PBS’s Frontline Pops Anti-Trump Popcorn for Liberals: ‘Democracy on Trial’

News & Politics

PBS’s leftish investigative show Frontline devoted a nearly two-and-a-half-hour episode, complete with trademark liberal melodrama, to the impending trial of former President Donald Trump, related to the Capitol Hill rampage of January 6, 2021.

The Democratic-dominated committee’s final report made a blueprint for Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith. An indictment against Trump followed, charging the former president with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election (the trial originally set for March 4 has been postponed).

PBS journalist Hari Sreenivasan (who separately interviewed director Michael Kirk for the PBS show Amanpour & Co. last week) enthused about Frontline and the “PBS difference” on his personal LinkedIn page:

Even if you think you remember everything about Jan. 6, the trials and the role of the former President, you are likely to learn something new. This 2.5 hour summation is greater than all the daily stories that came at us over the years. This is truly the PBS difference. Who else has the bandwidth to devote hours of primetime? No one.

The interviews are almost entirely with staunch conservative Republicans and the film is stronger for it. There is no worry that the interviews/soundbites were taken out of context, because as always, in an act of radical transparency Frontline makes all the transcripts and videos available in their entirety….

This claim on the interviews is blatantly false. It was mostly liberal journalists like Peter Baker and Robert Draper and Susan Glasser, who were not ideologically labeled. Meanwhile, Bill Kristol, a former conservative who is not only anti-Trump but pro-Biden, was trumpeted as “conservative.” Pseudo-conservative columnist David French also made an appearance. Their web page of interview transcripts also included Mona Charen, Alyssa Farah Griffin, Adam Kinzinger, Michael Luttig, Olivia Troye, and Charlie Sykes. They’re all welcome on CNN or MSNBC.

You can sense the liberal interview tilt right from the introduction: 

The “PBS difference” in the case consisted of Frontline once again pleasing its liberal viewership, from a 2023 documentary about “ruthless” Senate leader Mitch McConell to the show’s decades-long history of liberal muckraking and agenda-pushing.

“Democracy on Trial” rehashed what news-watchers are already familiar with, including all of the sometimes cringeworthy, sometimes contested details of what Trump and his allies like Rudy Giuliani allegedly said and plotted during the ultimately successful transfer of power.

Director Kirk (who cowrote the episode with Mike Wiser) dwelled on the head of the Congressional committee, Bennie Thompson, himself a bit of an election denier, though of course that inconvenient detail didn’t make the cut.

Frontline’s distinctive, gentle-voiced Will Lyman narrated, as he has for decades.

Narrator: For the first time in American history, a president charged with crimes in office.

Meanwhile, liberal hero Jack Smith got the Eliot Ness treatment:

Ken White, criminal defense attorney: Jack Smith is sort of like the central-casting, career federal prosecutor. He’s been doing this for 20 years. He has a reputation for being thorough and methodical. He’s fairly aggressive, but not reckless-aggressive. He’s a very formidable opponent for Trump’s lawyers.

Meanwhile, Frontline made much of Bennie Thompson growing up during Jim Crow and who “saw parallels” between that era and what the Trumpers attempted on January 6.

Journalist Robert Draper: Bennie Thompson is a Mississippi congressman, a black man who grew up during the Civil Rights era in Mississippi, during the last vestiges of Jim Crow and saw how hard-fought the franchise to vote was for so many black Americans.

Narrator: In January 6th, Thompson saw parallels.

Thompson: One of the symbols of Southern resistance to voting rights and equal opportunity was the Confederate battle flag. And to see that flag being waved by many of the protestors brought back those memories.

Tim Mulvey, Comm. Director, Jan. 6 Committee: When he saw rioters storm the Capitol, carrying the Confederate battle flag, essentially trying to take away the votes of the American people, that I know affected him profoundly.

Thompson certainly didn’t hold “the votes of the American people” nearly so sacred in January 2005. After the 2004 presidential election in which Republican George W. Bush defeated Democratic Sen. John Kerry thanks to winning Ohio, Rep. Thompson was one of 31 House Democrats who voted not to recognize Ohio’s electoral votes, which conceivably would have overturned Bush’s victory. So who put “democracy on trial” back then? 

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