competent legal counsel and although the lead attorney postured about his client's position, he knew full well that PBS and WETA had so tainted the production process that much of the stink would end up on CPB. Moreover, when CPB's lawyers finally understood the legal exposure of the violation of the CPB Act's Sunshine provisions, there was little to be gained litigating with ABG Films. It was enough that members of Congress and the CPB Inspector General were being subjected to the public display of arrogance and decadence in the form of PBS and WETA public announcements of journalistic righteous indignation.

At the end of the day, the more rational heads prevailed and a settlement agreement was consummated in the form of an amendment to the original Grant Agreement. The Second Hour was freed up completely and it took less than a week for Fox News to run parts of the film with the back story of the PBS/WETA efforts at suppression interlaced within the segments. The original documentary, Islam vs. Islamists, was picked up by Oregon Public Broadcasting in a kind of competitive slap at PBS. They have an exclusive for television rights until September 1, 2007, at which time ABG Films can cut a deal with Fox or some other commercial broadcaster. And, ABG Films has the rights to distribute the DVDs concurrently with OPB's broadcast.

The two documentaries taken together are important and it has been an honor to work with ABG Films and its principals, Frank Gaffney, Martyn Burke, and Alex Alexiev, to free these films from the Elites at PBS and WETA, who together with the Jihadists, don't want you to hear from Muslim Americans who might happen to be patriotic Americans.

David Yerushalmi is president of SANE, The Society of Americans for National Existence.