The mailbag: A year-end grab bag

First, holiday greetings and a happy New Year. Let’s hope 2011 is a better year for all of us, even those who don’t watch PBS or write to the ombudsman.

It has been relatively quiet these past few weeks, no big controversies and not really any new programs that generated much mail. On the other hand, although this is supposed to be a time of glad tidings, there was no indication that viewers had lost their critical edge.

So welcome to another ombudsman’s mailbag, sort of a brief pre-holiday grab bag of viewer observations that touch on a number of programs. Not surprisingly, the absence of new or high-profile programs in recent weeks leaves the five-nights-a-week PBS NewsHour as the focus of most attention.

Covering Sen. Sanders, Not

I was most disturbed by the lack of coverage of Sen. Sanders’ Dec. 10 comments in the Senate. Instead of parroting the typical political talking points that most Congresspersons engage in, he was raising fundamental issues that lie at the heart of what this debate is really all about (i.e., what kind of country do we want to be, what kind of people are we, what are our values, etc.). You showed only a few seconds of tape of him simply giving introductory remarks. There was absolutely no coverage of the core content of his remarks. You did however have time to give coverage to Mr. Obama’s meeting with Mr. Clinton which was nothing more than two politicians patting each other on the back. The subject matter that Mr. Sanders was raising was that which the American people are going to have to confront if we are ever to effectively deal with this issue. Your failure to give coverage to it accompanied by thoughtful discussion was a serious disservice to your viewers and the country. I found it most disappointing.

Dick Schwartz, Seattle, WA

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I am appalled that you did not cover Bernie Sanders’ Filibuster on Friday … yet you covered the Clinton endorsement of the Tax Deal. I guess we know how “Fair and Balanced” PBS has become! Please try to do better. People are going to begin to realize that there IS no real “news” anymore … it’s just corporate propaganda these days.

Patricia Martin, Rindge, NH

Covering the Anti-War View, Not

As many (including you) have pointed out, there are no opinions voiced on the NewsHour, expressing anti-war sentiments. Is the NewsHour completely unaware of any reasonable opinions of people who believe we should leave Afghanistan?

E. Rivers, Portland, ME

(Ombudsman’s Note: The letter posted above was in response to a segment of the NewsHour on Dec. 16 about the war in Afghanistan. Another viewer also called attention to an article about that same segment that appeared on the website of FAIR, a media watchdog group that has often targeted the NewsHour. The article by Peter Hart essentially makes the point that this segment is once again dominated by government figures generally in support of administration policy. It asks: “Can’t public television offer a wider view? Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote a strong piece critical of the administration’s war review, for starters. Independent experts and critics of the war are not exactly hard to come by. They seem to have a hard time being heard on public TV’s flagship newscast.” I would agree that the view that says basically let’s ‘get-out’ of Afghanistan is not often heard on the NewsHour, even though it has some significant popular support. On the other hand, I thought this was a useful segment with some of the needed balance injected in the set-up by correspondent Margaret Warner.)

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Regarding PBS NewsHour: I believe you should change the name of this program to the PBS Propaganda Hour. This show is merely an echo chamber for the right wing democrats now in office. I want to see the other side, and that means a real guest, not just another Obama apologist. These wars and his program of feeding everything to the rich are responsible for our current deteriorating country. Yes, he inherited a deficit but he has done his best to increase it by doing everything that the super rich want. I want this opinion aired on public TV. That was the original mandate of public TV after all.

Joan Slezak Fritz, Park Ridge, IL

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Can you tell me why the content of PBS NewsHour seems to grow ever closer to the dross offered by the other major media in the US? Why is it that “Democracy Now”, operating on a shoestring budget, does a better job of reporting than PBS? Where is the interest in investigative reporting that’s so essential to America at this pivotal time in US history?

William Budge, Huson, MT

Global Warming, or Not?

It is sad how the most important issue in the history of our planet, Global Warming, is being forgotten now that EXXON is a major player in the PBS agenda. As long as they are involved in funding for PBS, I will no longer support PBS in any way again. How did this happen?

Je Wendelken, Tampa, FL

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Regarding the NewsHour’s 12/16 segment “Larry King’s Farewell From CNN Reflects Changing Cable News Climate”, and the bias within that report, I responded in the comments section of The Rundown Blog at the NewsHour web page with my concern over unsupported assertions made by Jeffrey Brown’s guests, and pointed out how traditional news broadcasts’ growing partisan bias is causing them to lose the public’s interest. As an example, I again asked for [NewsHour Science Editor] Murrey Jacobson to explain why climate skeptic scientists were excluded from debates with IPCC scientists on NewsHour global warming segments.

Russell Cook, Phoenix, AZ

Freedom to Exploit?

I find it offensive when PBS wastes public money misinforming people which seems to be happening with increasing regularity. The trailer for the Frontline production God in America is misleading. This country was not founded on religious freedom, it was founded to exploit the resources of a new continent. The first colonies were meant to be profitable not religious retreats. The Founders of our nation were very emphatic about not mixing government and religion, something the scoundrels of our nation have been trying to change. There has been an enormous amount of energy and resources devoted to infecting our government with self-serving religious dogma, especially in recent years. It seems PBS wants to give them a leg up by rewriting history. I used to watch Frontline regularly before PBS had so many corporate and other sponsors with an axe to grind that it can no longer speak truth. It’s been years since I found it worth my time and this sort of pandering to religious zealotry is certainly not going to change my mind.

Carol Davidek-Waller, Kirkland, WA

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I saw Michael Bloomberg on Meet the Press the other morning. It turns out that the billionaire Mayor of New York favors continued tax cuts for billionaires. Who would have thunk it? I notice that in tonight’s story [NewsHour, Dec. 15] on the Senate passing the tax cut extension there was again no mention or questioning regarding the vested interests of Senators. I believe all of them make more than $200,000, not counting any outside income. It strikes me that if one of your reporters did a story and interviewed a source and that source had an obvious vested interest, you would be obliged to report it. Why does that not hold true for tax policy? I realize that you obviously cannot speak for NBC News, but what are the PBS standards on this issue?

John M., Culver City, CA

(Ombudsman’s Note: A NewsHour producer says: “Thanks, good point.”)

How Many Rights Make a Wrong?

Re: the PBS Nightly Business Report. Your program tonight [Dec. 8] took the completely wrong point of view on today’s attack of the MasterCard, Visa and PayPal sites by hackers. These sites were targeted by these activist hackers because they have infringed upon the RIGHT of people to spend their money supporting whomever they want to support with THEIR money. These companies are entrusted by the people who provide them with the privilege of having them as customers and allow them to make a profit from business transactions to facilitate the conduct of commerce both here in the Unites States and throughout our world. We as citizens of the United States still have a Constitution that allows us as a free people to conduct commerce under The Commerce Clause; and to exercise our right of freedom of speech and expression is considered a part of that throughout a multitude of decisions from the United States Supreme Court. For example; if MasterCard can allow the Ku Klux Klan to sell items from their website and not interfere in those transactions, then they have no right to block transactions to Wikileaks or any other organization that has been approved to accept credit cards. The same is also true for Visa, PayPal and any other payment processing companies as this results in a violation of the Constitutional Rights that we as a people have in the United States. Either individual or corporate political opinion, bias or prejudice to the recipients of such transactions cannot be used as justification for violation of our constitutional rights as citizens.

C. Ragen, Portland, OR

This column was originally published on on Dec. 22, 2010.

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