Shultz PBS Series: Ethics Questions?

OK, the producers interviewed me for this series and have included a few cameo snippets of that interview, so I guess some may feel I have a “conflict of interest” in evaluating it. However, I didn’t choose the excerpts, didn’t edit the film, didn’t write the narrative, didn’t help finance it, and don’t derive any income from it. I must, however, admit to a strong interest in people understanding how the Cold War ended. If that creates a conflict of interest with those with a stake in a distorted version, so be it.

As a person who observed George Shultz during some of the most important events this series pictures, let me say that I find the series completely truthful.  I can’t find any signficant element where there was a misrepresentation of what actually happened, or a deliberate spin that gave an inaccurate impression.  Furthermore, I find it highly relevant to the most important issues we face today, particularly the need to engage with adversaries and how to do so successfully. So many misleading distortions about the Cold War and its end have been peddled of late that it is refreshing to be reminded how Reagan and Shultz used negotiation on the basis of strength to engage Gorbachev and bring the Cold War to an end.

The series, based on Shultz’s memoirs, Turmoil and Triumph, of course reflects his point of view, but it is not a distorted whitewash.  It simply tells it like it was. And if, at times, it makes Shultz the hero, then–to this close observer–by golly, he was! Not because of the film, but because of what really happened.

Feeling as I do about the production, I was astounded to read in the New York Times this morning that accusations have been made of impropriety in the financing of the series. More than a dozen persons and foundations contributed to the funding, many with personal ties to George Shultz, but they did not produce it and had no editorial control over it. I don’t see how they are going to profit from their financial backing.  So where is the alleged conflict of interest? There seems a lot more potential conflict of interest in insurance companies funding Antiques Road Show, when the estimators advise sky-high insurance coverage! 

Michael Getler, the PBS ombudsman, responding to criticisms of the series, most having arrived before it was aired, has written that there is “at least an appearance of a conflict of interest.” Well, “appearance” is obviously subjective, but where is there even the “appearance” of a conflict?  Getler never says directly.

His criticisms of the series in fact have nothing to do with “conflict of interest.”    What he objects to is what he calls “deification” of Shultz.  Gee, I better watch the series again. I missed that part. But even if it is appropriate, what does it have to do with “conflict of interest”? How about the use of hyperbole by an “ombudsman”?  Presumably he has a vested interest in finding fault, so he stretches the truth here and there to make a case.

You can read Michael Getler’s evaluation at

There are so many media distortions current today–the Shirley Sherrod case being just the latest sensational one–that it is discouraging to see the PBS ombudsman suspecting impropriety when there is absolutely no evidence of it. He may like or dislike the film,  but he is not hired to be the movie critic. He complains that the film does not mention that Shultz backed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. True, and I disagreed with him at that time (and the Bush-Cheney administration was not guided by his advice, or they would have done it differently) but that is irrelevant to this series. It also does not cover the extensive work Shultz has done over the past few years to revive the Reagan-Gorbachev dream of a nuclear-free world.  That is important, but not relevant to the story in the film.

Watch the final version and see if you can figure out how the people who financed the showing are going to derive some improper benefit from it.  If you can, please let Michael Getler know because as yet he has not made his case.

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