Tortured Reasoning?

You may have heard of Torturing Democracy, a documentary film exploring the Bush administration’s interrogation strategies and policies, written and produced by Frontline’s award-winning Sherry Jones. The film will air on New York’s WNET tonight, and in other public television markets around the country over the next few weeks. However, The New York Times reports today, 15 percent of the country likely won’t see the film on TV before 2009, if they do at all. That 15 percent includes the kinda-into-politics market of Washington, D.C.

The reason? Seems PBS wanted to postpone the film’s release date to…January 21, 2009. Which…yeah. Just slightly eyebrow-raising. According to a PBS rep, though, the reason for the desired postponement was certainly not fear of pissing off the famously laid-back and non-grudge-prone Bush administration, or anything. Nuh-uh. Instead:

Several factors prevented a summer airdate, including scheduling of the animated sitcom “Click & Clack’s As the Wrench Turns” and the political conventions, and a desire not to compete against the Olympics, Lea Sloan, a PBS spokeswoman, said.

Okay. The political conventions, fair enough as pre-empters. And the Olympics, mostly, fair enough, as well. But: Click & Clack’s As the Wrench Turns? Seriously? As in, the animated sitcom based on the Car Talk guys? Good lord.

Here’s more detail on the matter, per the Times:

PBS executives also asked Ms. Jones to make changes to the film, including adding [a taped] panel discussion [to follow the film’s airing]. By the time that happened, the fall schedule was set, said John Wilson, the PBS senior vice president for programming. He called the film “ultimately an impressive work of journalism,” and said, “our goal was to have it in a good slot.” That the first date offered happened to be the day after the Bush administration is to leave power “absolutely is coincidental,” he said. “It was the date that offered itself up.”

But Jones rejected PBS’s offer of a late release. Instead, with the help of democracy advocate and public television enthusiast Bill Moyers, she negotiated with stations individually, eventually convincing 85 percent of markets to find their own time slots in which to air the film before 2009. If you’re in the minority whose stations haven’t made such arrangements—check your local listings, and all that—then you can watch the ninety-minute film online at

Still. Though WNET’s Stephen Segaller probably had a point when he told the Times that “PBS was in a no-win situation and would also have been criticized had it decided to show the program before the Nov. 4 election,” as well, Gawker’s Ryan Tate sums up the situation well. “If this is just another one of those internecine conflicts endemic to nonprofit journalism,” Tate writes, “it’s sure doing a good job disguising itself as a genuine scandal.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.