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Saturday, November 29, 2014
PBS Ombudsman

Patriotism and the Press

What better time to talk about patriotism than the Fourth of July. I am a total sucker for this holiday, and for Memorial Day as well. Like many Americans, I really do pause to think about this day and what it means; about how incredibly fortunate we all are to live in a country so committed, from its birth, to democracy, freedom, civil liberty and checks and balances.

In recent years, as the ombudsman at The Washington Post, and now at PBS, I've been fortunate to have a column to write about lots of things, including this special day and all the people we have to thank for it; especially the men and women of the armed forces. But I also like to thank journalists. Yes journalists, especially the hundreds of them who have risked their lives to bring news coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Americans back home. And I also like to thank those reporters and editors who labor in the safer confines of Washington and other cities to carry out their mission of finding out what is really going on in our government and institutions and informing our democracy.

So what does this have to do with PBS? A couple of things in the past week or two.

Bradlee and Lehrer

One was an hour-long interview on June 19 with Ben Bradlee, the famed and retired Executive Editor of The Washington Post. The interview was conducted by The NewsHour's Jim Lehrer, and the theme was "Free Speech." Bradlee was my boss at the Post from 1970 until he retired in 1991, and I have to acknowledge that I have a soft spot for him right alongside the Fourth of July.

The interview didn't make much news, and that wasn't expected. There are a handful of letters from PBS viewers in the mailbag that follows these comments of mine.

But there was one exchange that I kept thinking about as events unfolded later in the week. It came when Lehrer asked Bradlee whether he thought most Americans understand what our job is as journalists. "What is it that we do that they should understand?" he asked.

"We're trying to tell you everyday what really went on in the last 24 hours," Bradlee said, "that's all, not what they said happened and not what you think should happen, but what did happen. Readers should expect a honest, straightforward account of what the hell went on yesterday, what's important." Then Lehrer pointed out that people say, "Hey, hey, I want to know the truth. We're not in the truth business, are we?" he asked. "Well," answered Bradlee, "we want to come real close. We're not in any other kind of business. I mean, we're trying to get it right."

Frontline and 'The Dark Side'

The next night, June 20, PBS aired a 90-minute documentary as part of its "Frontline" series called "The Dark Side." The title is taken from a now famous phrase that Vice-President Dick Cheney used in a television interview after 9/11 referring to the darker aspects of intelligence: "We also have to work sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world."

The documentary, as described by its producers at WGBH in Boston, "investigates Vice-President Cheney's role as chief architect of the war on terror and his battle with the Director of Central Intelligence for control of the 'Dark Side.'" Frontline has produced more than 30 programs on the war on terror and the war in Iraq. This was the third documentary on these subjects produced by Frontline's Michael Kirk, and it drew a very large number of viewer responses. A representative sample of those that came to me is included below. Frontline producers say they got more than 1,000 e-mails in the days immediately after the airing, about two-thirds applauding the report and one-third taking issue with it in one way or another.

What this program is really about is a chronicle of the approach that Cheney, in particular, took toward preparing the way and making the case for the invasion of Iraq. Much of that case turned out to have been based upon what we have since learned were false premises and faulty intelligence, yet they were presented to the public at the time by all the top officials of the Bush administration responsible for national security, and not just Cheney, with great certainty. For those who have been following this war closely, this story-line will not come as a surprise. Rather, "The Dark Side" is an up-dated, on-the-record, and additionally revealing and riveting account of a period — and a life-and-death decision — to take a country to war that deserves the most intense scrutiny that journalists and historians can bring to it.

I thought there were some flaws in the presentation. The on-air interviews, collectively, are fascinating, complex and subtle yet add up to an unmistakably critical portrait of the administration's machinations. There is only one interview with a Pentagon official who defends some of the intelligence, and it is only at the end — indeed, the last sentence — that "Frontline" tells viewers that Cheney and former CIA Director George Tenet declined requests for on-camera interviews. The lack of administration officials defending their actions, or explaining them better, was very apparent from the start, and for me, it was a distraction that was on my mind throughout the program. My suggestion would have been to make it clear right from the start that these two principals had declined to be interviewed.

The program contained very revealing interviews with former CIA and State Department officials who now regret their role in allowing the flawed intelligence to be used the way it was in making such a fateful decision. It would have been fascinating to press some of them as to why, exactly, they, or others, didn't stand up and speak up at the time when the chips were down. It remains one of the most interesting questions on my mind, because there were many people, in the CIA and State Department, in the nuclear laboratories and in the military, who had very serious doubts about many aspects of the case for war that was being made publicly.

Nevertheless, this, as is usual with Frontline, was a first-rate program and an important public service, in my opinion. The administration had its chance to make its case and did so at every opportunity before the war, and it still gets to do so any time the President, Vice-President or Secretaries of State and Defense want to command the airways and the front pages. But the decision to launch a preemptive war under what turned out to be false premises is so important that all reporting documenting how this came to pass is vitally important to know and present.

The "Outrageous" and "Profit-Making" New York Times.

Then, on June 26, a segment of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" dealt with the emerging political explosion that followed publication in The New York Times of a front-page story on June 23 headlined, "Bank Data Sifted in Secret by U.S. to Block Terror." The story also appeared in some detail at the same time on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and, with less detail, on the front of the Wall Street Journal. A few hours later, The Washington Post had it on its front page.

But it was the New York Times that quickly became the focus of very heated criticism from the White House and Republicans in Congress, in particular. The President called the leak "disgraceful." The Vice-President said it had "made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult." Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) declared the leaks "treasonous" and called for an investigation of the Times.

And on PBS, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) told interviewer Jeffrey Brown, "this is outrageous. The New York Times, a profit-making entity, designed to improve their bottom line to make a profit, has decided that they can supersede members of Congress from both parties who are briefed on these important programs for our national security."

Weldon was very assertive throughout the interview and clearly dominated the conversation, which also included Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eric Lichtblau, who co-authored the Times story. Readers who wrote to me (some of their letters are posted below) were disapproving of the way the discussion was conducted. As a viewer, I also thought Weldon dominated the issue, although if you listened closely Brown and Lichtblau contributed proper questions and answers.

As a journalist, I felt there were some things Weldon said that deserved more of a response for the viewing audience, and I think the blame for this not being more of a debate over an important subject lies with the Times for putting a reporter — rather than a senior editor who could explain the decision to publish the story — in the uncomfortable job of trying to answer a congressman loaded with strong opinions. "NewsHour" producers agree.

I'm not going to recap this whole dispute here. There have been scores of articles and op-ed page explanations offered in recent days. This was obviously a tough call for the editors at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, in particular, since they were way out in front on the details of this story. From what I can tell as an outsider, and assuming that the editors knew who all the anonymous sources were who were voicing concerns about the reported lack of Congressional oversight, the degree of permanence that had been established around this emergency program, and some questions of its legality, my instinct is that, on balance, they made the right decision to publish.

There had been several public references in the past to the administration's determination to follow financial transactions, some of them made by administration officials, and even mentions about this particular program in a UN report. There has also been a pattern of more controversial activities — from treatment of prisoners, to overseas detention, to warrantless eavesdropping — that have pushed the boundaries of executive power. So was this another one, even though there was no evidence presented that anything illegal had taken place in this matter? I don't know, but I give these newspapers the benefit of the doubt.

A Real Remembrance and a Hypothetical

While I was listening to the Newshour segment, a couple of things were going through my mind. I remembered a story in the fall of 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, when the New York Times carried a report on the front page, based on unnamed administration officials, that said Saddam Hussein was buying up centrifuges for his nuclear weapons program. And I thought about how the Vice-President and then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice rushed on to the Sunday talk shows that same day to confirm it. That was surely classified information at the time, but it helped make a case that turned out to be wrong.

I also wondered what would have happened if, just before the March 2003 invasion, a story had appeared on the front page of a couple of the top newspapers that said that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction, according to some informed government sources who asked not be to be identified. That, surely, would have been based on classified information, and newspapers might well have been called names for publishing it while an American army was poised for attack in a neighboring desert.

So patriotism is a tricky business, and Americans, including journalists, carry it out in different ways, which I've always thought makes the country stronger in the long run. As Bradlee told Lehrer: "We're trying to tell you everyday what really went on . . . not what they said happened and not what you think should happen, but what did happen. We're not in any other kind of business. I mean we're trying to get it right."

What follows is a representative sampling of letters on these issues, and on my previous column about Mary Matalin's appearance as guest host on "The Charlie Rose Show," that showed up in the ombudsman's mailbag in the last week or two.

News That's Fit to Print?

As a committed viewer of the "NewsHour," I was distressed by the segment Tuesday night with [New York Times reporter] Eric Lichtblau and a congressman [Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.)], and what it implies about the PBS producers' and moderators' approach. You justly pride yourselves as a forum for thoughtful discussion, the antithesis of "Crossfire." This happens because your guests and moderators are thoughtful, articulate, and respectful. The moderators can moderate, they don't have to referee, and extraordinary conversations result.

The segment Tuesday was unfortunately very different. Eric Lichtblau has a great deal to contribute, but appeared extremely shy. The congressman was a bombastic bully. Jeffrey Brown was flummoxed, with the result that the congressman steamrollered over Jeffrey and Eric. Eric would mention a significant fact, and Jeffrey would turn to the congressman for a response. Instead of a response to what Eric said, we got a barrage that seemed to be straight from the Republican talking points. Jeffrey was too gentle to persist with the congressman for a meaningful response.

From the perspective of a viewer, this happened because Jeffrey approached his guests as if they were both forthcoming and respectful, as your guests almost always are. But Eric was too shy to advocate for himself and the congressman was too bullheaded to listen. If the producer was going to choose these guests, and Eric was essential to the story, then the moderator needed to draw out Eric while respectfully limiting the congressman. That didn't happen. The "NewsHour" is essential, and we are grateful for it. We can't get the same level of reporting anywhere else on TV. We viewers just want you to be your best at all times.

Providence, RI



As a long time viewer of MacNeil/Lehrer report I was truly taken aback by the June 26 Jeffrey Brown segment with Eric Lichtblau and Rep. Weldon of Pa. The representative's appalling attack on the journalist, when he sits in a Congress that not only does not do oversight but blocks all attempts to investigate seriously, was not only unbalanced but so far to the right as to make me question the NewHour's bias and balance. I do believe that there needs to be much more balance on these subjects rather then the attacks on reporters who are doing what the Republican Congress is so obviously unwilling to do. There are examples aplenty. Thank you.

Portland, OR



The "NewsHour" story and interview with Eric Lichtblau (NY Times) with the lengthy rantings of Curt Weldon (R-PA) is a clear indication of how far to the right public television has slipped. Thank God for the NY Times and their revelation of yet another of Bush's secret tricks. I have been watching the news on PBS since the beginning at KERA Dallas, and the way this story was handled was clearly a sad commentary of how this administration and its far-right-wing have hijacked the last of TV news. Please read again the Murrow "lights and wires in a box" speech.

Dallas, TX



I watched the "NewsHour" last evening, as usual. I was absolutely flabbergasted to watch the "interview" and erstwhile debate between Congressman Weldon and the reporter from the NY Times regarding the warrantless retrieval of financial data. Ever since this administration has come to power, the interviews have gotten weaker and weaker, and this exercise in pabulum constituted regurgitating the Karl Rove mantra of attacking the attacker. At no time did the interviewer press the Congressman about the illegality of the program — it was an incessant drumbeat against a reporter who rather meekly defended the public's right to know. I can not, in this space, adequately express my outrage, disgust, and dismay with the gutless "interview" involved. Why not simply place an additional podium for Tony Snow?

Peter Myer, Thornville, OH



I just caught the last few minutes of the "NewsHour." I was trying to listen to what the New York Times reporter had to say while discussing intelligence matters. Unfortunately, Congressman Weldon, whom you were also interviewing, interrupted the reporter and started yelling about his outrage and how the press reminds him of McCarthyism. Please do not let this happen again.

Winter Park, FL



I just turned off the "NewsHour" in disgust! After a short introduction on the New York Times publishing classified information and the President's comments, the program begins to interview the reporter who wrote the article. Since I view the Times' action as treasonous, so I don't know when I will view the program again, but not soon.

Robert Von Moss, Gaithersburg, MD


'The Dark Side'

I'm really disgusted by your portrayal of the VP and his associates. I once listened to reports from various sources including PBS, but seeing as how it's just another left-leaning liberal post, I will no longer trust the info from it. It is different to present facts and allow your listeners to make their own choices than to portray the leadership of our nation as evil. I have never challenged anyone's right to have any opinion, even the ones presented within this program as fact. I have found that usually the ones doing the demonizing are the ones most worth of the title.

K Warner, Lynn, IN



I want to congratulate PBS for "The Dark Side," aired this evening. Our country must have factual information (no one can dispute tape reporting) and fair reporting as presented this evening.

Ron Rubley, Wayne, PA



I watched the program on "The Dark Side" this evening. Everything I have suspected & believed about the Bush administration, especially that sneak Cheney, appears to be true. These are evil people and are getting our young men killed behind the biggest lie told to the American people.

Your program was very well done, and the comments of the various CIA and other officials were right on. Thank you and please keep up the wonderful work you are doing. These guys would love to shut the press down, especially anyone shedding light on their dirty deeds. Thank you again.

Jo Adams, Altoona, PA



I don't believe I have ever seen a worse hatchet job than "Dark Side" tonight. A one-sided rant by every Administration critic in the kennel — not even a passing attempt to be even-handed. The damn thing could have been written by Michael Moore or the DNC. Nothing but a search for witches, found to be named Tenet and Cheney.

Tom Borzilleri, Bethesda, MD



Nice try on the "dark side" Iraq war President Bush bash. The Liberals are showing.

Rolf Hanson, Onalaska, WI



"The Dark Side" was clearly the most one-sided piece of liberal journalism that PBS has done; that speaks volumes based on your history. Your management certainly had to review the single "left" focus on the Vice President and his staff as "The Dark Side," and yet you still presented the one-sided stories as singular fact. Apparently you see a difference in your decisions and what your piece claims, juxtaposed against the current Administration and WMD. The piece involved all of the Democratic players from Joe Wilson, Bob Graham to Richard Clarke . . . and told the single story that we continue to hear from the Democrats . . . with no mention of opposing views or the other 'view' from the Republicans. So, if one is to believe PBS, the Democrats have told the truth on everything, and the Republicans have been lying about everything. Now, Mr. Ombudsman . . . is that what you and PBS really believe is the truth?

Robert Biles, Kingwood, TX



Tonight's show "The Dark Side" was a masterpiece. I just wonder what I can do to get those mad men out of control. Are there any stand-up guys? I hope and pray someone steps up who has integrity. Thanks for the show.

Micki Fogarty, Des Plaines, IL


. . . More on 'The Dark Side'

Ten minutes into "The Dark Side" it was clear that your program would leave out important key facts that are needed to accurately describe the events around 9/11 and the "war on terror." For example, this administration ignored warnings about the terrorist threat. You also left out the fact that Cheney wanted to go into Iraq from day one. I had high hopes that this show would shed the light we needed to show Cheney for what he is, a traitor. Now it is clear to me that PBS has in fact been taken over by the administration. While your hard news footage and voice over had a serious feel it was mostly propaganda designed to paint Cheney as driven to protect the country. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can't ignore a threat and then use what happened to achieve the goal you had all along . . . Iraq.

Michael Jones, Los Angeles, CA



I am writing to voice my complaints about "Frontline: The Dark Side."

The implications in this program are that President Bush and his administration cooked the information for going into Iraq, and that the administration, driven by VP Cheney, outed Valerie Plame because Joe Wilson knew the truth about Saddam, the Niger and yellowcake.

However, the program conveniently left out major facts. PM Tony Blair and British intelligence still stand to this day by their statements that Saddam was attempting to buy yellowcake in the Niger. ("The Dark Side" said the intelligence had been fabricated, but it was the Italian intelligence report that was fraudulent, not the British intelligence.) The Senate investigation found that Wilson lied on at least two accounts. He at first said he didn't remember who recommended him for the Niger job, then admitted that it had been his wife. He also stated that he had been sent by VP Cheney's office, then admitted that the CIA had sent him.

"The Dark Side" said that the grand jury indicted Scooter Libby on five counts, but never stated what the counts are, and implied that they are for outing Plame. In fact, none of the five counts are for outing Plame. Furthermore, the program failed to say that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald specifically announced that no law had been broken regarding the outing of a CIA agent. (i.e. Plame was not a covert agent.) In addition, PBS failed to interview CIA people who don't think that the administration cooked the information. (Yes, they do exist.) I was astounded at the biased and fraudulent nature of the program. It is not truth — it is what PBS wants us to believe. PBS needs supervision to make sure that it at least includes all the facts in its programs, rather than simply sinister implications with eerie music in the background.

Susan Aiello, Boulder, CO



Investigative reporting is alive and well, only on PBS. Frontline's "The Dark Side" was riveting and brought much needed light into the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal. You don't see this kind of in-depth behind the scenes reporting on public TV anymore. The interviews with the actual players were enlightening and indisputable. It's no wonder why the neo-cons want to shut down PBS.

Rob Carl, Daytona Beach, FL



With the deterioration of our news media, PBS is about the only source we have left for accurate and informative news and information. The program "The Dark Side" is exactly what America needs. Where is the media? Where are our elected officials? If this program cannot generate dialog and questions about the build up to the war in Iraq, what will it take? If the program is relatively accurate what are we going to do about it? If it is not true what are we going to do about it? If the program was accurate, "Frontline" has made a fool of all the other media and the American public as well. If the program is not accurate, "Frontline" should be shut down immediately. If America doesn't respond to the program in some way, what would it take? If Americans don't care what's happening to their government and country then we deserve what we get. It is wonderful to see we still have a network that will take a critical issue head-on at prime time. There is still hope for the American media! Thank You PBS!!!!

Alan Meunier, Dale, IN



Your program "The Dark Side" was magnificent. It was good to have the machinations of the Cheney cabal brought out in the open so that we could view the slime and have confirmation of our suspicions. Keep up the good work, but watch your back. I'll bet Cheney's gang will try to cut your funding for having shown them for what they are.

Ralph Auf der Heide, Santa Barbara, CA



I found "The Dark Side" deeply disturbing, not for its content but for its lack of balance. When do we get to see the counterpoint production? I have seldom seen such an array of half-truths and innuendo by discredited pols (Richard Clarke and half the CIA quitters) portrayed as truth. Maybe by the KGB in its heyday!?!

John Russell, Palmer Lake, CO



A very compelling report. Finally, someone is "connecting the dots." Thank you to PBS for putting it on the air.

Steve Cramer, Los Angeles, CA


. . . And Still More

Thank you for having the courage to air "The Dark Side." I had almost given up on PBS. I could see it was being more and more controlled by Corporate America. One only has to watch the commercials to know that PBS is not Public Broadcasting but controlled by Corporate America and the corruption in American government.

Shuryl A. Potter, Redondo, WA



I was pleased to see the honesty and daring reporting on Frontline last night and I thank the producers for it.

Dave B., Paonia, CO



"The Dark Side" Frontline episode is just another clear example of where my hard earned tax dollars are being wasted to advance the left wing liberal agenda of PBS. Frankly, I will be becoming highly vocal to my local federal representatives that any public money used to fund this liberal agenda should be stopped immediately.

Steve Shisler, Port Matilda, PA



I just want to commend PBS journalism for their insightful Frontline program "The Dark Side." I believe that the program was presented with the highest journalistic integrity. It revealed a side to the "intelligence" story that we will never see in the corporate media. Yet, it was presented fairly, with opportunities for the "other" (administration) side to be heard. The wide range interviewees, many former administration officials, attested to the need to air the dark side of this issue. It was a side of the story that only PBS seems willing to carry. It speaks well for the integrity of Frontline producers and writers, and PBS management.

Riley McClelland, West Glacier, MT



The Frontline program "The Dark Side" was a superb piece of television journalism. It really helped me understand the current issues in the news by giving a historical perspective to the relationships of individuals and power. Well done to PBS and all involved.

L Cullen, New York, NY



I was appalled at the recent Frontline story on "The Dark Side" outlining the decision on WMD to go to war in Iraq. It left out many important points, which made it slanted rather than balanced coverage of the topic.

Left out of the story was that:
At no time did any major decision maker in the Federal Government say that Iraq was an imminent threat to the U.S. — in fact, Condi Rice went out of her way to say that it wasn't an imminent threat but that it was a gathering threat and that we shouldn't wait until it was an imminent threat — in fact, I believe a Democrat of some role of authority used the word "imminent" and he was the only one.

The whole world thought that Iraq had WMD — even Saddam Hussein's top brass thought they had WMD — it was a surprise to them that Iraq didn't have WMD, which they found out from Saddam on the eve of the US invasion. No wonder the Bush administration assumed there were WMD in Iraq, regardless of what our intelligence said. Other countries around the world assumed Saddam had WMDs so why is it a surprise that the US shared that view while still trying aggressively to find our own US-developed proof to underscore what the whole world already thought they had proof for!!!!

To paint the current administration as having a dark side is ridiculous. I am glad they are looking out for the US and I feel much safer than I would with a less visionary administration. They see the big picture. It is not just about getting the current batch of terrorists; it is about transforming the Mideast to create a balance of power that will favor peace in the world long term, and undermining the Al Qaeda-like movement throughout the world. There is no easy answer to this challenge.

Monday morning quarterbacking and taking cheap shots at people who honestly did what they thought was right is tacky and beneath PBS. Of course everyone assumed we were going to go after Iraq even before 9/11. It was a no brainer in my opinion. Surely PBS has higher news standards than to present such a slanted program as the Frontline "Dark Side." If anything, it shows the dark side of PBS.

Plano, TX


Lehrer and Bradlee

I've just spent a wonderful hour listening to Jim Lehrer and Ben Bradlee's discussion on "Free Speech." It was a great program — television doing what it can do so well, entertaining but also educating viewers. Thank you.

Nancy Leisinger, Liberty, MO



The program that Jim Lehrer presented tonight was very inspiring. It gave me promise that my son can be directed to journalism with integrity.

S. Grossklaus, Gross Ile, MI



Mr. Lehrer criticized listeners who said he wouldn't yell "LIAR!" when an interviewee made a false statement. What we listeners demand is that false statements be challenged. I have heard many interviews in which tough questioning will reveal the truth. To just let a misstatement or falsehood stand is to disrespect the viewer and let truth remain concealed. I am very disappointed in Mr. Lehrer. Otherwise, the rest of the program was excellent.

Naomi Durant, Lindsborg, KS


More About Matalin

I agree fully with your comments on Mary Matalin and "The Charlie Rose" show. An ombudsman might find it easier not to disagree with producers when the complaints are few, but the issue is important. It occurred to me that having James Carville would be inappropriate, too, given the depth of his partisan ways and jobs with the Clinton administration (and perhaps with Hillary now?). The presence of commentators in the media who bounce back and forth between journalistic analysis/comment and political work is a problem: Tony Snow, David Gergen, Matalin (I don't know which side she started on), Pat Buchanan and others. Then again, one of the finest and most thoughtful, Bill Moyers, came out of the Johnson administration. But he did not carom between the two worlds. He chose his brand of journalism.

Dan Hortsch, Portland, OR



I have to agree with you though I did not see that particular show. Mary Matalin would definitely be a "distraction." Nobody is as good at "having a conversation" on television as Charlie Rose . . . bar none. Ted Koppel is about as close as anyone, but still. Yes, political operatives should be on panels, or be interviewed. However, it seems to me that Charlie and his staff may have expected Ms. Matalin to exhibit some restraint when she was in the other chair. C'est la vie.

Bernie Gay, St. Augustine, FL



Is this because "Charlie Rose" is a PBS show? Otherwise you'd have to have just as big a problem with George Stephanopoulos, the mouthpiece for the Clinton administration, hosting "This Week."

Jeff Yoders, Chicago, IL



Greetings, Mr. Getler. I agree with your position re Matalin.

Jenoye Cole, College Station, TX



That PBS leans left, way left, is a given. I find it amusing the reaction to Mary Matalin as the proverbial nose of the camel into the tent. No, conservatives don't want to take over PBS. Eliminate it? Maybe. Seeing public money used to prop up the left or the right is offensive. And you guys don't realize you are left! Amazing.

Dennis Berg, Boise, ID



As to your comments about the "Charlie Rose Show," I agree. I have no problems with conservatives if they honestly and fairly present their views. My problem is when they don't. When then they lie or consider me a traitor and un-American because my views don't agree with theirs. I'm also aware of the big picture, the overwhelming bias of the corporate media in this country for Republicans and conservative ideology. Practically all of talk radio, corporate networks, corporate publications. When and where do we get to hear the other voice? How many times have the networks refused to air paid ads they disagree with because they are too liberal? What the hell is going on with that? And how much of that is going on in the editorial board rooms at the major networks? It isn't just one spokesperson, or one segment — it's across the board. And not just with the news programs we get. It's in our sitcoms, history lessons, church pulpits, everywhere. It's made the corporate media just a propaganda outlet for corporate America. Its arm to promote the conservative ideology and push its agenda. People are catching on too, which is why I think you got the response you did from viewers. It's why I sit there in a constant argument with my TV set. What about this? What about that?

Tom Felt, Tucson, AZ



I have been a "Charlie Rose Show" fan for so many years that I have forgotten just how many. Charlie has done a good job of keeping his personal political views hidden. Coming from North Carolina I assumed he was a Republican. But again I say he has done a good job of keeping this out of his show.

I watch his show 4-5 nights a week. Over the last six months I seem to have noticed a shift to the right and mentioned that in my blog. I got an email asking me to hold up on my judgment, presumably from an employee of his show and I did just that.

Mary Matalin is a staunch outspoken Republican Party and Bush "employee" so to speak. Moreover, while acting as host on this show she made obviously highly partisan comments. So this show was actually a Rove/ Bush Republican forum. It was full of Rove "talking points." I am an Independent, politically speaking. I was very angered by this show.

Bob D'Amico, Cleveland, OH



As far as Mary Matalin presenting her conservative views as a host rather than as a panelist on Rose's show, I'm sure people were bristling because of who she is and what she supports. But PBS shows also have hosts that are certainly "left" leaning like Noam Chomsky, for instance, and though I would much rather listen to him than to Matalin, I still support the idea that all voices need to be heard, even the ones I strongly disagree with. I would also argue with the idea that a host must be neutral, because, really, there is no such thing as neutrality if people are deeply thinking and engaged.

Lee Ann Mortensen, Salt Lake City, UT



Honestly, the only thing more comical than PBS viewers going ballistic over a thimble full of red in a sea of blue (i.e. Mary Matalin filling in for Charlie Rose for one stinkin' show) is the ombudsman devoting an entire column to it. For all the times the hyper-partisan Bill Moyers subbed for Charlie, I never once thought to complain. Are PBS's loyalists (and ombudsman) that insecure about their political views? If we're going to devote an entire column to one case of bias on PBS, isn't it somewhat revealing that the one example chosen is a case of right wing bias (i.e. the rarest of the rare on PBS)? Keep up the highly biased work, guys.

David Krause, Dallas, TX



Mary Matalin's sitting in for Charlie Rose was more than a disappointment; it was an insult to those of us who expect even a little balance at PBS. I understand that the ombudsman "is with the viewers" on this, but what actually will happen to rectify it?

Sherrill Futrell, Davis, CA


Program Note

I'll be away from the office from July 7 to 17. But my assistant, Marcia Apperson, will be here so don't hold back on your e-mails and phone calls.


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