[Mb-civic] Media action alert: PBS Panders to Right With New Programming

ean at sbcglobal.net ean at sbcglobal.net
Fri Sep 17 21:34:00 PDT 2004

My letter to PBS is tacked to the end of this action alert...

                    Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
               Media analysis, critiques and activism


PBS Panders to Right With New Programming

September 17, 2004

A new public television program called The Journal Editorial Report,
featuring writers and editors from the arch-conservative Wall Street
Journal editorial page, will debut tonight on public television stations
around the country.  The show joins Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, hosted by
conservative CNN pundit Tucker Carlson, and a planned program featuring
conservative commentator Michael Medved as part of what many see as
politically motivated decisions to bring more right-wing voices to public

According to reports in the public broadcasting newspaper Current
(1/19/04, 6/7/04) and in the New Yorker (6/7/04), conservative complaints
about the alleged liberal bias of the program Now with Bill Moyers
contributed to the momentum to "balance" the PBS lineup.  The new programs
seem to be the result of that pressure.  In fact, Now will soon see its
role on public television diminish, as the program is cut from one hour to
30 minutes when Moyers voluntarily leaves the program later this year.  He
will be replaced by co-anchor David Brancaccio, formerly of the public
radio business show Marketplace, who expresses no obvious ideology.  If
Carlson, Medved and the staff of the Wall Street Journal editorial page
are all necessary to balance the liberal Moyers, by 2005 there will be no
one on PBS to balance them.

At the center of this controversy is the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting (CPB), which provides significant federal funding for public
broadcasting projects.  Two Bush appointees to the board last year, Cheryl
Halpern and Gay Hart Gaines, are big donors to the Republican Party, and
do not hide their political agenda.  As Common Cause noted in December
2003, Gaines raised money for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga),
and chaired his political action committee, GOPAC: "At the same time that
Gaines was raising money for Gingrich's GOPAC, Gingrich was pushing
Congress to cut all federal funds to public TV."

At a confirmation hearing for Halperin, Sen. Trent Lott (R.-Miss.)
criticized a commentary by Moyers as "the most blatantly partisan,
irresponsible thing I've ever heard in my life," adding that "the CPB has
not seemed to be willing to deal with Bill Moyers and that type of
programming."  Halperin responded: "The fact of the matter is, I agree,"
though she said at the time there was little the CPB could do about it.

But, evidently, there is something the CPB could do.  According to Ken
Auletta's investigation in the New Yorker, the calls for drafting
right-wing voices were being heard at PBS.  Auletta reported that PBS
president Pat Mitchell met with Lynne Cheney and conservative television
producer Michael Pack to discuss a possible PBS series about Cheney's
children's books.  Though the project seemed to stall, Pack was soon
appointed senior vice-president for television programming at the CPB.

Auletta also reported that after Gingrich told Mitchell that there weren't
enough conservatives on PBS, Mitchell "proposed to Gingrich that he
co-host a PBS town-hall program," an idea that was frustrated by
Gingrich's contract with Fox News Channel.

The notion that public broadcasting should find ways to balance itself is
odd, and accepts at face value the right-wing critique that PBS is biased
to the left.  If anything, PBS (and public broadcasting in general) is
theoretically designed to balance the voices that dominate the commercial
media.  As the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act proposed, public broadcasting
should have "instructional, educational and cultural purposes" and should
address "the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly
children and minorities."

Instead, public television has in practice largely been a home for elite
viewpoints, dominated by long-running political shows hosted by
conservatives (Firing Line, McLaughlin Group, One on One) and by business
shows aimed at the investing class (Nightly Business Report, Adam Smith's
Money World, Wall $treet Week).  When this line-up wasn't enough to
insulate public TV from right-wing complaints in the mid-1990s,
programmers responded by creating more series for conservatives like Peggy
Noonan (Peggy Noonan on Values) and Ben Wattenberg (Think Tank).

Now PBS seems once again to be trying to placate right-wing critics, in
this case by bringing to public broadcasting voices already
well-represented in the mainstream media.  Tucker Carlson's take on world
affairs, for example, is available at least five days a week on CNN; it's
not clear that he would say anything different on PBS, though in a test
show (L.A. Times, 6/18/04) he referred to the Democratic convention's
diversity goals as "a new affirmative action plan for gays, lesbians and
cross-dressers," and called Indian evangelist Dr. K.A. Paul a "spiritual
advisor to the scum of the Earth." ("He's willfully non-P.C.," explained
WETA programming chief Dalton Delan.)

And the Wall Street Journal editorial page, included in every edition of
the nation's second-largest newspaper, is already widely available-- and
widely read.  Ironically, the Journal has long been hostile to the notion
of publicly funded broadcasting: After it was discovered that some public
TV stations were selling their donors lists to political parties, a 1999
Journal editorial advised: "In a better world all this would lead Congress
to do what it should have done a long time ago: cut off the public tap,
freeing Barney, Big Bird and the other wonderful PBS creations to find a
profitable niche on cable without having to shill for public television's
other, more politicized, offerings."

The Journal's Paul Gigot, who's hosting the new show, said that it was not
hypocritical for the Journal to now get on the public tap, saying (Boston
Globe, 8/30/04): "We're putting up an enormous amount of resources in
terms of staff time and energy. I don't think this is a free lunch."

PBS president Mitchell defended the recent programming decisions, telling
a meeting of TV reporters (Miami Herald, 7/10/04): "I suppose that we're
being accused on the one side of being too liberal and on the other of
being too conservative probably means we're getting it mostly right."

Given that PBS is responding to conservative complaints by adding more
conservative shows, and is not responding in any substantive way to
progressive complaints, one can only conclude that if the network had been
"getting it mostly right," it'll now just be getting mostly right-wing.

There is one audience that seems pleased: Republican senators who were
among PBS's most vocal critics.  Coincidentally or not, as these
discussions about programming and political bias were heating up, the
Senate Commerce Committee was discussing the re-authorization of the CPB's
funding.  The committee convened to discuss the matter in late July;
though the subject of liberal bias came up, even Lott "noted progress" on
that front (Public Broadcasting Report, 7/23/04).

CPB was initially intended to be a "heat shield" for public broadcasting,
protecting programmers from political pressures from partisan lawmakers
who control the purse strings.  It's long since become a mechanism for
transmitting Congress' ideological desires to public broadcasting, and the
new shows announced for public TV show that it's very effective in that

ACTION: Please ask PBS's Pat Mitchell what new shows are planned to
balance the new conservative-oriented public TV shows.

Pat Mitchell, President and CEO
mailto:viewer at pbs.org
Phone: (703) 739-5000
Fax: (703) 739-5777

Or use the PBS comment form:

You might also want to contact your local PBS affiliate about PBS's
rightward lurch:

As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if
you maintain a polite tone.  Please cc fair at fair.org with your

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Pat Mitchell, President and CEO

Dear Ms. Mitchell,

As  lifetime PBS viewers and supporters, who will be very sorry that Bill Moyers is 
leaving the best show on PBS--Now--and that the show will then be reduced to 30 
minutes, we are deeply disturbed at the new flood of rightwing shows without any 
balance of progressive viewpoints.  It is PBS' job to bring to the public a diversity of 
viewpoints, and instead we are getting more of the same that can presently be found 
across the cable network and in the daily pages of the Wall Street Journal.

PLEASE take immediate steps to balance shows like The Journal Editorial Report and 
Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered with programs that are more like Bill Moyers' Now--bringing 
truth and understanding to Americans that can't be found anywhere else!

Most sincerely,

Dr. Mha Atma S Khalsa
Martha Oaklander
1536 Crest Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90035

You are currently on Mha Atma's Earth Action Network email list, option D (up to 3 
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Action is the antidote to despair.  ----Joan Baez
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