Ethics Villains: Documentary Maker Ken Burns And PBS

What, you well may ask, is a photograph of Dylann Roof doing in Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “The US and the Holocaust”? Good question.  The answer is, frankly, disgusting.

In the last of three parts in the film, shown tonight on PBS stations nationwide, the now familiar Burns historical story-telling is converted into a partisan, negative, political campaign ad, and not even a fair or respectable one compared to the ugliest attack ads you will see in the coming month. Apparently the tax-payer funded pubic broadcasting corporation decided that the perils facing of its patron Democratic Party in the upcoming election were dire enough to justify turning a legitimate and mostly admirable piece of documentary craft into supplementary material to Joe Biden’s indefensible attack on Republicans as fascists and “clear and present dangers” to democracy.

Burns, to his eternal shame—I will not watch any future Burns works—agreed to betray the trust of his viewers and the integrity of his art by using the last 10 minutes of “The US and the Holocaust” to draw an intellectually dishonest and virtually libelous analogy between the anti-Semites in Roosevelt’s State Department that blocked European Jews from escaping to the U.S. before Hitler sent them to the showers, the Nazis themselves, and those who oppose pro-illegal immigration policies in the U.S. today.

The big, not-so-subtle clue is the title of the final chapter. Each of the previous two in the chronological film are accompanied by dates. Part 3 is titled “The Homeless, Tempest-Tossed”—Ah! Just generic enough to justify making Jewish refugees the analogues of current day illegal South American immigrants. Clever!—- with the dates reading “(1942 – )” You see? The Holocaust is still ongoing here. Fascists are still determined to keep America white and Christian.

Snippets of news broadcasts and collages of images are rapidly edited together in familiar negative campaign ad style, bearing no resemblance to the pace or approach of the documentary itself. All of the images and sound bites fly by: the Charlottesville march, “white supremacy,” “authoritarian,” Roof, Donald Trump, Confederate flags, Selma, Ann Coulter talking about “The Great Replacement,” Fox News, a “Built the Wall” sign….and, of course, a “Stop the Steal” picket and the January 6 riot…. because nothing suggests the Holocaust like a mob of middle-aged morons with bear spray throwing a tantrum in the Capitol.

No, Burns was just following orders here, and allowing ruthless political hacks who couldn’t care less about his work use him for their own purposes. He is weak and a fool for allowing them to do it. But bias makes you stupid.

Then two progressive historians—there are a lot Burns could choose from—tell us that the urgent lesson of the Holocaust is that the same symptoms are exploding in the U.S. today. Democracy may be threatened.

Vote Democrat!

No, the ten minute political ad tacked on at the end didn’t come right out and state that; I would have had more respect for PBS and Burns if it had. But of course, the alliance between the media, the arts and a desperate, unprincipled political party determined to demonize its critics and opponents that Burns’ damning abuse of his platform and stature symbolizes is the real threat to democracy, and the actual reflection of fascist methodology.

Watch the whole episode here, or just skip to the last 10 minutes, when Peter Coyote’s staid, expressionless narration ends, and the Democratic Party propaganda begins.

I repeat: Disgusting.

15 thoughts on “Ethics Villains: Documentary Maker Ken Burns And PBS

  1. “But of course, the alliance between the media, the arts and a desperate, unprincipled political party determined to demonize its critics and opponents that Burns’ damning abuse of his platform and stature symbolizes is the real threat to democracy, and the actual reflection of fascist methodology.”

    I agree, but I wouldn’t use the word “desperate.” Desperate usually implies success is almost impossible and you’re down to your last throw of the dice. To hear the polls, anyway, the Democratic Party is in a pretty good place right now. The president’s ratings are up, it looks like they’ll hold the Senate, and there might be a pretty good chance they’ll hold onto the House. There’s no reason for them to be desperate. Rather, I think the word “ruthless” fits. The Democratic Party wants total control, and they’re getting very close to it. They’re also getting closer and closer to criminalizing disagreeing, and no one is doing much about it. “Ruthless” would be a better word.

    • I think they are whistling past the graveyard, and know it. They will lose the House, and they will lose the Senate too. As usual, the polling is tilted to the Left, and they know that as well. Desperate. It’s the economy, and that won’t get better by November…it is likely to get worse. Biden’s speech hurt, and there will be more botches to come.

      • I hope you’re right. I’d settle for one or the other, frankly, just to stall the legislative agenda. They may well be whistling past the graveyard, but at this point there’s no dirty trick they won’t stoop to.

        Do you really think the speech was that damaging? On the one hand, the media leaped in to give it favorable coverage, but, on the other hand, maybe they did that because they knew this was a bitch that needed to be quickly papered over.

        • With massive inflation, an unpopular POTUS and the mid term election, if Republican’s don’t have a rout, it will be a historic anomaly. The GOP tried the same kind of disinformation when it looked like the Democrats would make big gains in 2018.It didn’t work, and this won’t work. The Democrats deserve to get killed, and they will.

      • The fact that all of them are afraid to allow Biden anywhere near their campaigns might be an indicator that they’re not really confident of their chances in November.

  2. “I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you, that there is propaganda going on in a Ken Burns documentary!”

    “Here is your receipt for your political donation, sir.”

    “Thank you.”

    • “Here is your receipt for your political donation, sir.”
      “Thank you.”

      Word on the street is that Burns’ wife persuaded him to take the money and sell his soul a little, because she has been wanting an in-ground pool for the longest time and they are basically wokesters anyway. Plus, Burns knows he can always chop off the ending sometime down the road and no one will care or even notice but at least his wife will have stopped nagging him, and that is real.

  3. I don’t want to give PBS the benefit of a “hit” on their website/video, so I’ll just pose a few (probably rhetorical) questions:
    Did the ending include scenes of violent masked antifa and other democrat brownshirts goons?
    Did it show rioting arsonists after the 2016 election (or their later “summer of love”)?
    Did it show democrat demographics looting and destroying minority (Asian, Jewish, Indian,…) businesses?
    Did it show college students disrupting and shouting down conservative speakers?
    Did it show democrats attacking republicans waiting in line at political venues, or their (dem’s) agents provocateurs donning KKK hoods and Nazi armbands at Trump rallies?
    Did it show Hillary labeling half the country “deplorables”?
    Did it mention the weaponizing of the FBI and IRS against conservative groups?

    I (and certainly you, Jack, and many others here) could go on….

    Finally, it was probably post-production, but maybe most relevant: Who wants to bet on the likelihood that Burns will revise the ending to include Dementia Joe’s Red Speech?

    • Oh…it was definitely post-production, maybe long after production. As I mentioned, it doesn’t fit the tone of the film or of anything Burns has ever done before. Yeah, he has a “racist America” bias, but the this looks like he just farmed out the ending to the DNC.

  4. My wife and I are both accredited Fellows of Holocaust Education through the US Holocaust Museum. We have led “pilgrimages” to the historical camps where the genocide of a People and the elimination of political adversaries, and those identified as not worthy of life ( the invalid, the feeble) had taken place.
    Each participant comes away with utter disbelief and a sense of abhorrence. All are cautioned to never compare the Shoah to other atrocities. Doing so will lessen the abhorrence and prevent you from acting in such a way that the words “Never again!” will have tangible meanings.

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