PBS rejects last minute appeal to re-edit “Obama’s War”

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The Marine Corps leaned on PBS to remove explicit imagery from Obama’s War, the Oct. 13 Frontline documentary that took viewers into Afghanistan’s Helmand province with rank and file Marines. Opening minutes of the film include a firefight in which Marine Lance Cpl. Charles S. Sharp was fatally wounded. Frontline had followed rules of embedded reporting in filming and presenting the footage, Marine Corps Col. B.F. Salas acknowledged in a letter to PBS President Paula Kerger, but he appealed to her on the basis of “journalistic good taste,” according to this column by PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler.

“An accomplished storyteller can inform us without resorting to graphic imagery or what might be termed ‘combat pornography,’” Col. Salas, Marine Corps director of public affairs, wrote.

The letter arrived hours before “Obama’s War” debuted on Frontline. Kerger respectfully declined Salas’s request on Oct. 14.

“I’m with PBS on this,” Getler wrote, weighing in on the exchange. “I think Salas’s use of the phrase ‘combat pornography’ is not helpful or appropriate.”

During an Oct. 13 appearance on public radio’s the Takeaway, Cpl. Sharp’s father said he supported the filmmakers’ decision to include footage of his son’s final moments. “It’s not anti-war to me. It’s showing the job these men and women are having to do every day,” Ric Sharp told the Takeaway‘s Celeste Headlee. “It’s not a game. This is real life.”

The opening sequence, first presented Oct. 1 as a preview reel on Frontline’s website, is on the Oct. 13 web edition of the Takeaway. The full program can now be viewed on Frontline’s website.