Accuracy in Media

In our last broadcast we praised PBS for airing a dramatic documentary that exposed the Clinton Administration and the United Nations as complicit in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 that took 800,000 lives. But the press reaction has not matched the quality of the broadcast. In the Washington Post, there was no actual review of the show by one of its own reporters. Instead, it ran a column by Nat Hentoff that mentioned it. The program was listed in the Post?s TV column on the day that it aired as a broadcast that “looks at the West’s inaction during the 1993 [sic] Rwandan genocide.” The Post couldn?t even get the year right.

Three days before the program aired, in a development covered by the Post on page two, the Clinton Administration announced it was putting two high-ranking members of Cambodia?s Khmer Rouge movement on a “Wanted” list of alleged war criminals. The Communist Khmer Rouge took the lives of two million people almost 20 years ago. This made it seem like the administration was actively pursuing international justice. But the PBS show on Rwanda raised the more timely question of how Clinton himself should be held accountable for his policy on Rwanda just about five years ago.

Some of the reviews of the program noted that it amounted to an indictment of both Clinton and U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who was in charge of U.N. peacekeeping at the time. Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times called the film “jolting,” and said that it documented how the Clinton Administration and the U.N. “turned their backs on the victims…”

Over at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bill Steigerwald said that the film makers “don?t feign neutrality, and they don?t hide their distaste for President Clinton.” Walter Goodman in the New York Times noted that the film is a strong indictment, and that it ends with a devastating summation of Clinton Administration policy by Philip Gourevitch, who says, “It wasn?t a failure to act. The decision was not to act. And at that, we succeeded greatly.”

On the other hand, Bill Keveney of the Charlotte Observer said he had “one reservation” about the film. He said there seemed to have been little effort to seek explanations from the White House or the Pentagon, “For charges this serious,” he said, “that is a must.” This seems like a fair point, but the truth is that Clinton spoke for himself in the film when he was shown traveling to Rwanda after the genocide and apologizing to the Rwandan people. He made the apology during a three-hour stopover at the Rwanda airport during a trip to Africa. A Pentagon response was really not required because it did not have a direct role in any of this. The U.N. did provide a spokesman, a top assistant to Kofi Annan, but Annan himself did not appear.

This is where the film—and the reaction—have failed to grasp the public policy implications. Clinton and Annan are both still in power. Shouldn?t they be held accountable? Shouldn?t Congress be asked to probe the U.S. and U.N. role in facilitating this genocide?

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