According to a report on the New York Times website (3/9/10), PBS is in talks with Newsweek editor Jon Meacham to be co-host of its forthcoming Need to Know program. If the report proves accurate, it gives viewers little hope for the kind of critical, uncompromising programming that public television was created to foster. Meacham's consideration for a show that would replace hard-hitting independent programs Now and the Bill Moyers Journal sends a clear and troubling message about PBS's priorities.
Meacham is a fixture on commercial TV pundit shows in addition to his Newsweek duties. In these venues, he is a consummate purveyor of middle-of-the-road conventional wisdom with a conservative slant. After the 2008 election, Meacham authored an article on America as a "center-right nation"-- a conclusion based on dubious historical analogies (Sarah Palin is Thomas Jefferson) and cherry-picking national election results, casting aside evidence that would undermine the conclusion.
Meacham recently cheered on a Dick Cheney presidential run as "good for the Republicans and good for the country." Meacham had just months earlier argued that any critical investigations into the Bush/Cheney record on torture would be pointless ("the rough equivalent of pornography," as he put it).
Meacham's approach to journalism seems to be antithetical to the hard-hitting approach of Moyers and Now; he's called on journalists to "cover other institutions as you would want to be covered," with "charity and dignity and respect." This Golden Rule approach to news was illustrated when he intervened in a Newsweek online story about Joe Scarborough, a personal friend who often invites Meacham on his cable show, to remove from the lead the fact that Scarborough had served as the defense attorney for the murderer of an abortion provider.
"Replacing Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio with Jon Meacham would be like replacing pit bulls with a pomeranian," said FAIR's Peter Hart. "PBS exists to explore issues and perspectives that the commercial media ignore or marginalize. To give this show to a center-right mainstay of the corporate media would show that PBS has little interest in living up to that promise."
Following the November 2009 announcement about the retirement of Moyers and the cancellation of Now, FAIR launched a petition signed by over 14,000 people, calling on PBS to develop new programming that would feature the independent, outside-the-Beltway perspectives that appeared on those programs. This announcement shows that PBS has a very different vision for its future.
The other host, according to the Times report, would be Alison Stewart, formerly of NPR, MSNBC and MTV.