Mar
29
2011

Public TV's Libya Limits

Narrow war debate on PBS NewsHour

If public television's mission is to bring diverse viewpoints to the airwaves, the discussions about the war in Libya on the PBS NewsHour haven't lived up to that standard. Over the past two weeks, the NewsHour has featured an array of current and former military and government officials in its discussion segments--leaving little room for antiwar voices, U.S. foreign policy critics and legal experts.

-On March 18, the NewsHour interviewed the Obama administration's UN Ambassador Susan Rice.

-On March 21, anchor Jim Lehrer decided to get "perspective on the Mideast turmoil from two former U.S. national security advisers"--Carter's Zbigniew Brzezinski and Reagan's Brent Scowcroft. The same day also featured a discussion between retired Maj. Gen. Dutch Remkes and Robert Malley, a Clinton-era National Security Council official now with the International Crisis Group.

-On March 22, the NewsHour brought on Charles Kupchan, a former Clinton administration National Security Council staffer, along with a couple of rare guests without U.S. government or military backgrounds: Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times and former Libyan Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali, who broke with the Gadhafi regime and is aligned with the opposition.

-On March 23 the NewsHour was back to the officials-only format, interviewing a pair of former senators, Democrat Gary Hart and Republican Norm Coleman, both of whom support the White House action in Libya, and Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough.

-On March 24, the NewsHour interviewed retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and Frederic Wehrey, a former Air Force officer and Iraq War vet now at the Rand Corporation, both of whom supported some U.S. ground troops in Libya. Viewers weren't told that Keane's consulting firm, Keane Associates, includes major military companies among its clients (USA Today, 3/10/10), or that Keane is also on the board of General Dynamics, a major military contractor.

--On March 28, a discussion of "what's at stake for the president" featured Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus and Politico's Roger Simon.

There are many aspects of the Libya War that should be discussed on public television, featuring the views of those outside of elite Beltway circles. The 1967 Carnegie Commission report that gave birth to PBS envisioned it as a "forum for debate and controversy" that would "provide a voice for groups in the community that may be otherwise unheard." The NewsHour should include those principles in its decisions about whom to include in its coverage of Libya.

ACTION:

Tell the NewsHour to open up its Libya discussions to voices outside the Beltway, including antiwar voices, U.S. foreign policy critics and legal experts.

CONTACT:

PBS NewsHour

onlineda@newshour.org

(703) 998-2138

You might also want to send your comments to PBS ombud Michael Getler (ombudsman@pbs.org), and post copies of your comments on the FAIR Blog.