NY Times Reviewer Complains about Friedman Documentary on PBS

     American taxpayers are making possible the January 29 airing of a documentary in praise of one of the 20th century’s greatest free market advocates. And that doesn’t sit well with New York Times TV critic Ginia Bellafante, who complained of an imbalanced presentation.

     Bellafante lamented that Friedman’s theories were only criticized once in the January 29 documentary on Friedman’s life and economic thought entitled “The Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman.”

      “The film is so unabashedly venerating… that it ultimately does its subject a disservice,” Bellafante complained, adding later in her review that “nowhere” in the documentary “is the downside of the massive deregulation that Reagan eventually implemented given much attention.”

     Bellafante complained that the late John Kenneth Galbraith, long a critic and rival of Friedman’s, scored the only critical sound bite of Friedman in “Power of Choice.”

     The Times reviewer left the reader uninformed that Galbraith is famous for, among other things, insisting during the 1980s that the Soviet Union had a fundamentally stronger economy than the freer market capitalism that typified the United States economy.

      “That the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years is evident both from the statistics and from the general urban scene…. One sees it in the appearance of solid well-being of the people on the streets… and the general aspect of restaurants, theaters, and shops…. Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower,” American Enterprise Institute’s Dinesh D’Souza recalled Galbraith arguing in1984, a mere seven years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

     In a December 1999 NPR interview, Friedman called that collapse an enduring legacy of the 20th century “Because it marked the philosophical supremacy of the idea of free markets and private enterprise over the idea of collective central planning.”

     Bellafante wasn’t content to bemoan the lack of respect paid to Galbraith. She also found room to parrot a false canard of her own.

      “Though Mr. Friedman’s free-choice doctrine contributed to ending the draft in the 1970s, the film takes virtually no note of the cultural and political climate in which he was making his opinions known. Nor does it address one result of the draft’s elimination: a military not well represented by affluent men and women who have many choices, but dominated by comparatively disadvantaged ones with far fewer options,” the Times reviewer argued.

     But that is flat out false, according to separate studies conducted by The Heritage Foundation and the Pentagon.

     The Heritage Foundation’s Tim Kane, a Ph.D. in economics and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, published a study in November 2005 that debunked the notion that the all-volunteer U.S. military is largely poor, undereducated, and overrepresented in terms of minorities.

      “In summary, we found that, on average, 1999 recruits were more highly educated than the equivalent general population, more rural and less urban in origin, and of similar income status,” Kane wrote on Nov. 7, 2005.

     Kane’s data is similar to findings by a study commissioned by the Defense Department two years earlier.

     On Feb. 4, 2003, The Washington Post picked up on a Pentagon study showing that while African-Americans are 21 percent of the military but only 12 percent of the general American population. But, noted staff writer Darryl Fears, black servicemen and women “tend to work in areas away from the front lines, in roles such as administration, combat support and medical and dental care.”

     What’s more, Fears wrote, “black enlistees ‘closely parallel their representation among the youth population…’ ‘These young men and women are high school graduates with above average aptitude; they are not the ‘poor and uneducated.’”