The Independent Television Service was established by Congress in 1988 with legislation directing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to establish ITVS with "a national coalition of independent producer groups." Currently, CPB awards $15 million a year to ITVS, a one-sided, left-wing "independent" filmmakers’ organizing center. ITVS saw its purpose to be "a catalyst for change, a way for independent producers to participate in and define the cultural dialogue of public television." Today, that "cultural dialogue" is being defined from Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district, at 651 Brannan Street in the city of San Francisco.
When it comes to sexual politics, the tax dollars funneled into ITVS have long been used to promote the libertine left, beginning in the early 1990s with the films of the late Marlon Riggs, a gay black filmmaker and the maker of the explicitly gay film "Tongues Untied," and a liberal darling who drew taxpayer funding from a plethora of government "arts" agencies. That history of left-wing advocacy against social conservatives funded and promoted by ITVS continues to the present:
– "Jane: An Abortion Service" (1998) chronicled an underground abortion movement in Chicago before abortion was legal nationwide, hailed for how it "powerfully documents a group of courageous women who were willing to translate their politics into action by providing safety and dignity to women of all backgrounds [seeking abortions]." According to ITVS, "was broadcast nationally on select public television stations in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22, 1973)." Filmmaker Kate Kirtz reveled in her feminism: "For us and others of our generation who grew up with choice, it's hard to comprehend both the reality of living with illegal abortion and the atmosphere that fostered as direct and radical a group as JANE. This film is a way to get us talking about our past and our power at a time when feminism has become a dirty word and choice remains fragile in the extreme."
– "And Baby Makes Two" (1999) explored single mothers by choice. The Independent Lens website promoted it as "a candid and emotional documentary about a group of thirty and forty-something single women in New York City who are actively pursuing motherhood without the participation of spouses or boyfriends."
– "Scout’s Honor" (2001) aired in June as part of the PBS documentary series P.O.V. (where films are hailed for their "point of view.") Filmmaker Tom Shepard set out to embarrass the Boy Scouts of America for failing to allow openly gay Scouts. He boasted of the political potential of his film: "The Boy Scouts could be a really useful organization in the new century. Are they going to cling to these antiquated policies of the past or jump on board with contemporary society?"
In an hour, viewers saw about a minute of fleeting snippets of conservatives such as Pat Buchanan, Rev. Lou Sheldon, and anonymous talking heads opposing the film’s liberal heroes. Not even reviewers from liberal newspapers were buying the that PBS was achieving "balance" with the film. "Conservatives may bristle while watching it," acknowledged The Washington Post. "This isn't a news documentary but a sympathetic examination of the personalities involved in trying to change the Boy Scouts’ rules," reported The New York Times.
– "Daddy & Papa" (2003) promoted the cultural revolution of gay parenting, "the growing number of gay men who are making a decision that is at once traditional and revolutionary: to become dads." PBS seemingly had no objections to filmmaker Johnny Symons being "too close" to his subject as he explored his own adoption of two boys. Symons stressed the usual hope for liberal impact: "My filmmaking is motivated by social activism. I love the opportunity to change people’s belief systems, or to reveal that something that seems clear-cut is in fact quite complex....I also hope the film will inspire more gay men to become parents, and encourage more social workers, judges, and politicians to use their positions of power to make this possible."
ITVS reported the film was used by the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services to promote gay adoptions, and screened for three classes of juniors and seniors in a Norristown, Pennsylvania high school, followed by a discussion on adoption and families.
– "The Great Pink Scare" (2005) chronicled an arrest of 15 men in Northhampton, Massachusetts, including three professors at Smith College. The arrest was described by ITVS as "a McCarthy-like witch-hunt against homosexuals....Through interviews, archival film and commentary, audiences learn the fates of the Smith professors, who never recovered from the scandal."
Once again, the subject was not only political, but personal. Filmmaker Tug Yourgrau explained "My father taught at Smith College in 1960 when Arvin was arrested; I was about 11 at the time. We’d held a fundraiser in our home for Arvin, I remember looking down the stairs with my two brothers in our pajamas as the people arrived." He hoped the film would "remind us that government does not belong in the bedrooms of consenting adults, and that we must ever be on guard against those who would demonize gays and lesbians."
– "The Amasong Chorus: Singing Out" (2004) chronicled how a "lesbian/feminist choir" in Champaign, Illinois triumphed "in an area best known for cornfields and conservatives." Filmmaker Jay Rosenstein laid out his one-sided agenda boldly: "I hope it is a link in the chain that helps continue the process of normalizing lesbians and gays as part of the mainstream." Before the film aired on the PBS series Independent Lens and became a regular part of gay and lesbian film festivals, Rosenstein had to be voted in as the first male presence allowed at the feminist choir’s rehearsals.
– "The Education of Shelby Knox" (2005) began the summer season of the P.O.V. series on PBS, complete with a media tour touting a liberal conversion story: "Shelby, a devout Christian who has pledged abstinence until marriage herself, becomes an unlikely advocate for comprehensive sex education, profoundly changing her political and spiritual views along the way." From fighting against abstinence-only sex education, Knox then becomes an activist for gay students.
The film synopsis explains she declares herself a liberal Democrat, shocking her Republican parents. "But when an organization whose slogan is ‘God Hates Fags’ comes to Lubbock to protest the gay kids’ lawsuit, Shelby, along with her mother, joins a counter protest, carrying a sign that reads ‘God Loves Everybody,’ and affirming a belief that will guide her into adulthood: "I think that God wants you to question," Shelby says, "to do more than just blindly be a follower, because he can’t use blind followers." The film was funded not only by CPB, but by the Playboy Foundation, among other foundation donors, and became a hit at Planned Parenthood centers.
– "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria" (2006) celebrated a San Francisco riot in 1966 when police raided a popular late-night hangout for "transgendered people in the city’s impoverished Tenderloin district." ITVS hailed it in promotional materials as "the first known instance of collective, queer resistance to police intimidation in United States history."
Filmmaker Victor Silverman was thrilled to win a local Emmy in San Francisco for the film: "The riot really marked the beginning of a broader movement to support freedom of gender expression. ... The Emmy is a great honor for us and a real recognition by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences of the importance of recovering the lost history of transgender militancy."
A film about "the lost history of transgender militancy" would sound to many Americans like the definition of wasteful government spending. But taxpayers subsidize filmmakers to chronicle the most obscure and exotic topics, because their complete lack of appeal to a broader public is precisely what defines these little movies as edgy and "independent." In funding filmmakers to go out and make one-sided left-wing films, public broadcasting subsidies serve, in effect, as ideological pork-barrel spending.
Conservatives not only have to raise their own funds if they wanted to make a film about broader movement subjects (the history of American conservatism) or narrow ones (a personal film about Christian home-schoolers) – they end up paying for the left admiring itself in the mirror instead. In reality, few of these conservative films have been made, in part because the federal government isn’t providing tens of millions of dollars to make it happen. But whether these left-wing films reach a broad audience on national television or just a narrow audience in small left-wing circles in isolated communities, ITVS is a never-ending spigot for one side of the political divide.
This article is excerpted from the MRC Special Report No Fairness Doctrine for PBS.