Nov 1 1994


Fund-Raising Tall Tales

“If you enjoyed Tales of the City and you’d like to see more programming like that, please become a member,” host Rafael PiRoman declared during a fund drive for New York PBS affiliate WNET (9/13/94). PiRoman didn’t mention that PBS, in the face of right-wing attacks, has refused to fund the sequel to Tales of the City, the popular drama about San Francisco life — gay and straight — in the ’70s. Nor did he say that Tales fans might be better off saving their money to pay for cable: The show’s producers had just announced (Boston Globe, 9/10/94) that they were close to signing a deal with Showtime to air the sequel. Finally, PiRoman didn’t mention that, while refusing to fund a program no commercial broadcast network would touch, PBS was spending $1.5 million on a gimmick-laden game show called Think Twice (New York Times, 9/12/94).

Red, Hot and Censored

Red, Hot and Cool: Stolen Moments is a special about AIDS in the African-American community, including commentary by leaders like Cornel West and music from artists including Herbie Hancock and Digable Planets. Perfect for broadening the often narrow demographic focus of public TV? PBS didn’t think so: It told producers of the program (which was funded by the Independent Television Service) that the show lacked “abroad impact” and that it was unlikely to “hold audiences or draw a significant viewership.” Isn’t PBS designed to air programming that won’t necessarily get high ratings, and isn’t that why they’ve been running Masterpiece Theater all these years? “They say they want to broaden their audience base, but they really don’t want to do what they need to do to make it happen,” Red, Hot and Cool executive producer John Carlin told Variety (8/22/94). “Public television is one of those apparent contradictions, like jumbo shrimp.”

Family Values

Sandy Grushow, then president of Fox TV‘s entertainment group, explaining why a gay character on Melrose Place can never be seen kissing: “There is a line that, when one crosses it, a company suffers financial hardship. We are not interested in suffering that hardship.”(Entertainment Weekly, 9/15/94)

Unidentified Flaky Opinion

On an NBC Nightly News report on gay parenting(9/21/94), one expert was quoted saying that the parents’ love was more important than sexual orientation. She was identified as “psychologist Charlotte Patterson, a lesbian.” For “balance,” NBC turned to Paul Cameron, whose dubious research provided many of the “facts” in the homophobic video The Gay Agenda. “Children’s lives are being sacrificed on this altar: the altar of gay rights,” he said, identified merely as “Paul Cameron, psychologist.” While finding one expert’s sexual orientation noteworthy, NBC apparently did not find it relevant that Cameron was expelled from the American Psychological Association, and censured by the American Sociological Association, which said he “has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research” (L.A. Times, 2/22/93).

Which Side Are You On?

CNN had an “exclusive” during the World Population Conference in Cairo: The network aired footage (9/7/94) of the genital mutilation of a 10-year-old girl. After it aired, three men were arrested by the Egyptian government for their role in the event that CNN taped. The D.C.-based Feminist Faxnet (9/15/94) denounced the coverage as “exploitation”; a CNN spokesperson told Extra! that the segment increased awareness of genital mutilation, and that the girl’s maiming “definitely would have happened whether we were there or not.” Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s story on the incident (9/12/94) explained that the procedure is “called genital mutilation by opponents and female circumcision by its advocates.” So what was the Post‘s headline? “4 Men Arrested in Circumcision of 10-Year-Old Girl.”

Self-Control on Cuba

“News reports about the talks were sketchy in this country where the government controls communication,” the New York Times reported in a story on the U.S./Cuban immigration talks (8/29/94). Yet in the next paragraph, the Times quoted a Cuban person-on-the-street who noted, accurately, that “the United States was not allowing as many Cubans to visit as they had visas to give.” In a country where the media are not government-controlled, how many U.S. citizens were aware that for years it has been Washington’s visa policies, and not Havana’s restrictions, that kept Cubans from immigrating to the United States?

Barbed-Wire Haven

After years of presenting Cubans leaving their island by raft as proof that Fidel Castro ruled a Communist dungeon, U.S. news outlets presented Castro’s decision to stop discouraging such trips as a Communist trick: “Wily Castro Backs Clinton Into Corner,” a Chicago Tribune headline declared (8/25/94). Another Tribune headline in a later August 25 edition epitomized the up-is-down nature of the reporting: “Cuban Leader Calls Guantánamo Haven for Refugees ‘a Concentration Camp.'” When civilians are imprisoned behind barbed wire for the crime of leaving their country, which should be in quotation marks: “concentration camp” or “haven for refugees”?