Here are some additional viewer comments about programs dealt with in ombudsman postings earlier this month, including a Need To Know commentary on gun control, a kissing scene in Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey series and the absence of weekend news on PBS, and some other matters including revisiting Gen. Robert E. Lee. Most of the new letters below take issue with the viewer criticisms — especially about the gun commentary and kissing scene — posted in these earlier mailbags. And a couple of regular viewers and readers of this column wrote separate letters about separate subjects.
A Call for ‘Sensible Gun Control Measures’
Re: the letters blasting PBS, Need to Know, and Jon Meacham for very sane, rational, and common sense comments about the need for sensible gun control measures, those who scream the loudest (like everything else in today’s political discourse) seem to control the conversation. Until gun control organizations like the NRA and others which are more extreme than it (open carry) step up to the plate and shut down their most radical members, we are not going to get anything sensible done in this country. It would be informative if many of these folks knew how the rest of the world and our neighbors viewed our gun fetish, a fetish which is fanned to extremism by those who profit on unlimited trafficking in the manufacture and distribution of these weapons of mass destruction.
Donna Williams, Macon, GA
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Why is it that so many Americans do not know the difference between “NEWS ITEM” and “EDITORIAL” (Opinion)? You would think, from the responses, that Meacham, a) has no right to an opinion, to say nothing of expressing it! b) that he advocated totally revoking the second amendment and the confiscation of every gun in America. Talk about overreacting! I renew my promise to donate a bit extra for each time I read that some hothead trying to deny others the same rights he is yelling about, threatens to “stop donating.” If these people can provide me with verification of how much they donated last year, I will match it!
Janet Camp, Milwaukee, WI
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Gun nuts. Forget reason, truth or facts. I’m always amazed at how arrogant and self righteous they are. And stupid. There’s no arguing with them though. That’s why I like programs like Jon Stewart and Boston Legal which show what ignorant and contemptuous fools they are. Express a common sense, rational argument that is measured like Mr. Meacham did, and the gun nuts will be all over you as un-American, a liberal bigot, ja right, and pushing a left-wing anti gun agenda. You salute Hitler style or you’re toast.
Tom Felt, Tucson, AZ
I find it amazing that the “same sex” scene was objected to by so many people who had nothing to say about the treatment of the former service man, with an injury that was treated so badly by the staff, or the fact that there was “backstabbing” going on by the staff. Some people are pretty picky about their morals, I suppose.
Beverly Francis, North Haven, CT
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Yes, I’m sure that our sensitive viewers were appalled at the sight of two men kissing. Yet, there would not have been an outcry at all if it had been two women kissing.
Kansas City, MO
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I was delighted to see two men kissing in the scene in Downton Abbey on Sunday night! Gay people have been kept in the closet quite long enough and it is silly to pretend they didn’t exist in Edwardian times. It was a kiss, not a tryst. I think it’s time the “shocked” viewers have a discussion with their children about the real world and its many variations on love and pair bonding.
Janet Camp, Milwaukee, WI
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I don’t know which I find more dismaying — the persistence of people who think blinders are a moral imperative or the pomposity of a producer who thinks he can brush off heart-felt (however misguided) disquiet with a PR-pamphlet paragraph on TV ratings. If the storyline has no rationale for the scene, then the scene has no place in the story.
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Having read this week’s editorial on the issues viewers had with the homosexual content present in Downton Abbey, I’m immediately reminded of a point I shared with you last year after the whole Sharpe’s Challenge fiasco. That is, the call for better-fitting age ratings for Masterpiece. Now obviously after this event we had a delightful promise of a review of rating standards from a producer for Masterpiece, but surely, though not shared publicly, the same must have happened after Sharpe? Obviously such reviews helped very little. All this illustrates is either a) how out of touch these producers are with the views of their viewership or b) that the show’s producers are more interested in pushing acceptance of what they feel needs to be accepted than caring for their viewership; and of course we can’t discount the possibility of both. WGBH, PBS, or whoever would make such a decision really needs to give these producers a talking to as obviously their current judgment is less than less than perfect on the matter of ratings. It’s not at all difficult to avoid similar controversies.
Male Kissing Is One Thing, But . . .
On Saturday evening, 15 January, my wife, daughter and I were watching an episode of Doc Martin. During the show two characters, male and female, were shown simulating intercourse on the edge of a table. Having seen earlier episodes, as well as being regular PBS viewers, we were quite surprised. We immediately switched away from PBS to watch something else and did not return to PBS for the remainder of the evening.
While we feel fairly certain that PBS would not broadcast overtly pornographic material, the true definition of pornography includes even the suggestiveness of acts of copulation, as was shown in the Doc Martin episode. Prior episodes did not have such a visual extreme and the comedic talent certainly did not need to stoop to such a low. The story certainly did not need to have such content, and could have stood on its own, based on prior episodes we have seen. We would like to remain regular viewers of PBS, especially as we contribute financially, however your choice of such a program leaves our hope questionable. Prior to writing this we have searched the site as well as our monthly program mailer to see if perhaps, giving PBS the benefit of the doubt, that we missed a parental rating of some type. We have been unable to find such rating and definitions listed. If there is such a service please let us know.
We would hope that PBS could post a content rating similar to what is used in television and cinema, as well as a discretion prompt prior to the start of programs. It would certainly allow for better viewing as a family as well as not having to have the remote in hand waiting at the gun to quickly change the channel when more inappropriateness is shown.
Bill C., College Park, MD
(Ombudsman’s Note: This program is distributed by American Public Television (APT) and is not a PBS program, although it is shown on a number of PBS member stations, which are all independent and can air programs that do not come from PBS.)
APT Veep Jaime Haines Responds:
American Public Television does a careful review of content before it is distributed to ensure that local public television stations have comprehensive information about the programs they are broadcasting. To help us alert them to content which may be of concern, we employ the use of flags and the television ratings guidelines.
In this case, the segment this viewer mentions was flagged. We checked with the broadcasting station where this viewer watched Doc Martin and they double-checked to be sure that the PG [Parental Guidance] rating was on the lead-in to the broadcast. They wanted to be sure their viewers were aware that the rating was PG. [Which says the program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children . . . The theme itself may call for parental guidance and/or the program may contain one or more of the following: some suggestive dialogue (D), infrequent coarse language (L), some sexual situations (S), or moderate violence (V).]
‘False Equivalency’ or a ‘Quip’
“False Equivalency” in the media between left & right talk is a ploy to deceive. (The right IS FAR, FAR more devious and dishonest and mean!) On Monday’s NewsHour [Jan. 10] I was aghast to hear Jim Lehrer say that along with the right-wingers, even Obama is talking about bringing a gun. Well, Mr. Getler, it was Woefully out of context. Obama was making an Obvious joke to reporters about how he would deal with the hostile right in a meeting and he quotes a ‘movie line’ about bringing ‘a gun.’ He used his gentle smile. It was an Obvious joke, not in threatening manner. Obama threatening? Come on. The Right are desperate to find Any instance to counter their hate-mongering, and Lehrer fell for this LAME comparison . . . so did BBC. Shame on the NewsHour for letting the Right get away with their deceit on this discussion, the NewsHour ALWAYS DOES!!!!! Sir, this is Serious stuff, this hate speech from the RIGHT. The left is almost always a Reaction TO IT, not instigating anything but truth and fairness. I listen to the left, I Know the intent of it! THE RIGHT IS ALMOST ALWAYS THE INSTIGATOR OF DECEIT. Everyone is afraid to say this in the media. WHY? It is True. Please discuss this situation.
(Ombudsman’s Note: Lehrer did call it a “quip.” What he said was: “President Obama himself once urged on followers during the 2008 campaign with a quip, ‘If they bring a knife to a fight, we bring a gun.'” I have addressed the general imbalance in left-right commentary in several columns, including one about Bill Moyers and another on the Tea Party.)
All’s Quiet on the Weekends
Getler is entirely correct about PBS’s lack of weekend news coverage. If PBS wants to be taken seriously as a news gathering organization it will do what daily newspapers do — staff itself seven days a week. The news doesn’t conform to a convenient Monday through Friday format so reporters/editors/produces can have their weekends free.
Walter Yost, Carmichael, CA
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I agree with you about weekend news but note even the networks are killing it. Also want to say I’ve practically quit watching network news. It’s all crap and ads. The only network news I watch now on a regular basis is PBS, and I’m getting ready to drop that. Read an email from FAIR today about incitement for violence by the mainstream war mongers. My words. Amazing how different the narrative is, how it creates a different perspective of the truth, the facts and reality, and how that perspective, that voice, is completely lacking in what I’ve come to call the pig media. And I’m sorry that has come to include PBS, at least on its news programs.
Tom Felt, Tucson, AZ
More on Gen. Lee
I found the “American Experience” version of the life of Robert E. Lee to be the worst type of biased journalism. I would use the term “Slick.” The piece is very accurate on many counts e.g. Lee’s valor and expertise in the Mexican war, as well as his expertise as a superior soldier and leader of men.
However in my opinion a slanderous but effective agenda thread is present throughout. I point to the lie that Lee ordered the beatings of 3 slaves and especially singled out a young female slave. This is fiction and was explicitly denied in a letter by Lee after the war. Another is that he embarrassed some of his prominent officers in front of others, particularly A.P. Hill., and this because he lost his temper rather regularly. This from the man who believed that an officer should be allowed leeway in making battlefield decisions and had great trust in them. (This might have been his greatest fault).
It was also put forth that after the war he hid from public view by taking a job with an obscure country school. The fact is that it was the embryonic Washington College and that because of his sense of duty and honor which overcame his considerable exhaustion did he agree to take on this position in the first place and before his death bring the school to a position of prominence through his skills as a leader of great integrity. This it seems was conveniently omitted. I would also mention that at the end of the piece his oath to his country was read by narration, intimating that he ultimately was a traitor. Then why was it not made known that he felt that the state of Virginia was his country and that the govt. of the North had broken their covenant with the South. By both omission, commission and skillfully skewing the facts, it is my opinion that you have probably convinced most people that Robert E. Lee was not the person that he was in fact. This is sad and has besmirched the good name of one of the best men that this country has ever produced. It is revisionist history and your sources are faulty.
Bill Rogers, Maspeth, NY
This column was originally published on PBS.org on Jan. 25, 2011.