Bill Steigerwald

Canadian novelist and veteran documentary filmmaker Martyn Burke is not someone you'd expect to get into an ugly ideological spitting match with the folks who run PBS.

Burke, who lives and works in the heart of the Hollywood creative community, considers himself neither conservative nor liberal. But "Islam vs. Islamist," the documentary he made about how moderate Muslims are being silenced and intimidated by Islamist extremists, will not be part of "America at a Crossroads," PBS's new 11-part, six-night series about post-9/11 America that begins Sunday night at 9.

Executives at WETA in Washington, D.C., the public station overseeing the series for PBS, say the documentary was cut from the "Crossroads" lineup because it wasn't completed in time and because it was “alarmist” and not objective. PBS says it may run it at a later date.

Burke, however, says his documentary, made with $700,000 in Corporation for Public Broadcasting money, was interfered with and then dropped because he refused to fire his two co-producers, Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev, who run the Center for Security Policy think tank.

Burke says he is telling his side of the story because "of a long litany of unbelievably unprofessional things" that have happened and because PBS series producers violated "the basic tenets of journalism." I talked to Burke by telephone on Thursday, April12, from his home in Santa Monica, Calif.:

Q: Is this what you get for taking $700,000 from the taxpayers to make a documentary?
A: Probably. I think I’m paying for my sins of working on the public purse right now. But, no, we took this on because we just wanted to ask one simple question after 9/11: Where are the moderate Muslims and why aren’t they speaking out? We took this for a very serious purpose. We thought it was a question that needed answering and the answer we found was that the moderate Muslims have been generally intimidated, in many cases, through coercion, ostracism or sometimes outright fear of physical violence. That is what we wanted to show.

Q: That’s what “Islam vs. Islamists” is about?
A: Yes. We portrayed a number of moderate Muslims in Denmark, in France, in Canada and in the United States -- the U.S. being one community in Flint, Mich., and one in Phoenix. We chose moderate Muslims. We hired a team of journalists, some of the best we could get our hands on, who are reporters from major newspapers in France, Denmark and Toronto. We had a Pulitzer Prize nominee and a woman profiled in The New York Times for the excellence of her team. We were just about making a documentary on this topic but we found ourselves enmeshed in politics unlike I have never seen before.


Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..