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PBS Ombudsman

Ombudsman's Mailbag

For those of you hardcore readers of the ombudsman's column who aren't yet on your holiday break and are still tuned in, here are a few letters that arrived over the last couple of days. The first batch involves a sampling of reader response to last week's column about the "Einstein's Wife" documentary film and companion Web presentation. Then come a couple of e-mails about one aspect of the NOW weekly news magazine report last Friday that dealt with the long-running attempt to unionize the world's largest pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C.

Einstein's Wife

For those of you who also had the stamina to get through last week's way-too-long column, you will know that it was about a new controversy surrounding a rather old (three years or so) documentary and accompanying Web site. The column contains extended criticisms of the material in both the film and the Web from some specialists (primarily Allen Esterson) and Einstein scholars, and a response to the criticisms from the film's producer, Geraldine Hilton. I wound up siding with the critics and recommended that the Web site be taken down (and DVD sales discontinued) until a small group of scholars can review the material. But PBS says that is not its policy. But after the column appeared, PBS did append the following Editor's Note to the Web site on Dec. 19.

The contents of this site are currently under review by site producers in response to viewer concerns about the historical accuracy of the information presented here. You can read more about the dispute in the PBS Ombudsman's detailed article on the topic. Oregon Public Broadcasting, the producer of this companion web site, will be consulting with the broadcast program producer and outside experts to conduct a thorough review of the criticisms before determining what, if any, changes should to be made to the site content. Future notices on the progress of the content review will be posted here.

Some Letters

Fascinating, and telling, that Ms. Hilton claims that "failing" and "being denied a diploma" are the same thing. She was slightly convincing until I got to that pompous generality. "Failing" indicates that you had the chance but you blew it; "being denied" means that you made it but someone actively prevented your achievement from being known. Hmm, not the same — the burden of responsibility has shifted. . .

I love a strong female character and a "woman behind the man" story, but this one now seems to me to be a bit puffed up. Physicists *do* have a boys' club (from the ones I know), but not every great man's wife is equally brilliant. Some do wonders by simply being good women and nurturing wives — and what's wrong with that? Why must so many women seek validation by claiming that so many of their foremothers were, in essence, "put down by The Man"? Why diminish the quiet lives of the women who worked to keep society going? Besides, there are plenty of fine, gutsy women pioneers out there — must new ones be created?

If she was so truly great, wouldn't Maric have been more vigilant and outspoken about being thus snubbed? If she was so brilliant, why stay with a husband who "collaborated" only to take her ideas as his own and win glory that she had merited? If Marie Curie could gain her own renown, then Maric could have, if it suited her. It seems that she took the quieter path and was proud to let "her darling" do his thing. I doubt Maric saw herself as a victim, which sadly is such a prized status these days.

Mary H., Washington, D.C.

Einstein's Wife; this is another instance where political correctness stands in the way of (scientific) or even good judgment by PBS. I no longer contribute to PBS for this exact reason. After my previous criticism of Texas Ranch House and suggestion that you remove from the rotation a program that I enjoyed and believed in and I now find cannot be trusted. Kudos to my wife (of 35 years) who, when it ran, saw through it as a piece of feminist propaganda, I disagreed. I was mistaken. While it might be true I can no longer accept it as fact. I do not deny the equality of women. As a matter of fact I believe that overall women are superior in every arena. There is no need to make things up or hatch wild or unsubstantiated theories. Einstein did not marry another Einstein. That statistical impossibility should have alerted you to the improbability of this film being correct. It stands as historical fiction having some fact (two minor ones as best I can count). It does not meet any level of educational and or factual material.

Mike Knight, Tampa, FL

If PBS is not going to pull the site, it then should post a notice at the beginning that there is serious difference of opinion as to the facts (and thus, conclusions) of the site. If this is not done immediately, an unknown number of people will leave this site with a false impression as to the facts. Most of these people will probably never go back to the site and thus will not see the further clarification. Certainly this notice would be the responsible act.

Alan Shapiro, Baltimore, MD

The "reply" by Ms. Hilton merely repeats many of the unfounded assertions made originally. Allen Esterson has a comprehensive reply on his website about the documentary (http://www.esterson.org/Defending_Einsteins_Wife_2.htm) and the Web presentation (http://www.esterson.org/Defending_Einsteins_Wife_Website.htm).

The weakness of her arguments are legion. But to take one trivial example she has not grasped that the story that Joffe saw the names of both Einstein and Marity on the original submissions is based on a misreporting of what Joffe demonstrably said — his reference is clearly to one male person.

Her reply should not be left up without comment by you. Although people who have followed the debate will know it is specious and ignorant, leaving it without including Esterson's reply or comments by yourself could lead to some people thinking her comments have some merit.

Michael Phelps, Penarth

Geraldine Hilton's poor research is a perfect example of a generation of academics, documentarians and journalists who have jettisoned rigorous research methods (too "pedantic," they object) in favor of purely political arguments.

There is considerable evidence that the public has been purposely misled by this documentary — more than enough to pull the film and website, as the Ombudsman has suggested. At the very least, a link to objecting scholars can be put up at the website immediately, announcing where students can find a contrary view.

It is worth noting that, although the poll question at the website is heavily loaded, 21% of students answering do not believe that Maric helped Einstein significantly or do not know. I find that interesting and hopeful. Apparently a skill for analysis survives the best attempts of political devils (in the Doestoievskian sense) to destroy it in our young.

Dan Goorevitch, Toronto

Some Comments about NOW

In the interest of fairness — could we get Maria Hinojosa to just once report on the many adverse effects of immigration? In tonight's story on the Smithville packing co., Maria focused on Ms. Silva who clearly is in this country illegally. My sister-in-law is a legal Mexican resident. Legal residents have no problem showing you their papers. Yet Maria doesn't point out this fact, instead she portrays Ms. Silva as a victim fighting for her rights. May I remind Maria Hinojosa that Ms. Silva has NO RIGHTS in this country — especially if she has stolen an American citizen's identity in order to get that job she is now protesting against. Ms. Silva has human rights but to my knowledge that does not include the right to protest the kind of job she illegally came here to get. I am a native Hispanic Texan. I am against illegal immigration for various reasons. Many Hispanics such as myself and many legal immigrants never get our opinions aired on the radio or on television. Maria seems to have taken it upon herself to represent all of us BOTH on NPR and PBS. If you can't find another Hispanic reporter to provide some balance to her reporting may I recommend myself. I am not a reporter but someone needs to represent what appears to be the new Hispanic silent majority on the media.

Olga M. Ortiz-Graves, San Antonio, TX

When I first saw you being interviewed on PBS I actually thought you may make a difference. Apparently I was wrong. NOW with Maria Hinojosa is without doubt the most racist Mexican program on television. From exposing White Americans to ridicule to crying about working conditions in meat packing plants for illegal Mexicans, every story she does reverts to the same thing. That is that the United States has no right to act against any Mexican in this country illegally. The only program on PBS that covers the absolute evil that comes with unchecked illegal Mexican immigration is Frontline and that program is aired very rarely. Enough is enough and if PBS can't do the story in its entirety then it is better if it is not done at all. I live in El Paso and contrary to what she would have you believe, 95% of the jobs illegal Mexicans take are not jobs that Americans won't do. They are jobs that used to pay a living wage and since the prostitution of the U.S. government to big business, outsourcing and cheap illegal Mexican labor they now pay minimum wage.

El Paso, TX

NOW's Response:

Here's how Joel Schwartzenberg, a senior producer with NOW, responded to these viewers:

"Thank you for your comments to the PBS Ombudsman regarding our recent show involving the Smithfield Packing Company. The show focused on the conflict of interest between the management and those supporting unionization of the facility. We did not make distinctions based on citizenship or ethnic background, but your point about the rights of legal immigrants versus those of illegal immigrants is well-taken, and a subject we've addressed directly in past 2006 shows. We stand by our reports and the integrity of Maria Hinojosa, an award-winning author and journalist whose past media affiliations include positions with CNN and CBS. While our mission is to uncover truth in American society and government, we fully support and encourage a healthy, intelligent debate on all issues; such dialogue is vital to the preservation of our democracy."

I watched the NOW program and thought it was a solid, hard-hitting and worthwhile report, although as a viewer I felt I could tell which side the reporter was on. On the other hand, the company had its say, for sure, and it may be that the workers who want to be unionized have a stronger case. But I also agree with the viewer from San Antonio (above) who notes the focus on Jessica Silva as victim and the failure to ask her directly if she is in this country illegally and to explore that contradiction with her. There were also other telephone callers who said they were legal aliens, who had gone through the proper processes and had the proper paperwork, and made similar points about the failure to differentiate in dealing with these issues on such programs.

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