Feb 1 2011

Scientific American Waffles on the Science of Global Warming

Is climate ‘THE issue of our time’ or a ‘doomsday obsession’?

“Climate is the issue of our time,” says Scientific American editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina (Observations, 10/28/10). So why does her magazine keep treating human-caused global warming as an open question? DiChristina was responding to criticism her magazine had received (Climate Progress, 10/26/10; FAIR Blog, 10/27/10) over a November 2010 article by Michael Lemonick about Judith Curry, a climate scientist whose critiques of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are often cited by climate denialists. The article—subheaded “Why Can’t We Have a Civil Conversation About Climate?”—left the impression that the truth on climate change is somewhere in the middle: Climate scientists […]

Dec 1 2010

Creating the Illusion of Popular Demand

Corporate realities behind ‘reality TV’

Flavor of Love/Public Enemy's Flava Flav--Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Jnforte

Former VH1 programmer and Flavor of Love creator Michael Hirschorn has said of reality TV, “If women didn’t want these shows, they wouldn’t get made.” This gender-specific variant on Fox programmer (and Joe Millionaire mastermind) Mike Darnell’s “giving people what they want” mantra ignores a central truth: Marketing plays a mammoth role in generating the illusion of populist demand. Without 2000’s Survivor, the reality genre may not have become a network mainstay. But behind Survivor’s long-term, landscape-shifting impact was the relentless promotion of the series by Viacom, which had recently merged with CBS and Infinity Broadcasting. Survivor wasn’t only a […]

Dec 1 2010

Product-Themed Programs Are New Low for Kids TV

Shows aimed at selling, not storytelling

Photo Credit: Zevo-3.com

The Hub, a new cable TV channel co-owned by a toy company whose toys star in its shows, and Zevo-3, a new TV show with characters based on a shoe company’s ad campaign, are signs of the cost of leaving the creation of cultural and educational content mainly to profiteers. The makers of this programming are unapologetic about marketing to children, while the journalists reporting the developments offer little beyond rote expressions of concern. It’s as if it’s been decided that there is no public interest value broadcasters need honor if there is money to be made. The Hub is […]

Nov 1 2010

Public TV? It Would Be a Good Idea

But the system is stacked against fulfilling PBS’s mandate

Photo Credit: Corporation for Public Broadcasting

When asked by a reporter what he thought of Western civilization, Gandhi is said to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” The same could be said about U.S. public television. Public TV was born 40 years ago of an understanding of the limitations that advertiser funding and the profit motive put on commercial broadcasting. Only a system freed from these strictures, the pioneers of public broadcasting understood, would be able to air corporate-unfriendly viewpoints and include the full spectrum of society, not just advertisers’ preferred targets, in its audience—and in so doing, radically transform the entire […]

Nov 1 2010

What’s ‘Public’ About Public TV’s News Flagship?

Publicly supported, corporately owned

On air and on its website, the PBS NewsHour acknowledges its funders. Along with PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the show gets money from some usual-suspect corporations, like Chevron and Bank of America, and a dozen or more foundations—in various amounts and arrangements worthy of examination in themselves. But who owns public TV’s flagship nightly news program? Hint: It’s not Viewers Like You. It’s not PBS either, or any affiliate station. The program known as “public television’s nightly newscast” (New York Times, 3/21/84) is in fact owned by a private, for-profit conglomerate, Liberty Media, that bought 67 percent […]

Nov 1 2010

Charlie Rose’s Elite Meet-and-Greet

For them, by them

Public television host Charlie Rose enjoys a reputation for highbrow talk. “A Larry King for Mensa members,” he “conducts a conversation, not an interview,” according to the New York Times (4/25/07). The paper added that Rose is “a facilitator, creating a comfortable ambiance where important people and opinion-makers can speak at length and make more than one point…. For viewers interested in thoughtful talk, Mr. Rose’s stark studio is the best place in town.” The Charlie Rose show is where “the intelligentsia come to share ideas,” wrote David Kaplan in “Why Business Loves Charlie Rose” (Fortune, 9/28/09). Kaplan quoted New […]

Jul 20 2010

PBS Ombud Agrees With FAIR on Shultz Tribute

Says funding gives series a 'credibility problem'

In response to hundreds of letters from FAIR activists, PBS ombud Michael Getler (7/16/10) agreed with FAIR’s criticism (Action Alert, 7/12/10) of the 3-hour PBS documentary Turmoil and Triumph, a tribute to former Reagan-era Secretary of State George Shultz funded in part by institutions and individuals with close ties to Shultz. Getler found Turmoil to be “over-the-top, in my view, with praise, but with relatively little critical appraisal of some of the more controversial actions of Shultz’s tenure.” He wrote: This series, for me, as a viewer and an ombudsman, created at least the appearance of a conflict of interest; […]

Jul 12 2010

PBS, George Shultz and Funny Funding

Do PBS’s conflict of interest rules apply?

Many PBS stations around the country will begin airing a three-part, three-hour documentary tonight (7/12/10) about Reagan-era Secretary of State George Shultz. According to the New York Times (7/12/10), the unusually lengthy, completely uncritical tribute is partially sponsored by corporations linked to Shultz’s corporate career. The special, Turmoil and Triumph, was funded by the Stephen Bechtel Fund and Charles Schwab. Shultz was a board member at both companies, and was president of the Bechtel Corporation from 1975 to 1982. According to reviews, the documentary takes an overwhelmingly positive, even gushing stance. The Times‘ Alessandra Stanley points out, “There is no […]