The taxpayer-funded PBS network is broadcasting and extensively promoting a film called The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, by filmmaker Stanley Nelson.
The film was acquired and broadcast in February by PBS with tax dollars. PBS also gave the film a theatrical release, showed it on college campuses and promoted it for curricula used by for elementary and high school students.
As Breitbart News has reported, the film is agitation and propaganda on behalf of the violent 1960s and 1970s radical group the Black Panthers. Concerns about the film are not academic — Just this past weekend in Dallas, Texas, a group calling itself the “Huey P. Newton Gun Club” held an armed demonstration against Americans who were protesting an event by the radically anti-American Nation of Islam group.
This isn't 1966.
This is the last weekend in Dallas. pic.twitter.com/Z5lhxFqvcW
— Lee Stranahan (@stranahan) April 6, 2016
However, after the story about the film was reported in Breitbart News, our diligent readers sprang into action and contacted PBS with concerns about the film and it’s the police, anti-American message.
Breitbart readers got results.
In a blog post at the PBS website, the ombudsman for PBS discussed the impact Breitbart readers had, saying:
I got more than 80 emails. All critical. Many of them came in soon after the broadcast aired, and seemed to be in response to a detailed critique by Lee Stranahan, a writer whose work appeared on the conservative website Breitbart and who pointed out to his readers that if they had concerns about the journalistic integrity of PBS and the program they could write to me.
Because the film contains so many blatant falsehoods and deceptive filmmaking techniques, Breitbart News is taking the unusual step of thoroughly debunking the movie and letting our readers know exactly what’s being lied about, and the impact it’s having.
Watch: Propaganda in Action
To understand the complex agitprop techniques used by Stanley Nelson, the best thing to do is to see it for yourself.
The sequence from The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution which shows the death of Black Panther member Bobby Hutton both grossly oversimplifies the circumstances and also misrepresents straightforward facts.
The PBS Editorial Standards and Policies document explicitly states:
Fairness to the audience implies several responsibilities. Producers must neither oversimplify complex situations nor camouflage straightforward facts.
But this sequence serves as part of the film’s wider narrative, designed to elicit sympathy for Hutton and contempt for the police, and America as a whole.
Here is an annotated version of the “Bobby Hutton” sequence that highlights some of the factual misrepresentations, distortions and manipulations used by filmmakers.
How This Segment Tricks Views
The filmmakers behind The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution deceive the viewers about the following facts in this one short sequence:
• The makes it appear that Cleaver and Hutton were the only participants in the police ambush, when in fact about ten or more Panthers-at least three vehicles full, according to the Panthers themselves–were involved
• The film describes the two “going into battle” when in fact a group of Black Panthers launched an unprovoked attack, ambushed police officers and shot them in the back.
• No mention is made of the hour and a half gun battle that led to a third policeman being injured, which was a huge fight where Cleaver and Hutton were shooting at police that immediately preceded Hutton’s shooting
• The film leads the viewer to believe that that Bobby Hutton “walked out of the house and was gunned down.” In fact, Hutton ran out and attempted to flee — a fact that even Eldridge Cleaver admitted — which was the police explanation for the shooting. None of this is mentioned in the film.
• The sequence uses charged, deceptive language. The viewer hears Bobby Hutton’s death described as “being shot down like a common animal”, “murdered by police” and being “slaughtered.” The sequence ends with a quote claiming at the Panthers want “nonviolence” and saying “we must defend ourselves” even though Hutton’s death came from an ambush of the police initiated by the Black Panthers and a subsequent gun battle — neither of which are portrayed in the film.
• The film’s use of music and a emotional interview segment with the Black Panther who gave Hutton a shotgun are all designed to create an emotional moment where the viewer feels sympathy for Bobby Hutton, deprived of the factual background for the shooting.
The Truth about Bobby Hutton
The following balanced account was written by Edward Epstein for the New Yorker in 1971 as part of a much longer article showing deception about the true story of the Black Panthers.
Shortly after 9 p.m. on April. 6, 1968, Officers Nolan R. Darnell and Richard R. Jensen, while on patrol in the area of Oakland, California, that is predominately inhabited by blacks, stopped their patrol car on Union Street next to a parked 1954 Ford when they caught a glimpse of a man crouching at the curb side of the car. In their report, they said that they suspected he might be trying to steal it.
Moments later, while investigating the situation, both officers were hit by bullets fired from behind them. Afterward, forty-nine bullet holes were found in the police car, the rear window had “two large areas shot inward,” and the side windows and the open door, next to which Darnell was standing at the time, had also been hit numerous times. According to medical reports prepared by Dr. William Mills, Jr., of Samuel Merritt Hospital, Darnell was wounded in the “upper right back.” Jensen, apparently hit by a shotgun blast from a 12-gauge shotgun, suffered multiple wounds in the “lower right back,” in the “right arm,” and in the “right ankle and foot.” According to Darnell, a number of men armed with shotguns and rifles ran from cars parked behind and ahead of the 1954 Ford, some of them through an alley into the block across the street, while Darnell urgently called for help on the police radio.
An account of the incident in the Black Panther newspaper said, “Several Panthers in cars in West Oakland on Saturday night, April 6th, were approached by two pigs and menaced with guns. When the Panthers tried to defend themselves, shooting began, and the Panthers ran into a nearby house…. Two pigs were wounded slightly.”
Four Black Panthers gave statements to the police in which they said that they had been patrolling the neighborhood with guns, in three cars, to protect Negroes against “police brutality” and had just parked their cars on Union Street to stow their weapons in a nearby house when the patrol car pulled up. But the four disclaimed any knowledge of how the shooting began. Cleaver later said in an interview that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, “I don’t know how those cops got shot. There were so many bullets whizzing around they may have shot themselves.”
In any event, after the two police men were shot, police from other parts of West Oakland and even from nearby Emeryville, responding to the radio alarm, surrounded a building on Twenty-eighth Street that the Panthers had entered, and there ensued a ninety-minute gun battle, in which a third policeman was wounded.
Finally, after an exploding tear-gas canister had set fire to the building, two Panthers emerged: Cleaver, naked, and wounded by a tear-gas shell, and Hutton, fully clothed. According to police witnesses, Hutton suddenly bolted down Twenty-eighth Street, whereupon at least half a dozen policemen opened fire, fatally wounding him.
Cleaver, in the Chronicle interview, gave a different version of the shooting of Hutton. He admitted that Hutton had fired some shots at the police, but said that he himself “took Bobby’s gun and threw it out” of the window, and that they both came out unarmed. “The cops told us to get up and start running for the squad car,” Cleaver continued. “Bobby started running — he ran about ten yards — and they started shooting him.” The grand jury, after hearing thirty-five witnesses, concluded that the police had “acted lawfully,” shooting Hutton in the belief he was trying to escape.
Eight other Panthers, including Cleaver, who were allegedly involved in the shooting of the policemen were arrested that night and then were released on bail. Two of the eight were subsequently convicted of assault with deadly weapons; one was released to a juvenile court; one was tried and convicted for an unrelated armed robbery and sent to state prison; one, Cleaver, jumped bail and fled the country.
The Impact of PBS’s Deception: Viewers Fooled
Just a quick glance at social media site Twitter shows that the propaganda had exactly the effect it was intended: viewers, deprived of the real story, felt nothing but sympathy for Bobby Hutton, contempt for the police and related the story to current events.
Under suspicion, Bobby Hutton and Cleaver sequestered themselves in a basement. While surrendering, Bobby was gunned down. #BlackPanthersPBS
— Elizabeth Barone (@elizabethbarone) February 18, 2016
Bobby Hutton, 18 years old, died at hands of police while surrendering. Crazy how things change and yet remain the same.. #BlackPanthersPBS
— Katasha (@katashakay) February 17, 2016
When it comes to the Panthers the story of Bobby Hutton truly resonates with me. Youth turned martyr. #BlackPanthersPBS
— Mohamed (@FreshcutMo) February 17, 2016
The Little Bobby Hutton assassination still angers me anytime I read or hear about it. Like instant anger. #BlackPanthersPBS
— Kimberly Reese (@TiericaJay_) February 17, 2016
— I AM YOUR PHARAOH (@bvesey7) February 17, 2016
— Molly Fleck (@mollyfleck) February 17, 2016
— LaKeisha Gray-Sewell (@MrsGirlsLikeMe) February 17, 2016
Bobby Hutton came out with his hands up and was still gunned down. This cycle is neverending. #BlackPanthersPBS
— Natasha Nicholes (@NatashaNicholes) February 17, 2016
Hold PBS Accountable
It’s entirely possible for fair-minded people to have different opinions on whether the police acted properly in the shooting death of Bobby Hutton. However, filmmaker Stanley Nelson never gave viewers the information they would need to be able to make up their own minds.
Instead, Nelson violates PBS’s ethical standards by omitting detail, using propaganda techniques and — in at least two cases — presenting materially false facts.
This violates PBS’s own standards against “any unfair or misleading presentation of facts, including inaccurate statements of material fact, undocumented statements of fact that appear questionable on their face, misleading juxtapositions, misrepresentations, or distortions.”
Your voice on this makes a difference because your tax dollars funded this.
PBS has an ombudsman whose job it is to monitor and deal with violations of viewer trust.
Have a comment related to the journalistic integrity of PBS content? Send an E-mail to Michael Getler at ombudsman@PBS.com or contact him at 703-739-5290.