LOS ANGELES -- No one can accuse "Frontline" of not living up to PBS' mandate to be more timely.
At 9 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), "Frontline" is scheduled to present "To the Brink of War," with Hodding Carter, a look at how America came to the midnight showdown only a few hours away.
A rough cut of most of the show was made available for preview. "Frontline" Executive Producer David Fanning said the show will be flanked by live reports by Carter, a former State Department spokeman during Jimmy Carter's administration. He will broadcast from the newsroom of Boston's public TV station, WGBH, which produces "Frontline."
This look at the last six months of Bush policy in the Middle East is television-done-at-a-gallop. And, so, it has its problems. But viewers interested in an earnest political analysis of the looming deadline will want to see it.
The piece opens with some nice novelistic scene-setting of Washington as it was this summer just prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. That approach is abandoned far too quickly in favor of harder reporting and interviewing. The tone is never recaptured. But the style of that opening will make it easy for viewers to get into the report and feel they are on the inside of Washington.
Most of the hour is then spent with Carter interviewing Washington journalists. That is both the blessing and the curse of this piece. The blessing: Carter talks to some perceptive folks who offer context and insight. The curse: He essentially talks only to Washington insiders, so the the universe of possible perspectives is a limited one. Furthermore, there are a couple of folks whose thoughts add little to the discussion.
Overall, "To the Brink of War" is worth watching, if for nothing else than the insights of the New York Times' Thomas Friedman.
"George Bush's problem," Friedman says in the report, "is that in a game of chicken with Saddam Hussein, Bush has no credibility."
"To the Brink of War" is a messy piece of TV journalism. But it adds a dimension to coverage of the crisis that no else on television has offered.