'Resurrection of Moon' relies on facile editing to mask shoddy reporting

January 21, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Is there a connection between Tom Clancy and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon?

Frontline's "The Resurrection of Reverend Moon," at 9 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), implies there is a connection between the Calvert County author and the cult leader who was convicted of tax fraud. But like many such suggestions in the documentary, it is more a matter of video sleight-of-hand and implication than any evidence of a real link gathered through hard investigative reporting.

"The Resurrection of Reverend Moon" is not one of Frontline's finest hours. Too much of it is bad reporting made to look good . . . and feel far more substantive than it really is through facile editing and staged scenes of confrontation. It is a piece that plays into the hands of those on the political right who insist that all of the documentaries in this often impressive PBS series are tainted by a leftist bias.

The Rev. Moon is an easy target. His Unification Church is thought of by many as a cult known primarily for its "moonies" and charges of mind control. Moon himself was convicted and served 13 months in federal prison for conspiracy and false tax returns.

In this report, the filmmakers promise to show us how Moon has resurrected himself since being released from prison in the early 1980s. Reporter Eric Nadler correctly asserts that Moon and "his U.S. movement are now more conglomerate than cult," with Moon dollars financing such operations as the Washington Times newspaper. But they fail to deliver on their more sensational claims about Moon being behind all sorts of movements and actions on the far right and the allegation that Moon is financed by money from what they describe as the Japanese Mafia.

The filmmakers' treatment of Clancy is a good example of their style. During a brief segment of the report that says Moon was heavily involved in backstage support for the Reagan administration's Strategic Defense Initiative, they show videotape of Clancy speaking. But viewers do not hear what Clancy is saying. Instead, we are told that Clancy wrote a screenplay for a video titled "One Incoming," which was paid for and distributed by the American Freedom Coalition. The alleged link is that "former staffers charge that the AFC is funded and staffed by the Unification Church."

When you stop the tape and break it all down, it is a considerable stretch from Moon to Clancy. But when -- as a viewer, not a critic -- you see videotape of Moon followed by videotape of Clancy in the midst of all kinds of talk about how Moon's tentacles reach into everything on the right, it seems as if Clancy is working for Moon. (Clancy could not be reached for comment.)

Also misleading is the way Nadler shows up with a camera crew in the lobby of the Justice Department and other government offices demanding answers about Moon. In every case, the officials decline to comment. It looks as if maybe they have something to hide. But think about it. What government official would be crazy enough to just start talking to somebody who essentially ambushed him with a camera crew? A "no-comment" response to a written request for an interview that explains what information is being sought is one thing. "No comment" to a guy and a camera crew in your lobby is another.

This report does have important information about Moon's involvement in the Washington Times and how that affects what appears in that newspaper's pages, for example. But almost none of that is new. What's new is Frontline running a piece that manages to prove so little.

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