In yesterday's preview of the CBS News broadcast "American Dream, American Nightmare," the executive producer and writer of the program was incorrectly identified. The correct name of the executive producer and writer is Perry Wolff.
Replay of the 1970s should not, perhaps, be instant. The decade of punk rock and pet rocks needs a few more seconds to congeal before the deluge or pronouncements and explanations sets in.
Ah, but this will not stop the hortatory oracles of CBS News from attempting to bury the '70s under a load of polemical swamp gas and precious, specious pop-think. "American Dream, American Nightmare. The Seventies," a CBS News special at 10 tonight and Saturday night on Channel 9, should really have been titled, "American Bank American Hooey." c
It's a crock.
Correspondent Harry Reasoner's obligatory disclaimer that this is "less than a definitive history" is the safest assessment in the script, written by executive producer Perry Lafferty. He reshaped the decade into a neat and pat TV narrative filled with leaps of logic that would unnerve a Wallenda.
One of the choicest summations is in part two, after CBS has managed to end the war in Vietnam. Lafferty shows us a film clip of Woody Allen as a klutzy lover in "Play It Again, Sam," and then has Reasoner intone,
"This kind of ineptness would not have appealed to a generation that had won a war."
They've GOT to be kidding.
Reasoner introduces a segment on the women's movement with, "In this country, by tradition, liberty is a woman," over shots of the Statue of Liberty. And later, after a nose-rubbing rundown of the ancient history of Watergate Reasoner hails New York's Bicentennial celebration as "a day that almost redeemed the decade."
Harry, you're pulling the nation's leg!
Maybe this kind of flatulent fatuity is inevitable in a documentary so obviously a case of pictures chosen to fit words -- and premises -- rather than an impressionistic array of TV images that might really give a sense of the times. CBS News chooses not to allow us to reach any conclusions of our own; a decade captured in pictures by television is reduced to incessant, prodding babble.
A great deal of the program is concerned with discrediting Richard Nixon -- perhaps the ultimate in "coals-toNewcastle" exercises -- and defending the behavior of the press, meaning of course CBS News in particular. In one montage of shots, the network is made to look as if it had exclusive coverage of the 1972 conventions.
The failure of the network news boys to get aggressive on Watergate until other journalists had done the leg work is discreetly fudged over. Lafferty has Reasoner say, "As for the press, we had no idea at this early time that the president's office was involved. But we did sense we were on to a big story." It sounds like something Batman might have said to Boywonder Robin.
Even though Lafferty turns Nixon into a virtual trampoline for Reasoner and those sanctimonious souls at CBS News, it is Nixon who emerges as the program's -- and the decade's -- one true star. How dauntless he was in self-destruction! How consistent in evasiveness! How indefatigibly disingenuous!
Whether parrying with smart-arse students at Oxford or insisting on his lack of animosity toward Daniel Ellsberg ("I couldn't care less about the punk"), or attempting to smear his own secretary of state while pretending to defend him ("Now, Henry's not a mean man"), Nixon truly was essence of television and truly essence of 70s, too.
Unfortunately, it appears somebody has slipped in a mirror where the lens should be in the CBS eye.