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Fronting for the Nuclear Industry
A Study in the Craft of Propaganda, Frontline Style

PBS' Frontline aired a program on Earth Day, April 22, called "NUCLEAR REACTION, Why Do Americans Fear Nuclear Power?" The title is sufficient to alert those who have studied the techniques and the history of propaganda in the 20th centure to the fact that this show was produced to promote the interests of those still seeking to develop nuclear power and a full-fledged nuclear economy in the western world at large and in the United States in particular.

There is a great deal that can and should be said about the myth of objectivity parading as plain facts by the likes of Frontline in this pro-nuclear industry program of April 22. (For useful analyses see the superlative rebuttal by the Nuclear Control Institute [2] as well as the letter below by Bill Magavern of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project to Frontline's Executive Producer's on this "very biased piece of pro-nuclear propaganda."[3]) As Maria Gilardin writes, in her introduction to the magnificent audio recording she produced in 1988 titled Corporations & Propaganda, A History of Propaganda in the US from WWI to the Reagan era based on the manuscript of Alex Carey,

Alex Carey . . . said that that where the form of government does not allow the state to control people by force, it must control what they think. Mind control is therefore used more rigorously in democratic societies than in totalitarian ones.[1]
The Hypertext Webster Gateway defines "propaganda" in the following way:
  1. (R. C. Ch.) (a) A congregation of cardinals, established in 1622, charged with the management of missions. (b) The college of the Propaganda, instituted by Urban VIII. (1623-1644) to educate priests for missions in all parts of the world.
  2. Hence, any organization or plan for spreading a particular doctrine or a system of principles.
We live in a culture with an inordinate inclination to adulate a "newscaster priesthood", a veritable college of propaganda given slavish creedence by virtually all who are caught in the television's hypnotic glare, the radio's compelling voice, or the columnist's shifting text. For those laboring under the illusion that information provided through the corporate media is factual and free from bias, i offer the following example to the contrary, taken from Frontline's NUCLEAR REACTION's web grouping Nuclear Links page:

In the ANTI-NUCLEAR section the following segment points back to ratical and provides a superlative living example of the craft of propaganda:
One part of this inspirational/spiritual website is dedicated to "providing information about the health costs of man-made low level ionizing radiation." There are scientific studies under a section called Committee for Nuclear Responsibility, but several are about the health effects of indiscriminate use of medical X-rays back in the '50s. A large amount of anti-nuclear material can be found in this section of the site.

i certainly wouldn't ever bill rat haus reality, ratical branch as being either "spiritual" or "inspirational" -- perhaps these are applied with the intent to paint over any ratical texture with a brush of zealous religiosity. So be it. No doubt there are those who find ratical's organization and presentation of information as distasteful as the evangelists of the kingdom of God and His dominion over's Man's dominion over women and everything else on earth.....

The second sentence is what motivated me to write this commentary. i must give someone at Frontline credit:   while it is somewhat remarkable that ratical actually shows up on their links page, it is more than astounding that they actually credit Dr. John Gofman's works with being "scientific studies". But then they step off into the twilight zone with the dripping-with-innuendo and masterful dissembling of "but several are about the health effects of indiscriminate use of medical X-rays back in the '50s". As the person who HTML-ized everything under, i am the best qualified to clarify the misrepresentations made in this sentence.

Injection of the word "but" seeks to minimize the legitimacy of the previous statement in the sentence about CNR's scientific studies and goes on to imply that Gofman's exceedingly relevant 1996 book, Preventing Breast Cancer, The Story Of A Major, Proven, Preventable Cause Of This Disease can be effortlessly discounted and marginalized since it is only "about the health effects of indiscriminate use of medical X-rays back in the '50s".

In fact, Preventing Breast Cancer focuses on "the forty-year period of 1920 to 1960 as the period for which we will determine the annual production-rate of radiation-induced breast-cancers" (Chapter 5). The studies included in this book all have in common the belief by the attendant physicians who prescribed the x-rays that such irradiation of human tissue, in this case always including the chest area in general and breasts in particular, was not dangerous to the females who received these doses of low-level ionizing radiation.

The misrepresentation by Frontline implies that the only studies worthy of their mention in CNR's web site are those about the health effects -- notice they do not use the word "cancer" anywhere here -- of indiscriminant (no less) use of X-rays way back in the dim dark past. Those who mistakenly believe such indiscriminant use is only an abberation of the past are urged to at the very least study Chapter 48, "Susan M. Love, M.D.:   Is Radiation Overdosing a PAST Problem?"

Ommision is one of the most powerful tools available to the propagandist. Along with attempting to marginalize the Preventing Breast Cancer book, Frontline attempts to mask the exceedingly relevant and irrefutably damaging to pro-nuclear interests 70-page segment of Gofman's 1990 book, Radiation-Induced Cancer from Low-Dose Exposure:   An Independent Analysis, Section 5 -- Disproof of Any Safe Dose or Dose-Rate of Ionizing Radiation, with Respect to Induction of Cancer in Humans. As Gofman stated in the Fall of 1995, "We have found no refutation of our proof. On the contrary, our method is extensively confirmed in the 1993 report of the United Nations (UNSCEAR 1993, esp. pp.627-636, p.681, p.696 Table 17).

By omission and misrepresentation, Frontline performs its service of fronting for pro-nuclear corporate interests with such a deceptively disarming presentation as this one that selected as its focus the smoke-screen question of "Why Do Americans Fear Nuclear Power?" It could have produced an infinitely more informative, life-affirming program if it had avoided such dissembling and addressed the 50-plus-year-old unaddressed question, Why Does The Nuclear Industry Still Try To Promote The Most Toxic Matter Known To Humans As Providing Safe, Clean, and Cheap Energy?

  1. Contact TUC Radio -- call for a free catalog: 1-415/861-6962
    P.O. Box 410009, San Francisco, CA   94141   USA
    TUC stands for Time of Useful Consciousness.   The time between the onset of oxygen deficiency and the loss of consciousness during which the pilot may save the plane.

  2. From the Nuclear Control Institute:

  3. Date: Wed, 16 Apr 1997 09:21:37 -0500
    From: Laura Quilter <lauramd@UIC.EDU>
    Reply-To: Chicago Alternative Media Activists <CHIMEDIA@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU>
    Subject: Anti-nuke interviewees comment on Frontline (fwd)

Lisa Marina Brooks <>


By Bill Magavern, Critical Mass Energy Project

On April 22, Earth Day, PBS' Frontline will air a show called "Nuclear Reaction." Having been interviewed for the show, and having seen the press release promoting it, I believe (as does Ralph Nader, who was also interviewed) that it will be a very biased piece of pro-nuclear propaganda.

My letter to Frontline (attached) spelled out in detail many of the reasons why I believe the producers are planning an unbalanced, elitist, obsolete and inaccurate look at nuclear power. In response, I received a cursory letter from Frontline Senior Executive Producer David Fanning, brushing off my comments and refusing to pursue a dialogue about the problems I raised. It is clear that Fanning has refused our request to make the show more balanced.

The Frontline press release includes producer Jon Palfreman's assertion that "an objective analysis of the nuclear industry's accident record shows it to be extremely safe in comparison with other complex technologies. So some researchers have concluded that people's extreme reactions to it are driven as much by psychology and politics as by actual risk." What is truly extreme is the length to which a pro-nuclear zealot like Palfreman is willing to go to try to resuscitate a failing industry.

The "correspondent" for "Nuclear Reaction" is Richard Rhodes, author of Nuclear Renewal, published by Whittle Books in 1993. Frontline has given Rhodes an hour of national television time for an adaptation of his book, which has not fared well in the marketplace of ideas -- an Atlanta bookstore is selling it for $2.98. Rhodes advocates plutonium reprocessing and building a new generation of "inherently safe" breeder reactors. He lionizes the nuclear programs of France and Japan and minimizes the risks of the nuclear fuel cycle. His main purpose is to convince Americans to stop worrying and learn to love the atom. He was present when I was interviewed, and seemed confused about the difference between plutonium and high-enriched uranium, or HEU, which he referred to as "HEW."

If you think public broadcasting owes us something better than this claptrap, contact David Fanning, Frontline senior executive producer; ph: 617-783-3500; fax: 617-254-0243; 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134. Send copies of your comments to your local PBS channel. You can also comment on the Frontline web site at

March 11, 1997

David Fanning
Senior Executive Producer
Michael Sulllivan
Executive Producer
125 Western Ave.
Boston, MA 02134

Dear Messrs. Fanning and Sulllivan:

          On Wednesday, January 8, I was interviewed by Jon Palfreman for a Frontline show on nuclear power. The interview took place at Ralph Nader's office, and, because Palfreman's interview with Nader ran late, I observed a substantial part of that interview as well.

          Based on that experience, I am very concerned that the Frontline show Palfreman is producing will be extremely biased, and will contribute nothing valuable to the debate over nuclear issues. Having been told by the Palfreman Film Group that it was preparing a comprehensive look at nuclear energy and nuclear waste, I was surprised to find that the interviews instead focussed on a small number of issues, many of them peripheral to the topic. During the interviews with me and Nader, Palfreman went well beyond asking questions -- he consistently advocated pro-nuclear positions. Although he behaved politely throughout, he was extremely argumentative. In fact, Nader, who must be one of the more interviewed people on the planet, said he'd never seen anything like it. He was very upset by Palfreman's unprofessional journalism. I urge you to watch the unedited videotape of the interviews and judge for yourselves whether Palfreman was engaged in an attempt to gather information for a balanced report or an effort to argue the pro-nuclear position with nuclear energy opponents.

          Palfreman's questions and assertions make his thesis pretty clear: nuclear power really isn't so bad, but people have an irrational fear of it. He quoted a Robert Dupont as saying that nuclear power would be the first industry destroyed by fear. This false argument is extremely elitist. You will insult the intelligence of the American people and your viewing audience if you tell them they just need to get over their irrational fears and learn to love the atom. In fact, almost all of the people working to protect communities across the country from the dangers of nuclear reactors and nuclear waste are quite rational, and history has proved them right. That the show is scheduled to air on Earth Day, April 22, only compounds the insult.

          Palfreman took extremely pro-nuclear positions, making ridiculous claims like "No one's ever died from nuclear power." He spent a lot of time with both me and Nader trying to downplay the dangers of radiation released by the nuclear industry and play up the dangers of other sources of radiation, like radon. He even seemed to disagree with the scientific consensus that the biological effects of radiation increase linearly with the dose. Palfreman perhaps has aligned himself with the lunatic fringe that believes some doses of radiation are good for you.

          Palfreman was scornful of the energy contributions and potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy, both of which have much more promise than nuclear power. When I talked about efficiency, he said he wanted to talk about the "real world." His bias took him to some blatant self-contradictions. For example, he asked whether ruling out nuclear power in a country like China, with its vast coal reserves, might worsen global warming. I replied that, in fact, we should encourage China to invest in energy efficiency rather than coal or nuclear power, because efficiency investments are far more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When I pointed out that the U.S. had made enormous energy efficiency gains, he discounted that by saying the U.S. was a rich country. But if China can not afford to pay for energy efficiency technology, how will it ever be able to afford nuclear plants, which are far more expensive than efficient refrigerators, light bulbs and motors?

          Oddly enough, Palfreman expressed no interest in the current debate over nuclear power's future in an electricity industry undergoing restructuring and greater market competition. He was interested only in rehashing the same tired, old arguments nuclear apologists have made for decades. Frontline viewers would benefit much more from a balanced discussion of what will happen with nuclear power plants in states that are moving toward retail competition for electricity. But, of course, that would require an admission that nuclear power in most parts of the U.S. can not compete with other electricity sources, and Palfreman refuses to even talk about the economics of nuclear power. Every time Nader or I brought up economics, he insisted on changing the subject.

          Palfreman was quite enamored of a discredited Department of Energy research program into an Integral Fast Reactor, a breeder reactor project terminated by Congress in 1994. Although its proponents touted the IFR as a miracle machine that would burn radioactive waste, the program in fact had so many environmental, proliferation and fiscal problems that it was rejected even by pro-nuclear experts at the National Academy of Sciences and the DOE.

          One of the IFR's few champions is Richard Rhodes, your report's "correspondent." Rhodes, who was present when I was interviewed and asked one or two questions, has written a pro-nuclear propaganda piece, Nuclear Renewal, which, among other things, buys the pro-IFR arguments that Congress, DOE and NAS rejected.

          Furthermore, it seems likely that the show will focus on the handful of major countries that still have active nuclear construction programs, in an effort to make it look like the U.S. is missing out on a promising technology. You have an obligation to point out that most of the world has turned away from nuclear power, and that important allies like Germany, Great Britain and Italy will probably never again build reactors in their countries.

          On Friday, January 10, I spoke over the telephone with Kathy Boisvert, associate producer for the Palfreman Film Group. I told her that I believed the show was headed toward being very biased toward the nuclear industry. She assured me that they were doing a "fair and objective" look at nuclear power, and said they had given us time and space to present our views. (In fact, we gave them time and space.)

          I have also found that Palfreman produced a Frontline show on breast implants. Consumer advocates knowledgeable on the breast implant issue consider the show to have been an extremely biased hatchet job that tried to downplay the problems with silicon breast implants and portray the implant manufacturers as victims of our legal system.

          The Palfreman Group, of course, has every right to produce a pro-nuclear report, but it should not pretend that the piece is fair and objective. I will certainly not make any effort to block the airing of the report, but I do hope Frontline will try to make it as balanced as possible.

          When Boisvert originally contacted me to ask questions and schedule the interview, she identified herself as being with Frontline. I have watched many Frontline shows over the years, and have often been impressed with their quality (the breast implant report being a major exception). I also was interviewed more than once for the research for a Frontline show on energy in 1992. That report did an excellent job of covering events leading to the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Based on that experience, I believed that any interviewers representing Frontline would be professional and fair. Therefore, I agreed to be interviewed for this report on nuclear energy. This recent interview destroyed my belief in the fairness and professionalism of Frontline interviewers.

          Please respond to this letter as soon as you can. I thank you in advance for your consideration of the issues I have raised.


Bill Magavern
Critical Mass Energy Project

The Critical Mass Energy Project world wide web site is located at:

The Critical Mass email address is

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