Monday, May 02, 2005

NYT tells us PBS is under attack yet again and that, yet again, PBS will be the last one to defend PBS

In this morning's New York Times, Stephen Labaton, Lorne Manly and Elisabeth Jensen have a lengthy article entitled "Republican Chairman Exerts Pressure on PBS, Alleging Biases." Read it. See if it doesn't enrage you the way it has me. (The topic, not the writing.) From the article:

The Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is aggressively pressing public television to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias, prompting some public broadcasting leaders - including the chief executive of PBS - to object that his actions pose a threat to editorial independence.
Without the knowledge of his board, the chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, contracted last year with an outside consultant to keep track of the guests' political leanings on one program, "Now With Bill Moyers."
In late March, on the recommendation of administration officials, Mr. Tomlinson hired the director of the White House Office of Global Communications as a senior staff member, corporation officials said. While she was still on the White House staff, she helped draft guidelines governing the work of two ombudsmen whom the corporation recently appointed to review the content of public radio and television broadcasts.
Mr. Tomlinson also encouraged corporation and public broadcasting officials to broadcast "The Journal Editorial Report," whose host, Paul Gigot, is editor of the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. And while a search firm has been retained to find a successor for Kathleen A. Cox, the corporation's president and chief executive, whose contract was not renewed last month, Mr. Tomlinson has made clear to the board that his choice is Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee who is now an assistant secretary of state.

Is there a point to PBS? Seriously. Instead of challenging Mr. Tomlinson, we get two people familiar with PBS (one currently there, one who's recently left -- no we won't name the chickens) and they refuse to fight. They refuse to defend PBS. They offer lame things like "well maybe there's a point" and other nonsense.

They caved and caved for so many years and watered down the programming repeatedly that at this point, I'm not sure they have the right to depend on viewers in this battle. They don't appear to appreciate the viewers.

PBS's programming today is largely crap like Antique Roadshows. Or "music" specials that appear to be shot as one concert and then packaged into many specials. You watch and you think, "Wasn't Judy Collins wearing that outfit when she sang two songs on that other special?"

Frontline has gone far from the brave journalism program that once defended utilizing Jessica Savitch as a host. Today, Savitch would probably be too "hard hitting" for them. That's not to say that there aren't a few episodes each year to get excited about. But it's supposed to be a hard hitting series each episode. When they initially used Savitch as the host, there was huge internal criticism that she'd make the show appear to "soft." These days Savitch would come off not only as a seasoned pro (were she alive) but a flaming radical.

As PBS has buckled under each attack, they've encouraged further attacks. They've taken the public attitude of "We'll try not to be so lefty, we'll make changes!" And they've moved away from strong journalism with each attack. They've encouraged each attack by playing appeasement.

Viewers have defended PBS when PBS wouldn't defend itself.

Idiot Tomlinson is worried about viewer numbers and yet, that's really not something that PBS was created for. Easy to forget in this age of "PBS Stores" and other nonsense.

It was created with a set of core principles. Tomlinson doesn't appear to know what those are.

As anyone who knows the history of PBS is aware, today's problems could have been prevented from the onset. There were suggestions to create the funding for PBS in a way that would allow it to not ever worry about bowing to political pressure. (Similar to the way the BBC didn't have to worry too much over the years -- until Tony Blair decided to retool "New" Labour and buddy up to Murdoch.)

When Jane Alexander practiced appeasement as she headed the NEA, she enraged people who should have been on her side (and destroyed her own reputation in the process). PBS has reacted similarly over the years. In the process, it has become less and less about what it was created to be.

I'm sure as people read this and news drift out, various calls will be made about how we've got to save PBS from yet another attack (this is one of the most public in a long line of attacks). I'm sure I'll get many calls and e-mails myself today.

But when does PBS save itself? When do members of the CPB board either fight back publicly or resign in disgust to make a statement?

This is digusting. And I'm sure I'll end up signing on to some "Save PBS!" action in some way, but it's really past time that PBS fight back. Where is Jim Lehrer defending the right of PBS to do journalism? A charge is made and, yet again, no one wants to stand up. While it's not surprising that Lehren once again refuses to weigh in, there's something really sick about a man who's made a career at PBS refusing to defend it.

Christy Carpenter (who left the board in 2002) and Bill Moyers are in the article defending PBS.
That's it. Others take the attitude of, "Well we need to examine every charge, no matter how baseless, and work towards appeasement."

Which no doubt means more money for Billy Bennett's half-baked cartoon doodles and more conservatives (like Tucker Carlson) hired because Daddy serves on the CPB.

I don't know what the answer is and I don't pretend to know. Again, whatever action is decided upon, I'll probably end up signing up in some way. But it's really past time that PBS started engaging in its own defense and stopped waiting for someone else to save it. My opinion.

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[Note: Cedric caught my mispelling Jim Lehrer's name ("Lehren") and that's been corrected. Clarity's been added re: Savitch, per Shirley.]