In one of strangest — though most welcome — reviews in The New York Times in recent years, Alessandra Stanley openly mocks the three-hour (yes, you read that right) PBS documentary about Nixon/Reagan strong man George F. Shultz. She makes fun of the length over three Mondays — even Jefferson only got three hours, and from Ken Burns, famous for going overlong — and we even get a shot at the sponsors. Well, at least the film reveals that the buttoned-down Shultz has a small tattoo of a Princeton Tiger on his butt.
Here’s the opening: It’s not a prank, and it’s not Punk’d. PBS really is presenting a three-hour documentary about George P. Shultz, the former secretary of state. It’s a little hard to believe. Even the title sounds like a ‘Colbert Report’ punch line: Turmoil and Triumph: The George Shultz Years. …It feels as if it never ends."
Later: "The Titanic took less time to sink (2 hours 40 minutes) than it takes PBS to give Mr. Shultz his due." And it’s apparently puffery through and through. No mention is made, for example, of Shultz’s support for the invasion of Iraq (he has been called "The Father of the Bush Doctrine" for preventive war). We’ll hold our breath on his error-filled Iran-Contra testimony, the invasion of Grenada, and so on. Stanley, while making fun of the length of the film, somehow agrees that "it can be argued" (as the film certainly does) that Shultz was "one of the best" secretary of states since George Marshall. Watch breathless trailer here.
Who sponsored this? They includes "Nixon-era colleague, Peter G. Peterson, who is married to Joan Ganz Cooney, the founder of Children’s Television Workshop. The Stephen Bechtel Fund gave money, so did Charles Schwab, founder of the Charles Schwab Corporation, where Mr. Shultz also served as a board member. So did many prominent foundations and individuals, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California."
But Stanley falls down in failing to probe why this film is such a love letter to Shultz — and perhaps why PBS, always anxious to appear politically "balanced" — gave it such length. She notes that its executive producer is Bob Chitester of Free to Choose Media but fails to point out his rightwing orientation.
Based in Erie, Pa., Free to Choose Media was founded with money from the conservative Bradley Foundation and is part of the Palmer R. Chitester Fund (that’s Bob Chitester’s father). Free to Choose says it aims to make conservative econmic and political views "accessible" to a wider audience — for example, by funding John Stossel’s widely-used "Stossel in the Classroom" project. Chitester even owned johnstossel.org and Stosell.com.
Other titles from Free to Choose include rightwing economist Michelle Muccio’s wonderfully titled From Poop to Profits film. It also produced a hit on global warming Unstoppable Solar Cycles.
The media company grew out of Bob Chitester taking a lead role in creating the famous 10-part Free to Choose PBS series starring Milton Friedman, which was a response to the John Kenneth Galbraith Age of Uncertainty series. The Wall Street Journal has observed, " Bob Chitester produced the original series while serving as the only public-TV station manager in the country who didn’t believe in government subsidies."
On its site, Free to Choose describes its top current production this way: "Johan Norberg, a noted Swedish Author and Scholar, will attack the pervasive and negative myths about Capitalism, Free Trade and Globalization with an insightful, engaging and often times humorous look at the world around us as it really is."