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Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2004 / 11 Mar-Cheshvan 5765

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Pundits are Free Speech hypocrites | When "Fahrenheit 911" hit movie theaters across America, the buzz went something like this: Yes, Michael Moore's movie was inaccurate, misleading and chock-full of cheap shots. Still, the film was so compelling that everyone — Democrat or Republican — should see it.

But when Sinclair Broadcasting Group announced it was going to air footage of "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal" — a critical look at Sen. John Kerry by Vietnam veteran Carlton Sherwood — the buzz was different. Enter a new twist — a responsibility to not air a documentary, a responsibility to chill a dissenting view.

Pundits cited a Center for Responsive Politics survey which found that 95 percent of the $76,705 that Sinclair execs donated money to 2004 candidates went to Republicans. Democratic politicians accused Sinclair of making an illegal in-kind campaign contribution and demanded that the Federal Communications Commission investigate. (The FCC declined.)

Friday night, Sinclair aired a different package, "A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media," which groups that had been critical of Sinclair deemed to be somewhat balanced.

Did punditry voice its fear that the Dems had chilled free expression? Was the episode an example of government censorship prompting the spineless caving in of amoral advertisers? Hell no.

"We felt that what was presented was far different than what was originally intended," Consumers Union's Gene Kimmelman told the Chicago Tribune. The system — the stifling of "Stolen Honor," the stifling of dissent — won applause.

To be fair, Sinclair wasn't likely to win buddies in the media after it fired longtime reporter Jon Lieberman for criticizing his company's plans. That was bad form — and it gave critics cause to suspect Sinclair had an agenda.

And The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley had a solid take on the controversy when she wrote that "Stolen Honor," though "histrionic" and "often specious," "should be shown in its entirety on all the networks, cable stations and on public television." Stanley liked that the documentary did a solid job of portraying those Vietnam vets and former POWs who will never forgive Kerry for his damning remarks about U.S. atrocities in Vietnam.

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There's only one explanation why networks have ignored Kerry's public statements about Vietnam while sparing no expense (or ounce of credibility) trying to unearth non-news about George W. Bush and his National Guard service: bias.

And bias is the only explanation for the dearth of coverage of Kerry-orchestrated protests of a Pennsylvania cinema's showing of "Stolen Honor," which eventually shut down a planned screening of the film. It's different, you see, when Democrats freeze out dissent and step on the free-speech rights of Vietnam vets who don't like Kerry. In fact, it's acceptable.

All bow to our betters in Europe: Imagine my surprise this month as I read that sophisticates across the pond — to whom I am supposed to bow in recognition of my Yankee inferiority — had made a major faux pas. Make that deux faux pas.

The Guardian of London launched Operation Clark County, which invited British citizens to send letters to swing voters in Ohio that could impress upon Buckeye state hicks the importance of dumping Bush.

Need I tell you, esteemed reader, that this heavy-handed bid to boost Kerry in the polls backfired? A chastened Guardian was forced to scrap the operation.

Then, on Oct. 23, Guardian TV columnist Charlie Brooker wrote a column lamenting how Our Betters in Europe were reduced to praying that President Bush not be re-elected. The column ended: "John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. — where are you now that we need you?"

In a clarification Monday, the Guardian explained, "Although flippant and tasteless, (Brooker's) closing comments were intended as an ironic joke, not as a call to action — an intention he believed regular readers of his humorous column would understand. He deplores violence of any kind."

The next time a scold tells me Bush is a disaster because Our Betters in Europe don't like him, I'll think of those sophisticated, nuanced wits at the Guardian. They do, after all, deplore violence of any kind.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate