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The Ombudsman Column

The "Hand of God," (Very) Late Edition

This started out as an Ombudsman's Mailbag, a collection of viewer comments on a fairly wide range of programs that had aired recently. There was little or no comment from me because there were no dominant or especially controversial themes that required further investigation. But one of the interesting things about this job is that once you start peeling the onion on what seem like routine viewer observations, you often learn new and surprising things.

This happened when I started asking a few questions about a group of e-mails I received about the 90-minute "Hand of God" documentary produced by Frontline that debuted nationally on the evening of Jan. 16. This was a very powerful, and personal, story of one boy and his family victimized many years ago in what has since been revealed as a much wider-ranging scandal of sexual molestation of youngsters within the Archdiocese of Boston. The Ombudsman's Mailbag of Jan. 18 dealt with this program and the reaction of many viewers.

Then, in the aftermath of that column, other viewers wrote to complain that their local PBS station in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas (KMBH) had not shown the documentary, and that a story by the Associated Press and a local paper had reported on the situation. What follows are four letters from viewers that lay out the range of concerns expressed.

Below the letters is my attempt to sort out what happened. What turned up, in looking into this, came as a surprise to me: a handful (three, according to PBS officials) of the 340-plus, PBS-affiliated stations around the country have ties with religious organizations. I didn't know that and my guess is that many PBS viewers, officials and affiliated-station employees around the country didn't know that.

First, the letters:

What "Hand of God"?

Regarding "Hand of God": Our local Brownsville PBS censored the entire airing of the show. Since when do we need anyone to "determine if any subject is fit for valley residents to watch"? So much for "public" broadcasting. As a retired librarian I find any type of censorship as totally disgusting. I thought we lived in a free country.

Donnie York, Harlingen, TX

The Frontline documentary, "Hand of God," caused a different kind of controversy here in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It did not run. When people who had been watching advertisements for it asked the local station, KMBH, why, the first response was that the station manager, Father Pedro Briseno, had held it up so he could preview it. When that story made it to the local press, Briseno issued a statement that claimed the real reason was that PBS had distributed a Frontline schedule in late December listing another show which, subsequently, the local station had published. When Frontline changed its schedule, Briseno asserts, he held to the old schedule because it had already been distributed to members and to the press. My question is this: Did Frontline change its schedule as the good Father suggests? I'd appreciate a response as the credibility of the current station management is on the line.

Stan Raines, Brownsville, TX

An AP story out today cites a decision by "a public television station owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville" (Texas) not to run Hand of God on Frontline. How many PBS stations in America are owned by the Roman Catholic Church? Or any church, for that matter? I suppose gifts I may make to PBS would be funneled down into the coffers of these churches? Yes? No?

Chuck Lutke, Austin, TX

Our local newspaper has informed us that KMBH is owned by the Catholic Church and rescheduled "Hand of God" at an hour where there would be minimal viewers. First, how is it possible for a church to own a PBS station? At best it would be conflict of interest and at least its views certainly would be slanted toward church doctrine. What can be done to rectify this situation? Neither the church nor any government entity should be allowed ownership of something called "Public."

Ned Sheats, Mission, TX

What's Going On?

Here's what I've been able to find out about the issues raised in the preceding four letters.

1) Yes, the Frontline producers say they did change the schedule late in the day. Because of production delays, a three-part series called "News Wars" that had been scheduled to be available for national broadcast in January was moved back to February. This forced the producers to move up programs into January, including "Hand of God," that had been scheduled for February. However, that change announcement, according to Frontline, was made to all programmers well in advance — on Dec. 1, 2006. The actual film was also delivered to stations on Jan. 11, five days ahead of the broadcast date and in plenty of time for pre-screening reviews by stations, according to Frontline. According to the "Standard Carriage Report" that PBS gets for its programs, 283 stations — about 83 percent of all PBS affiliates — managed to take the shift in stride and carried the program on Jan. 16, when it made its national debut.

2) In a press release issued after unfavorable publicity in local newspapers, KMBH General Manager, Monsignor Pedro Briseno, said that the mix-up was "because Frontline producers changed their minds after we had our programming logs for January closed and sent to the network and to the publisher of our programming guide." Briseno said the cut-off for the guide must be "at the latest twenty days in advance to the beginning of the month. In the case of Frontline for January 16, we included the title of the program that was provided to us at least 26 days earlier (by December 20, 2006)." This conflicts with the Frontline producers' claim of notifying stations by Dec. 1.

3) Briseno also points out that KMBH did, indeed, broadcast "Hand of God" on Channel 60-DT38 "later that same night, at 1AM, during our overnight PBS service." So it was shown, but you cannot blame any viewer for thinking the station had decided not to show it, or for not knowing that a major documentary was going to be aired between 1 and 2:30 a.m.

4) As for the religious linkage, a PBS spokeswoman says that "KMBH is licensed to the RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., a 501(c)(3), which is managed by the local Catholic diocese. In order to qualify for an annual Community Service Grant from CPB (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), all stations must meet certain noncommercial, nonsectarian criteria. In the PBS system, there are only three CSG-qualified stations that have ties with religious organizations: KMBH/Harlingen, mentioned above. KBYU/Provo is licensed to Brigham Young University, an educational institution affiliated with the Mormon Church. Also, WLAE/New Orleans has strong ties to the local Catholic diocese, but is not owned or operated by it." In looking further into this, officials at the Provo and New Orleans stations, neither of which carried the "Hand of God" program, said that they subscribe to a more limited set of PBS programs and not the full national program service.

Some Thoughts

In the Associated Press story about the controversy, which Msgr. Briseno takes issue with on several points, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Brownsville (Texas) says that although the Catholic Church owns the station (KMBH) it does not influence programming decisions. Let's assume that is a good faith statement. But the viewers whose letters are printed above raise important points in my view, and the details that have since surfaced remain troubling and unconvincing, especially the decision by the station to air that program at 1 o'clock in the morning. There do seem to be broader church-state issues here as well, albeit only linked in a fairly specific way to one station in this current matter, that are worthy of a further look by PBS or CPB.

What follows now are some other letters based on the earlier column about "Hand of God," plus letters on several other subjects.

More about that "Hand of God"

Thank you for showing the Hand of God. I disagree with those who felt that the documentary was biased. I felt that it revealed the sad truth astonishingly well, as well as the irony regarding the parents losing their own parish church. I think this documentary should be shown time and again. Living in NM and working with kids, I still see parents with a "head in the sand approach" when it comes to any discussion about sex.

Albuquerque, NM

I read some of the comments against Hand of God, so my negative feedback will be brief. How would you feel if your entire family was publicly ridiculed for the crime of one of its members ? As a member of the Catholic Church, that is how I felt while watching this hateful program.

Bill Bilchik, Berea, OH

I just scanned a couple of the responses to the PBS airing of the sexual abuse by Boston priests and the charge of anti-Catholicism. Their responses are indicative of the control the Catholic Church (and all religions) hold on their subjects, the individual ignorance and denial that exists . I was a single mother who raised my children in Arlington, Virginia, in the '60s and '70s. My son was sexually abused by a priest from St. Charles — and I am sure he was only one of many. The priest was scout leader of the church troop (isn't that a riot — and very much in keeping with their MOs). When I learned of the abuse from my son many months after the incidents, I was finally — after several deliberate attempts by another priest and a monsignor to prevent me from doing so — able to contact the office of the bishop of Richmond and the priest was gone within a month.

Not until I saw a number of programs airing child sexual abuse and their short- and long-term effects did I realize the major reason for my son's lost life. And while I have harbored resentment and guilt toward the priest all these years, I learned only recently that in Virginia child molestation is a felony, and there is no statute of limitations and, thus, attempted to encourage my son to press charges against the priest. Not only did he refuse, I learned he had gone back to the Catholic Church — which he left over 30 years ago — to the very system that abused him. While he claims the priest's actions had no effect on his life, his life beginning at around age 10 (the abuse occurred at age 9-10) he slowly spiraled into alcohol, drugs, abuse, job insecurity, and a high school dropout. All my plans, hopes and dreams — down the drain! As well as his life! He is now in his 40's and nothing has changed.

I only wish I could find some comfort for myself and the guilt that I feel for not having done more at the time. But who would have believed me?! No one! The determination and courage that the two brothers showed in producing the documentary is only trumped by the courage that PBS showed in airing it. Of course there will be those who say it's anti-Catholic — they don't want to believe it, i.e., they aren't interested in the facts. They aren't ready or willing to acknowledge that what they were spoon fed is all a bunch of hype. I found very little self-serving in the film — maybe because I identified with what was going on — and even cried. Thank you for airing it.

Rita Bruin, Garner, NC

Found "Hand of God" immensely moving and thought provoking. Those that criticize the anti-Catholic message should understand that the reason these molestations are so disturbing is that these priests were looked up to and revered by their victims. My opinion is that until priests are allowed to marry and live normal lives, these acts will probably continue. All over the world different Catholic communities are forced to face the fact that many of their priests have molested children; i.e. Ireland just recently in the news having to pay out millions in reparations to molested victims. I agree that promoting Bishop Law to the Vatican was a "slap in the fact" to those trying to reform the Catholic Church.

Trish Barnes, Lincoln, CA

I want to applaud you for your non-biased representation of not only your thoughts on the two current subjects (Hand of God and Jim Lehrer interview of the President), but also on the comments of the PBS viewers. I know this is the function of the ombudsman, but I applaud you for upholding your position with both insight and integrity. I just wish more viewers were aware of the PBS page!

Huntington Beach, CA

On that Honor Roll

Re the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: I commend you and your staff for setting what I believe is the gold standard of journalism, and thank you for your efforts over the years. I'm sure the one of your toughest, but ultimately, I believe, wisest decisions was the one establishing the Honor Roll for service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each time, when I see the break at the end of the program, I know you have more, and my heart sinks. On Monday there were twelve more, yesterday seventeen more. And in these last nearly four years, my heart breaks for the families, while my anger rises against those who so arrogantly and incompetently launched the Iraq disaster under false pretenses and have thrown our young people into it.

I know that journalistic integrity prevents you from expressing how you feel, and I commend your continual and respectful effort to honor our young men and women. But I believe you are missing an important element. Either displayed on the screen at the end of the honor roll, or announced by you, should be the current death toll, as well as the toll of those injured and maimed. You have not done so yet, although you have occasionally announced the tolls as part of ongoing coverage.

I believe it is your responsibility to keep the public informed on the true cost of this war, including the horrific toll of Iraqi dead as well. It may be that we can then pay them our best respects by bringing their fellows who are still alive and intact home, and work to prevent our military from ever being so misused again.

Ray Ribich, Glen Ellyn, IL

NOW; Warming Up to Laurie David, Not

I am watching the PBS program NOW, the interview with Ms. David. Allow me to say that I am a committed environmentalist. However, Ms. David's high-decibel shrill cant will convince no non-believer. She is clearly better behind a camera than speaking (howling?) in front of it. Ms. Carter calmer and more reasoned remarks are far more convincing and helpful to the cause of global warming. Unfortunately such misjudgments on your part serve no good cause.

New York City, NY

Excellence in journalism should be based on A-objectivity and, B-presenting opposing views. Both standards were completely disregarded by Mr. Brancaccio (David Brancaccio, host of the weekly news magazine NOW) in his interview with the capable Mrs. David, producer of "An Inconvenient truth." Perhaps Mr. Brancaccio should have given time to someone like Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, who in his article "There is no consensus on global warming" (Wall Street Journal 6-26-06) wrote: "There is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods but by perpetual repetition." By avoiding "these inconvenient scientists," Mr. Brancaccio (a very competent journalist) has weakened his journalistic legitimacy.

Enrique Hugo, Bargioni, Miami Beach, FL

So Laurie David thinks U.S. cars aren't sold in China because they don't get good enough gas mileage. That is a lie. Try trade conflicts instead. She doesn't mention that Chinese car companies have been striving to develop emissions that will pass U.S. regulations.

Doug Rixmann, Newalla, OK

I am now watching Brancaccio with his latest "global warming expert" the PRODUCER of "An Inconvenient Truth" espousing their side!!! I have not seen ONE PBS program interviewing one of the many SCIENTISTS who have a different view. Why not?!

Ed Kertz, Ballwin, MO

Warming Up to Oprah

Re: African American Experience, Oprah's Roots. The program was entirely enjoyable — I had previously seen an expanded version featuring other prominent persons. Last night I watched again as Dr. Gates told Oprah that she was "not Zulu." I realized as I watched that he was mistaken. She very well could be Zulu through any of the many, many genetic lines that she possesses. Dr. Gates brought her evidence only that she is not Zulu through one singular line, her maternal-maternal line, as evidenced by an evaluation of her mitochondrial DNA. That conversation was bad science and gives watchers an incorrect notion of genetic heritage.

Jan Jaeckle, San Antonio, TX

I enjoyed Oprah's Roots program. I believe that giving the real reasons for poverty in Mississippi would have been much better than what was said. I believe that giving reasons why schools were mixed after the war and then segregated would have been helpful.

Slaughter, LA

I was so moved by the special with Oprah that I decided to finally search for my own roots. I thought the program was wonderful. It actually moved me to tears. I am not having any luck finding my ancestors. I was wondering if you could tell me where to start. I have been searching, but have yet to find anything. Should I consider hiring someone to look for my family tree?

Durham, NC

"Journalistic integrity" must also include a smidgen of dispassionate fact & truth. I watched Alex Hailey's "Roots" over 30 years ago, but I'll be damned if I'll watch Oprah Winfrey's rehash of the same thing. Who cares? Which of her multiple DNA donors was she researching? Her mother's? Her father's? Her grandmother's? Her grandfather's (maternal or paternal)? Such forebears expand by 2 with every generation. I can personally trace one branch of my family tree back 13 generations to England in 1594. Who cares? That means that since 1594, I had about 16,000 ancestors. [You could do the math.] The odds that I've inherited any DNA from that one line are zero, & I wouldn't have liked any of them above my grandparents, if I'd met them in person. I don't need to connect with "my past" to seek my own identity. It wasn't "my past," & my own identity has been forged only by those I have known. Hailey's "Roots" was an interesting historical tale (& let's face it, largely fictional). I don't see how Winfrey's self-exploration could improve on it. Back to my original point: who cares?

Richard P. Brown, Montclair, NJ

Identifying Guests on the NewsHour

On the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer's presentation of views of the President's proposal of Health Care on January 25, it used Grace-Marie Turner of the "Galen Institute." What they did not reveal is that the "Galen Institute" is a front and is funded by the Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation — this foundation is financed by the Mellon industrial, oil and banking fortune. Other funder of the "Galen Institute" is the Roe Foundation, funded by the Heritage Foundation," from Media Transparency. Why didn't the NewsHour reveal the background of the "Galen Institute?"

Larry Rabinowitz, Williamsburg, VA

I am a strong supporter and consistent viewer of the NewsHour program. It is by far the best news show on television, and it is the only news program I watch. I appreciate the in-depth reporting and analysis, the balanced viewpoints, and the civil tone of the discourses. Usually, the NewsHour is a beacon of journalistic integrity.

Unfortunately, during a 1/12/07 NewsHour program dealing with proposed legislation to grant more power to the Secretary of HHS to negotiate pharmaceutical prices for the Medicare Part D program, the NewsHour committed a serious breach of its otherwise stellar journalistic standards. One of the two panelists discussing this legislation was Dr. Gail Wilensky, who was only identified as an employee of Project HOPE. To the innocent viewer, I think this description gave an aura of "independence" and "academia" to Dr. Wilensky's viewpoints. However, the NewsHour did not also mention some of Dr. Wilensky's other affiliations, especially as a Director (since 1993) of UnitedHealth Group. (Dr. Wilensky also is a Director at two other for-profit health care companies, Quest Diagnostic and Manor Care.) This disclosure oversight causes two serious problems when viewers must assess Dr. Wilensky's viewpoints. First, UnitedHealth Group is the nation's largest Part D insurer (by quite a large margin), due in large part to its co-sponsorship of Part D plans with AARP. All managed care companies (and their stock prices) are extremely sensitive to any changes in health policy that might reduce their role or influence in the status quo. As a Director of UnitedHealth Group, Dr. Wilensky has a fiduciary duty to support that company's financial interests, which undoubtedly would not be helped in the Part D arena if the Federal government either offered a competitive Part D offering, or assumed more of the "middleman" price negotiation role, or both. Indeed, many managed care companies are deeply concerned that these new powers for the HHS Secretary could be the first step towards "federalizing" the entire Part D program, and reducing or eliminating for-profit companies' participation entirely. Without the "average" viewer being made aware of (a) Dr. Wilensky's high-profile fiduciary relationship to UnitedHealth Group, and (b) UnitedHealth Group's significant financial interest in the Part D program, that viewer had no! opportunity to judge Dr. Wilensky's comments in an appropriately challenging vein.

Second, in addition to noting Dr. Wilensky's fiduciary obligation to support the status quo on behalf of UnitedHealth group, the NewsHour also should have explained that Dr. Wilensky has a non-trivial personal financial conflict-of-interest in promoting viewpoints that favor UnitedHealth Group. Dr. Wilensky has made millions of dollars in stock profits from the exercise of UnitedHealth Group purchased stock and stock options. For example, according to S.E.C. filings, in January 2005, Dr. Wilensky sold 15,000 shares of UnitedHealth Group stock for $1.3 million dollars, reaping a net gain of over $1 million on this sale alone. This linkage between the success of UnitedHealth Group, and Dr. Wilensky's personal finances, might cause some viewers to be a bit more skeptical of her viewpoints on health policy matters that might adversely affect UnitedHealth Group. However, this lack of disclosure by the NewsHour of this fact prevented viewers from making an informed assessment of the legitimacy of Dr. Wilensky's observations.

The NewsHour needs to understand that most health policy issues these days have very direct financial and stock price potential impacts on all managed care companies. While the NewsHour has every right to present opposing viewpoints about emerging health policy issues, it also needs to uphold the highest standards of journalistic ethics by disclosing all the salient professional and personal interests of its panelists. In the future, I hope that the NewsHour will mend this crack in its journalistic fabric, so that the NewsHour's largely non-health-care-professional viewing audience can obtain all the facts when it assesses the commentaries by "expert" panelists.

Gary S. Whitted, Vancouver, WA

1. Yes, the Lehrer interview with the Prince was just two little boys trying not to offend one another. I entitled the "interview" The Prince and the Pauper. It was useless. Do not offend us again. We are not fools. 2. I salute your review and memorial of the soldiers, the KIAs. Please mention their ages! None of them are "kids" and many are unusually old. 3. Report the wounded, WIAs also! There are many more, they suffer. The killed at least do not have pain. Their pain is transcended, their families suffer the pain — and the question — did they die in vain? 4. Tonight, 1/29/07, another interview with the Prince. The most important question asked was not reported by you or the other networks. A GI from Forest Lake, MN asked the best question. It was not answered! To paraphrase: What will you do Mr. President if the Surge fails? Why was that excluded?

Thomas Chisholm, MD,
Col. MC USA retired, Chippewa Falls, WI

Choose One of the Following

(Ombudsman's note: Early in January, PBS announced it was presenting three pilot programs, associated with a new weekly science series that will begin this fall, as part of an experiment in which viewers were invited to voice their opinion about each of these programs and which one would be their choice to become the new 10-week series. PBS called this "a unique interactive dialogue with viewers about the programs they are seeking from their public television stations." Viewers were asked to submit their comments online at each of the program sites accessible through pbs.org/science. The ombudsman's office is not part of this but some viewers sent their thoughts to us and so we are posting those here.)

Loved the Wired Science episode. Hope you can continue with the series.

Peter Clayton, Sunrise, FL

I was very saddened to see the hype promo and "Wired Science" program that kids will vote on. This hyped program by twentysomethings is copycatting the Discovery Channel, etc., and not of the higher standard of PBS. Adults need to decide PBS programs. The voting can be skewed by kids. Also, last month I watched the last "NOVA scienceNow" with Mr. Dyson. Sir, it was the new video style of a new image every 2 seconds with never a moment to focus on a thought. Constant movement developed by the MTV style of TV. Watch it yourself, to see the discombobulation. PBS must remain above that. When people are ready to become adults they will come to (evening) PBS. Leave the Commercial TV 'junk style' to Commercial TV. You are the only respite where one can go in TV-land to escape this hype (along with C-SPAN). Please discuss this matter with your colleagues. Please keep the adults in charge.

Seattle, WA

Your network has been promoting feedback about its science line-up programs, however there is no mention or way to find out where to send that feedback. Therefore, my comments about the "Wired" science show are for you to distribute (thanks by the way).

This is a good show for the K-12 crowd. And on top of it, all of us will benefit from a new crop of young men K-12 who turn on the projectors. This was an embarrassment to have on the PBS network. This was a cheap, badly lit rehash, with a second rate science magazine looking to give their "correspondents" their 15 minutes of fame. Fortunately, they received less.

PBS must realize its subscriber base (where the most $ is) is older boomers. If you want to give this nation something to live by, then you must put together programs that report concrete health and longevity issues in an appropriate and scientific manner. Please, no more lines for me like "Keep flying gentleman!" K-12. More sophomoric underwater segments? K-12.

NR, Phoenix, AZ

I enjoy the wonderful variety of programming which PBS offers. Recently I watched "Wired Science," one of the new science pilots being considered for a series. It featured several interesting segments, but I balked at references to the age of the solar system being billions of years old, in the segment about the meteor farmer. Why is that presented as fact when it is not conclusively determined, and without an alternative viewpoint expressed?

L.H., Prairie du Chien, WI

I really enjoyed many scientific reports like Scientific Investigators. The report covers only US and Europe source and nothing from Japan even though some technologies like hybrid cars, robotics or some electronics are well advanced and ahead of US/Europe levels. For example, US auto industry is asking half billion dollars from the Congress claiming they are few years behind Japanese technology. Why you do not want to cover Japan by PBS?

Mikio Ohno, Sicklerville, NJ

RE: Science Investigators. Wonderful! Would like to see more. One topic: Organic farming (no pesticides) vs. regular farming (soil nutrients making the vegetables more nutritious) and regular grain fed cattle vs. organic grass fed cattle in terms of nutritional value, hormones, etc.

Houston, TX

The new series of "science" programs is a foul bunch, in my opinion, trash TV, nothing for me or my kids to watch. In fact, my high schoolers trashed "Science Investigators" quite well tonight. I expressed my opinion on the Science Investigators site at length, and when I sent my statement, I received a message that something had happened to my message and I should "try again." Well, we concluded with some amusement, of course. PBS TV is in great trouble, and no where more so than in this new science effort. Granada, as usual, comes through with their magnificent China series from some years back, for which KQED claims some credit. Nonsense.

Santa Cruz, CA

I watched a show last evening I believe was called "Science Investigators," and thought it was absolutely fantastic, I do hope more programs like this will be available.

E. S., Lakewood, CO

I would like for you to show all three series — Science Investigators," "22nd century" and "Wired Science." (I vote for all 3.)

Kenneth Lott, Fort Worth, TX

Other Stuff

While watching the rebroadcast of FRONTLINE "The Dark Side" I was once again reminded of the talent of the excellent Mr. Will Lyman. I have been a fan for many years. Mr. Lyman's voicing of "Vietnam: a Television History" in 1983 was a tour de force. In the years since, he never fails to strike the perfect balance of reason, gravity and matter-of-factness that is the hallmark of any good documentary. So perhaps you can understand my discomfort with the recent ad campaign in which Mr. Lyman touts luxury import status symbol sports cars. It begs the question, is Mr. Lyman a journalist, or a common voiceover hack? Will we be seeing him on a Geico commercial anytime soon?

Will Bree, Brooklyn, NY

My child likes to watch PBS in the morning. I am disturbed by the amount of commercials between shows. There are two problems here. First, PBS is public broadcasting. By underwriting shows, PBS undermines its charter. It becomes part of the creeping commercialism of our children. If you don't understand the depth and severity of this problem, you need to read Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet B. Schor. Second, the products advertised often include a lot of sugar. Obesity and bad nutrition are tremendous health problems in the US, and children's diabetes and obesity are among those problems. We have always been big supporters of PBS, but if you are going to become more and more commercialized, there seems precious little reason to support PBS. In fact, there seems to be more and more reasons to actively lobby against it.

David Hildebrand & Margaret Woodhull, Denver, CO

Wanted to let you know that I was impressed by the "Persuaders" on Frontline. Absolutely terrific. I learned a lot and found myself wanting to know more. Is there anything like a print version, and perhaps with a bibliography?

Craig Walker, Scottsdale, AZ

I have been meaning to write to you for some time now, after hearing that you were the person fielding comments about programming on public television. I just want to say that I am so very pleased with so many of the programs that are aired on PBS and the high quality of these programs. Some of my favorites are Frontline, American Masters, POV, American Experience, BBC News and NOW. If it were not for programs like Frontline, NOW, POV and sometimes the BBC news I would not be nearly as informed about issues both here and in other parts of the world. I think Frontline is one of the most valuable programs of all, from "Private Warriors" to other subjects on Iraq, etc. Aside from my need for comedy from time to time, when I tune into Comedy Central, PBS is pretty much the only channel watched on my TV. I do hope that this kind of quality programming continues on PBS; and, if so, then I will continue to be a loyal watcher, contributing monetarily whenever they do their fund drives.

Kay James, Moraga, CA

Everybody, It Seems, Loves NOVA

Loved NOVA scienceNOW. This show was one of your premium shows to date. I am a faithful watcher of PBS and found this to be the top choices you have produced. Thanks and looking for more.

Art Meadows, Pell City, AL

Nova is the most fabulous program on all of television. I can't wait to see the next program. Keep up the good work. I wish you would cover alternative medicine's new treatments for cancer in one episode. It is fascinating that we have had a cure for cancer for many years and the FDA hushes it up because the AMA is, in short, so dictatorial. I was a registered nurse for my entire career and saw many people killed by FDA's approved drugs. I now study holistic methods of healing and there is hope for people who are suffering. Would you consider interviewing a few of the most renowned alternative practitioners . . . i.e. Whittaker, Sanoviv Institute in Mexico, etc.?

Argusville, ND


Oak Park Heights, MN

I love PBS programs. I listen to PBS radio and watch NOVA on TV whenever I can. I am a retired electronics test engineer. I used to be able to understand the super intelligent people I often had to work with, and tell others what these geniuses said and wanted to do. That's why I appreciate the way NOVA simplifies science such as string theory and black holes.

Charles Mager, Tallahassee, FL

I just finished watching the Berlin Airlift on American Experience. It brought me back to Berlin when I was 8 years old, living in the western part of Berlin, near Tempelhof. Remembering the flights, the sounds and of course the chocolates! I met some of the pilots at a reunion on the Queen Mary at Long Beach in the late 1980's when I attended a conference as a young captain in the US Army Nurse Corps. Thank you for bringing this program to us, it gave my family a window into my life in Berlin after the war during the blockade.

Baerbel Merrill, Col. (Ret), Gillette, WY

Defending Mileva Maric

I have just read your column regarding Allen Esterson's criticism of the PBS documentary of Einstein's wife, Mileva Maric. As a scientist and a woman, I am appalled by the strident attacks from Esterson and his colleagues on any woman who dares to excel in this male-dominated field of science. I myself have personally experienced the sting of my male colleagues, so much so that I left the academic world and now run a high tech company in Silicon Valley. And physics is one of the worst fields for women, even today. I note that most (if not all) the detractors of Mileva Maric are men. Have you asked any women physicists what they think of Mileva Maric? To us, this is the same, familiar, sad story.

Knowing the history of both Einstein and Maric, I find it hard to believe that they did NOT collaborate while Einstein was working on his 1905 papers. I know by personal experience that when you are developing a complex theory, you use those closest to you as sounding boards. Einstein did this by letter with many of his male associates and there seems no reason he would not have done it with his wife, herself a scientist. There are existing letters from Mileva to Einstein discussing scientific issues and ideas, showing that they had a professional relationship as well as a personal one. Once you grant that professional relationship and look at how close they were in 1904-1905, how could they not collaborate?

Would he have asked Mileva to review his papers before they were published? Of course he would have. And would she have had input into those papers? Of course she would - she was a strong willed, brilliant scientist. Would she have been acknowledged in 1905 as a collaborator? Of course not. Even today, that is a contentious issue to many women.

The story of Mileva Maric is not an isolated case but part of a long, sordid tale of women in science whose contributions and work are ignored and forgotten. Ever heard of Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of the double-helix model of DNA? Seems she did the groundbreaking work in 1951-53 on discovering its structure at King's College, London. One of her peers, Maurice Wilkins, treated her like a lab assistant (because she was a woman) and, in 1953, without her knowledge or consent, showed a key piece of her work, an X-ray crystallographic photograph of DNA (known as Photograph 51), to James Watson. This photograph was the crucial evidence for the helical structure and allowed Watson to put all the pieces together. In 1962, Watson, Crick and Wilkins (who gave Franklin's data to Watson) received the Nobel Prize for this discovery. What about Franklin, who did the groundbreaking work that actually showed the DNA structure? Not even a mention. It's taken years for her story to come out.

How about Lise Meitner, who discovered nuclear fission while working in collaboration with Otto Hahn in the 1930s. Hahn did not even believe the experiments that showed fission was possible, until Meitner proved it to him. Because she was Jewish, she has to flee Germany in 1938 and Hahn published their findings in 1939 under his name alone. In 1944, Hahn alone received the Nobel Prize for discovering nuclear fission. What about Meitner?

There are more examples, unfortunately many more. When I read Allen Esterson's arguments regarding Mileva Maric, I get sick inside. Even in our enlightened 21st century, some things never change.

San Mateo, CA

(Ombudsman's note: Here's a link to the Dec. 15, 2006, ombudsman's column on the documentary "Einstein's Wife." Here was my response sent to the viewer whose letter is printed above: I have no doubt that there have been injustices to women in science, and other areas, over many years. Indeed, I say in the column that this is a worthy theme to be explored and reported. But this is about facts, and the evidence presented by Mr. Esterson and the Einstein scholars referred to in the film and the column seemed to me pretty convincing. I'm not a scholar or an expert but it is not really about what some people believe but rather what the historical record shows or does not show. I have asked PBS to convene a small group of scholars to review the related Web material and hope they do that so we can get another professional assessment.)

And Awaiting Further Review

I sincerely hope that you will have an independent scholar examine the completing claims regarding the Einstein/Maric show. I greatly appreciate the disclaimer PBS has placed on the website for the program, but it is important for your integrity that you examine this issue very critically; that is, with a strong mind to discover the Facts and The Truth, so far as they are capable of being discerned.

K Green, Lorton, VA