P.O.V. has been a valuable documentary series all summer long. Its final entry of the season, however, should have been rejected by its programmers. Casting the First Stone is about abortion; filmmaker Julie Gustafson profiles six women, three of them pro- choice, three of them pro-life, in an effort to give us both sides of the story.
Do you see what’s wrong here? P.O.V. stands for ”point of view” — the reason this series exists is to offer subjective, strongly opinionated films, documentaries that do not give us both sides of the story. Television journalism long ago took the theoretically admirable notions of objectivity and fairness and began using them as excuses to be meek and inoffensive.
Given that Casting the First Stone is concerned with what is probably the country’s most controversial social and political issue, this edition of P.O.V. is infuriatingly inoffensive. All six of the women selected are made to seem personable and rational. They state their opinions with admirable conviction, and it’s certainly not their fault that we’ve heard their arguments, pro and con, hundreds of times before.
The only moment when Casting the First Stone loses its careful balance is when the founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, Randall Terry, pops open a box and surprises the TV cameras with ”Baby Choice,” a hideously mangled and desiccated fetus that Terry says represents the result of legal abortion in America. Terry’s gesture is so drastically removed from the notions of pious good taste that typify every other person in Casting the First Stone that his disgusting gesture momentarily does what the rest of the hour should have been doing: It forces us to take a side.
But except for that moment, Casting the First Stone is worthless. If I hear that P.O.V. is going to tackle abortion, I tune in either to have my blood boil when an opposing point of view is championed, or to cheer when my side of the issue is defended to the hilt. I don’t watch P.O.V. to see yet another tidy, bland, everybody-has-a-valid-point presentation. And neither should you. D-