Here are more details on the Controversy in Wounded Knee as reported by PBS's ombudsman Michael Getler. First, a few excerpts from the Wounded Knee Victims and Veterans Association's letter of protest:
For a documentary that purports to be about the armed takeover of a community and its consequences, these are serious shortcomings that demand a response. From a philosophical point of view, the argument that the terror, violence, theft, and loss of life associated with the razing of an Indian village were somehow justified is an argument that is fundamentally flawed and must be exposed.
The producer responds
Producer Mark Samels responded to this letter as follows:
Our film was not intended to be a comprehensive history of either the American Indian Movement or the village of Wounded Knee. Instead, it was designed to focus on what happened at Wounded Knee during the 1973 occupation, and what role the siege played in the larger story of Native Americans in the 20th century. We were particularly concerned with the events preceding the siege that contributed to a sense of dislocation and desperation in many Native communities across the country. And we were interested in what effect the occupation, and its widespread media coverage, had on Indians far removed from Wounded Knee.
We believe there is ample evidence in the film of AIM's controversial use of armed confrontation and violence, from the preceding events in nearby Custer—where AIM members attacked and laid waste to the courthouse—to the sacking of a family-owned store in Wounded Knee. Archival footage featured in the film clearly shows devastation in the village during the siege, as Mayor Dick Wilson characterizes AIM members as 'hoodlums' and 'clowns.' As one of the interviewees states in the film, 'Where AIM goes, chaos often follows.'
Our producers took great pains to be even-handed in the portrayal of the siege at Wounded Knee. This is a difficult piece of American history and we believe our film presents it with the care and complexity it deserves.
In contrast, many of the participants at Wounded Knee are still alive. There's little or no excuse for not seeking out a wide range of testimony, including the Natives and non-Natives whom the occupation victimized.
With all the "prominent scholars" and "program advisors" consulted, how many of them were non-Natives who opposed the occupation? One or two?
Judging by the on-screen testimony, the pro-occupation forces outnumbered the anti-occupation forces by about 10-1. PBS may think that's fair, but I don't.
In short, I'd give Samels a fail on his "great pains to be even-handed." Trail of Tear seemed evenhanded in contrasting Major and John Ridge vs. John Ross. Wounded Knee was mostly propaganda. Well-done propaganda about an important issue, to be sure, but propaganda nonetheless.
The ombudsman responds
Ombudsman Michael Getler responds to Samels:
Samels is also almost certainly correct that this film "was not intended to be a comprehensive history of either the American Indian Movement or the village of Wounded Knee." Nevertheless, this is PBS, where people, and students, look for authenticity, and the segment on Wounded Knee is likely to be at the forefront of material on the subject for a long time. So going back and taking a second look at these challenges, responding more fully, and making changes, at least online, if warranted, seems worthwhile to me.
If PBS were really brave, it could include the text of the victims' letter--as an addendum, appendix, or bonus feature. If Samels thinks he covered the occupation's negative side, he should have no objection to this additional information. The information can't contradict the film unless the film was wrong, right?
Once again, I'm not saying all the victims' charges are valid. I'm saying PBS was negligent by not even mentioning the charges (and countercharges). It'll be more negligent if it lets schools use Wounded Knee without further elaboration.
For more on the subject, see Spinning in Wounded Knee and Review of Wounded Knee.