Mar 1 2007

Letters to the Editor

PBS: A Guide to the Perplexed

I write to provide a personal testimony to that portion of your study (Extra!, 9-10/06) on the lack of black experts invited to appear on PBS. I appeared on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour once about 12-14 years ago. For several years now, I have been frequently contacted by bookers at the NewsHour and interviewed preliminary to appearing on the show. However, for some reason, they always cancelled.

This has happened so frequently that I concluded either my views were too progressive for the stories being presented, or that they had some sort of racial quota of interviews to meet for administrative reporting purposes. The contradiction was that I was appearing frequently as a guest on all other media, from major newspapers to television and radio newscasts.

So there is something there that invites investigation, even though they have some minority staff in important roles—and a former Howard University Ph. D. student of mine was just on the show last evening. Perhaps he was invited in response to your reporting!

—Ron Walters

Professor of Government and Politics

University of Maryland

College Park, Md.

Sandra Seymour (“Letters to the Editor,” 1-2/07), who was “truly perplexed” by FAIR’s criticism of the Lehrer News-Hour’s guestlist (and angry enough not to renew), fails to appreciate that in addition to “issues of the day” (her words), broad and critical analysis by observers not “intimately involved” (her words) is crucial for greatest understanding of issues.

If the likes of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Barbara Ehrenreich, Greg Palast, Bill Moyers, Lewis Lapham and Robert McChesney were “regulars” on the NewsHour, viewers would develop a vastly broader (and I believe better) understanding of events. Such people are most emphatically not what Seymour called “corner-bar babble.”

Is it inappropriate for me to suspect that the NewsHour’s main sponsor, the Archer Daniels Midland Company, would not allow the kinds of discussions that such analysts would certainly foster?

—Bill Willers

Middleton, Wisc.

Liberal Talk Radio’s Success and Failure

Steve Rendall’s article on conservative and liberal talk radio (1-2/07) is good as far as he goes. But he doesn’t go far enough in exploring the reasons why liberal talk has not been as widespread on the radio.

One obvious reason is that corporate leaders don’t favor it as much, and he mentions that. But there are reasons beyond mere ideology among media executives.

For example, conservative views tend to be more absolutist, and can be couched more easily in black-and-white terms. For the same reason that football is more telegenic than chess, black-and-white shouting matches are more readily conveyed by talk radio than nuanced debates over difficult and complex issues.

Liberal talk radio will become popular when we find one or more talkers who can explain liberal values and ideas and policy in simple black-and-white terms. We’ll also need a loudmouthed advocate who can shout down the conservatives and their dittohead arguments, without feeling the liberal urge to give them equal time or listen carefully to their points of view.

That’s the kind of material that goes over well on the radio. In many ways, the medium dictates the message.

—Robert Moskowitz

Santa Monica, Calif.

The articles in the January/February issue on the success and failure of liberal talk radio focused on the popularity of the programming and the entertainment value of the content. I think this misses an important point.

Popularity does not keep programming on the air. Every person in the country might listen and the program can still be cancelled. And a program can stay on the air even if no one is listening.

The issue is not popularity. It is sponsors. Corporate sponsors pay for programming that promotes their message. The program is their ad.

One solution for Air America: listener sponsorship.

—Robert Bernstein

Goleta, Calif.

Steve Rendall’s comment that Al Franken doesn’t “share the views of the antiwar movement” because he is “not for pulling out of Iraq right now” understates the case, to put it mildly. As he discusses in his own book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Franken was an active supporter of the invasion. He even spoke at a pre-invasion pro-war rally sponsored by Clear Channel, cracking jokes at the expense of two of the right’s favorite “soft targets,” the French and Hans Blix.

—Eli Stephens

Left I on the News

Cupertino, Calif.

Reassessing Chávez

In your assessment of Hugo Chávez (Extra!, 11-12/06), you seem to have made two major assumptions in your attempt to recharacterize the debate. The first is that democratic election and popular support are synonymous with liberty. This is not borne out by fact, either in history or in today’s world. The second is that if the media have maligned Chávez, it must be entirely inaccurate.

Highly esteemed Latin American political scientist Jorge Castaneda (Foreign Affairs, 5-6/06) details with painstaking clarity exactly why Chávez is both authoritarian (thought certainly not “autocratic,” as some have claimed) and an ardent populist. To have omitted expert opinion on this subject that disagrees with your organization’s stated position vis-à-vis Chávez is to fall victim to the very evil you claim to fight.

Please understand that I appreciate your website (I link to it from my own) and your aims. I hope, though, that in the future your organization will be more studious and fair in the presentation of both sides of issues as difficult as these.

—Jesse Medlong

Okinawa, Japan