For six consecutive nights beginning April 15 PBS will turn over two hours of prime time to “America at a Crossroads,” a series of 11 programs, including Mr. Perle’s, meant to engage debate over contentious post-9/11 issues, from the origins of Islamic fundamentalism to the perceived tradeoffs the United States has made between security and liberty.
Getting past the epithets hasn’t been easy. The series was conceived in 2004 by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity that administers federal money for public radio and television, to prove to Congress that public television was worthy of its more than $300 million annual subsidy. Even now Congress is debating the White House’s request to cut public broadcasting’s funds by 25 percent.
The corporation financed the series with $20 million in federal money, an enormous sum for chronically struggling independent filmmakers. But, perhaps inevitably, such a charged project became caught up in the nation’s culture wars.
At a “Crossroads” briefing in New York in March 2004 filmmakers angrily vented concerns that the series was being politically manipulated. Their ire was directed at Michael Pack, then the corporation’s senior vice president for television. He had been brought in the year before to diversify the voices on public television, a mandate that included financing more conservative programming to balance a lineup that his superiors perceived as overly liberal.