Oakland, Calif. - Sacramento’s public television station, believed to be the nation’s only major PBS affiliate that had refused to broadcast a well-reviewed documentary on antisemitism, has reversed course after an outcry from the local Jewish community.
The station, KVIE, initially refused to air “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence” when it was screened in January by many public stations across the country. KVIE claimed that the documentary didn’t meet its journalistic standards. But after meeting twice with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Sacramento, the station’s president and general manager, David Hosley, announced that the film would air later this month and again in mid-April.
“I still think that this is a flawed program,” Hosley told the Forward, repeating his earlier assertions that the film doesn’t address antisemitism in the United States adequately. He complained that it focuses on the most inflammatory speech emanating from the Middle East without providing sufficient context or suggesting any path toward reconciliation.
Hosley said he came to the conclusion that since the Public Broadcasting Service fed the program to 95% of the nation, it would be unfair to deprive Sacramento-area residents of a chance to judge the film themselves. He also said that he took into account the pleas from the JCRC, and that he believes a weeklong “America at a Crossroads” programming blitz that PBS is planning for April would provide the post-9/11 context that the documentary needs.
Sacramento JCRC spokeswoman Michelle Reardon praised the about-face. “He acknowledged where he had made an error. He stood by his personal worries about this film, but I think he recognizes that they’re personal and the right thing to do is to show this film,” she told the Forward. “He did his homework. He responded in a timely way to our community. What else can you ask for? We could ask that we shouldn’t have had to lobby to have this film aired, but I think this process means the next time something like this happens, we won’t have to.”
Hosley — a veteran radio-and-television newsman before managing public television stations in the San Francisco Bay area, and now in Sacramento — had convened members of KVIE’s board of directors and community advisory board, as well as a few local religious leaders, to pre-screen the film this past December. “We discussed it, and the consensus in that room was that this was a program that likely was going to do more harm than good in our community and we shouldn’t run it,” said Hosley.
The elephant in the room was a 1999 arson spree in which three Sacramento-area synagogues had been torched, touching off years of community tension.
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen, of the Reform Congregation Beth Shalom in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, felt differently. The only rabbi at that screening, she said she found herself amid other clergy members — including a Methodist minister and a Muslim imam — with whom she has worked hard to build community bonds.
“To not show it is denial,” the rabbi told the Forward. “My feeling was that it needed to be shown in a responsible way.… I wanted it to be shown with a panel-discussion following that could unpack the issues and help it be constructive… and give us some way of processing the issues that were raised.”
Hosley also spoke in December with Andrew Goldberg, the film’s Manhattan-based producer, director and writer, about the decision to nix the movie.
“We had a cordial, polite conversation,” Goldberg recalled. “I know that he is a general manager of a station who has done terrific work in the past. I respect his right to not run the program; however, I feel it’s a strong program. I disagree with the public comments he has made about the program, and I feel it’s an important program that should be shown.”
Goldberg has made documentaries for PBS, ABC News, E!, CNN and other networks. Two of these televised accounts have been last year’s nationally aired “The Armenian Genocide” and 2002 Emmy winner “A Yiddish World Remembered.” His film on antisemitism, he said, “was two years in the making, and we held it to the highest journalistic standards, enlisting the help of many experts… on the journalism, the balance, the issues. We firmly, strongly stand behind our journalism in this show.”
Reardon said her JCRC is working with its counterpart in the San Francisco area to bring Goldberg to Northern California for one or more public screenings of the film, possibly later this month.
The film was well reviewed in several publications, including The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter. A review in the Boston Globe said the film “proves that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, the faux Kazakh reporter who believes Jews can turn themselves into cockroaches, isn’t the absurd caricature we’d like him to be.”
The national PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler, received a wave of correspondence both for and against the film. In his January 11 online column, he wrote that “Goldberg, moderator Judy Woodruff, and presenter Oregon Public Broadcasting did a good and bold job and provided a useful and unique public service in taking on this volatile, uncomfortable to watch but important subject at this time.”
“This struck me as just the thing Public TV ought to be doing,” Getler wrote. “It is unlikely that any diverse audience will ever say that you got this subject just right, but producers need to take a shot at it.”