Los Angeles Times · Steven Linan|
"With each passing day, there's seemingly a new surge in California's energy crisis. Frontline addresses that hot-button issue tonight in an aptly titled 'Blackout'.
Through interviews with state and federal officials, utility executives and industry insiders, the documentary examines whether power companies and energy-trading giants have capitalized on deregulation to accrue enormous profits as consumers and business owners suffer power shortages and rising rate hikes.
Jeff Skilling, CEO of the Enron Corp., the largest energy trader in the world, sees his company as one of the 'good guys.'
'We are working to create open, competitive markets,' he tells reporter Lowell Bergman, who wryly notes that, if true, lately the good guys have been winning since the past year has seen a large transfer of wealth from energy consumers to power sellers and traders like Enron...
...There are no easy answers in this complex issue, with one side pointing fingers at the other, but one thing is certain: A long, hot summer is likely to yield more rolling blackouts for California consumers, while other states wait to see if they will be adversely affected as well."
New York Daily News · Eric Mink
"Tonight's installment of PBS' Frontline investigates America's worsening electric-power mess and digs up a couple of smoking guns in the process. But it's not entirely clear what the damning documents really mean.
The one-hour broadcast, subtitled 'Blackout,' also explains a lot about a newly emerged organism of American capitalism: the giant Texas-based companies that buy and re-sell electricity like soybeans. But its explanations aren't entirely clear about how these traders - who generate no electricity but reap obscene profits while sowing chaos in society - do what they do...
...'Blackout,' a joint effort of Frontline, Cam Bay Productions and the New York Times, does a decent job of laying out the intersecting lines of politics and economics that created the current situation. Veteran investigative reporter Lowell Bergman, also serving as on-camera correspondent, shows a deft touch in interviews with corporate executives, operational staffers, regulators and elected officials - some of whom seem hostile and defensive, some forthcoming, still others blatantly evasive.
Bergman also takes care to clarify a key point: The recent shift from regulated energy utilities (historically, a responsibility divided between state and federal agencies) to energy as an unregulated commodity didn't come about because consumers were complaining about the status quo...
...Perhaps the most maddening element of tonight's broadcast are Bergman's interviews with corporate executives who plead ignorance of any abuses and with government officials who stick to their strategy of double-talking or big-lying in response to simple, direct questions."
Houston Chronicle · Ann Hodges
"Frontline joins hands with the New York Times tonight, to jump into what California Gov. Gray Davis has turned into a marathon news blast at Texas, and Houston, over his state's energy woes.
Frontline: Blackout...should have Davis and his bash-Texas troops giving each other high fives...
...Politics and finger-pointing fuel charges and countercharges, with Frontline correspondent and New York Times contributor Lowell Bergman conducting the interviews, and an off-camera narration spinning the sound and fury...
...Frontline passes its golden opportunity to lay out, clearly and concisely, both sides - what critics say are the self inflicted origins of California's energy crisis, and California's charges of price-gouging and pleas for price caps. Instead, that information comes piecemeal, over the course of contentious and often-confusing exchanges...
...Give Frontline full credit for stepping in where no other TV news outlet has dared to tread in such depth. Something is surely better than nothing.
But this Frontline/New York Times team coverage effort does not cool the blame game. It sheds more heat than light."
The Toronto Globe And Mail · Andrew Ryan
"...Frontline has the timely special 'Blackout,' which examines California's precarious energy crisis. As we all know, California has been subject to power blackouts in recent months, and it's predicted that there are going to be more in the future.
This special does a stellar job of explaining the crisis in simple terms, and looks at how the administration of U.S. President George Bush is dealing with the situation. According to some people, he isn't dealing with it at all."
San Antonio Express-News · Kevin McDonough
"Frontline does not usually cover events from current headlines, but tonight they'll make an exception. 'Blackout' attempts to explain the complicated and controversial issue of California's energy shortage. Is it a matter of supply and demand? An unforeseen fallout of deregulation? Or a case of energy producers shafting a captive market? As usual, Frontline presents all sides of the argument."
Associated Press · Lynn Elber
"As California's energy crisis casts a widening shadow, PBS' 'Frontline' helps illuminate the issue with a high-wattage documentary.
'Blackout' is both a comprehensive report and a warning: California's power deregulation woes represent a national problem not destined for a quick or painless solution.
The hourlong film features reporting by 'Frontline' correspondent Lowell Bergman done in conjunction with The New York Times.
If you're a consumer frustrated by price increases or concerned about what might happen in your state, 'Blackout' is required viewing. Major players, ranging from power company chief to consumer advocates to Vice President Dick Cheney, make their case on energy policy...
...What ultimately emerges is a classic debate, framed in 2001 political realities, about whether an unfettered market is invariably the best approach or whether capitalism sometimes must bend to regulation..."
The San Diego Union Tribune · Robert P. Laurence
"If the electricity is working at your house Thursday night, use a little of it to watch 'Frontline' and learn more about what's happened to your power bills.
TV's toughest and most perceptive documentary series, 'Frontline' gets into the executive offices of Enron Corp., Duke Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric, and into the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Gov. Gray Davis, and looks for answers to tough questions...
...Correspondent Lowell Bergman, the one-time '60 Minutes' producer (and co-founder of the San Diego Street Journal, an underground newspaper of the 1970's), does the asking.
Meeting with Cheney, he asks, in light of energy companies' $25 million in contributions to Republican candidates in the year 2000, and the Bush Administration's hands-off policy toward the crisis, are they 'getting what they wanted, what they paid for? What are consumers getting? Have you met with any leaders of any consumer groups.'
'That's a silly charge,' says Cheney, made 'when people...don't want to engage in the substance of the debate.' Yet he doesn't exactly answer the question.
On the other hand, Bergman, whose investigation into the tobacco industry for '60 Minutes' was the subject of the film 'The Insider,' doesn't ask Davis whether his response to the crisis has been influenced by his own substantial contributions from the energy industry.
He interviews Robert Glynn, head of PG&E, but doesn't ask what Glynn's role was in the deregulation enacted by the state Legislature in 1996. Nor does he ask whether Glynn or other executive of those hitherto-regulated utilities had any previous experience in unregulated businesses; did they know from experience how the free market really works? (PG&E, as the one California utility which has gone bankrupt so far, gets most of the attention. San Diego Gas & Electric is not mentioned.)..."
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