"VIETNAM: OP/ED--AN INSIDE STORY SPECIAL," Wednesday 8 p.m. (28) (50); 9 p.m. (15)--TV history will be made this week when PBS airs a two-hour program that in part rebuts a previously aired 13-part Vietnam War documentary.
The earlier program, "Vietnam: A Television History," was generally praised by critics when it was presented on PBS in 1983, but it was also attacked by some conservatives as being distorted in favor of the North Vietnamese.
This Wednesday's controversial two-hour production will mark the first time that an American network has gone to such lengths to accommodate critics of one of its programs. Consequently, PBS has been attacked for setting a precedent that could lead to similar rebuttal demands from critics of other public TV programs.
The critical question is this: Where does a broadcaster draw the line between allowing for responsible public criticism and relinquishing control to an outsider?
The outsider in this case is Accuracy in Media (AIM), a conservative watchdog group that was among the strongest critics of the earlier documentary. The centerpiece of Wednesday's program is an hour production that was commissioned by AIM. Charlton Heston narrates the AIM rebuttal.
The remaining hour of "Vietnam: Op/Ed" will follow the customary "Inside Story" format of presenting a cross section of opinion critically examining the original documentary and also the AIM rebuttal portion, according to PBS. "Inside Story" was a media-probing series that ran for several seasons on PBS before losing its funding. "Inside Story" producer Ned Schnurman was brought back to produce Wednesday's program.
"Vietnam: A Television History" received six Emmys. The WGBH-TV production team for the series and Schnurman say that the AIM rebuttal contains mostly unsubstantiated charges. However, Schnurman defends the PBS decision to telecast the rebuttal. And Barry Chase, PBS vice president for public affairs and news programming, says that PBS decided to air the AIM criticisms so that viewers would be able to make up their own minds about the program.
Now, on Wednesday they will.