Nov
01
2010

This Week in Beltway Think

Public TV’s font of conventional wisdom

If any PBS show perfectly captures the problem with public TV’s public affairs programming, it might be the oldest one: Washington Week. Billed as the “longest-running news and public affairs program on public television,” Washington Week is a half-hour chat show where familiar faces from commercial media outlets give viewers an inside-the-Beltway, who’s up-who’s-down take on Washington politics. Like some other PBS fare, the show is a public/commercial hybrid; since 2005, Washington Week has been a co-production with the for-profit Washington insider magazine National Journal. Press materials for the show declare that the panelists “are reporters—not pundits—shedding light, not heat.” […]

Nov
01
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
01
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 […]

Nov
01
2010

Does NewsHour 'Help Us See America Whole'?

A FAIR study of PBS’s flagship news show

A new FAIR study of the PBS NewsHour finds that public television’s flagship news program continues to feature sources drawn largely from a narrow range of elite white male experts. The study, the third FAIR has conducted of the NewsHour since 1990, documents a pattern of failure by the PBS news show to fulfill the mission of public television to provide a broader, more inclusive alternative to commercial news programs. The 1967 Carnegie Commission Report on public television, which spawned 1967’s Public Broadcasting Act and gave birth to PBS, suggested that public television “should be a forum for debate and […]

Nov
01
2010

What PBS Thinks You Need to Know

Replacement for Now & Moyers fails to fill their shoes

When Bill Moyers announced last November that he would be stepping down from Bill Moyers Journal, and PBS decided to cancel its other Friday night news show, Now, the network lost two hard-hitting independent programs from its lineup. To fill the hole, New York PBS station WNET announced the launch of a new one-hour program, Need to Know, hosted by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham (who has since left the magazine) and former NPR, MSNBC and MTV host Alison Stewart. The show rolled out on more than 90 percent of PBS stations in May (Broadcasting & Cable, 3/22/10). FAIR (3/9/10) issued […]

Nov
01
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 […]

Jan
01
2010

Letters to the Editor

Education Needs Structural Change The reforms I hear bandied about today are reheated versions of those I observed during my 50-year teaching career. For all their good intentions, reformers do not have a clue on how to bring about substantive fundamental change. This includes Randi Weingarten and Arne Duncan—two sincere individuals. Jonathan Kozol [“A Deeper Truth Than Newspapers and Networks Are Likely to Provide,” 9/10] graphically reveals the flaws in education, but he has not laid out a road map for changing education at its core. No reform has fundamentally changed education for the better because all reforms have focused […]

Jan
01
2010

SoundBites

Public’s Longstanding Opposition to Roads and Bridges Matt Bai wrote of the Obama administration in the New York Times (9/9/10), “Little was achieved by way of investing in 21st-century infrastructure, largely because the public never seemed open to the idea of huge new spending.” Really? When Bloomberg (12/10/09) polled on this last year, its write-up began: “Americans want their government to create jobs through spending on public works, investments in alternative energy or skills training for the jobless.... Two-thirds of Americans back boosting spending on infrastructure. Six of 10 also support more spending on alternative energy to stimulate job growth.” […]