Pentagon TV: Your Goofy Big Brother

| September-October 2009

If you’ve seen one cooking show, you’ve seen them all, right? Ah, but you probably haven’t seen the Grill Sergeants on the government-sponsored Pentagon Channel. In one episode, U.S. Navy Culinary Specialist First Class Tom McNulty prepares a seared ahi tuna napoleon, lamb loin, and cioppino. And then, the New Republic (May 6, 2009) writes:

“He calls his assistants—a pair of women in military kitchen garb—before the cameras, presenting them each with plastic forks. As the ladies dig in, the show’s in-house, in-uniform band, the Taste Buds, ambles through a jazzy rendition of ‘America the Beautiful,’ and the credits roll.”

While there are 10 television channels in the American Forces Network, the Pentagon Channel stands out as the only one available on civilian cable, and the only one that airs original programming. Launched in 2004, it was initially characterized as sheer propaganda by some media observers, including Arianna Huffington, who dubbed it “Rummy TV” and wrote, “Fire up those TiVos, disinformation fans.”

New Republic writer David Roth emerged with a much more benign impression after tuning in to the channel, which reaches more than 16 million domestic households, for eight consecutive hours.

“It all sounds awfully sinister, until you actually sit down to watch the thing,” he writes. “The channel is more goofy uncle than Big Brother.”

He found that news shows make up the majority of the schedule, and the “fun” programming is relegated to the one-hour slot that features the Grill Sergeants and the exercise show Fit for Duty.

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