Ombudsman's Mailbag — Black and White and Read All Over
By Michael Getler
April 18, 2007
Race and ethnicity were on the air and in the air last week. Although the main event was the sudden banishment of Don Imus from his CBS radio and MSNBC television talk show platforms for his ugly racial and sexual slurs about the Rutgers University women's basketball team, PBS was also involved, at least tangentially, in this episode and more directly in the continuing debate over the content of the forthcoming Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary on "The War."
The PBS link to the ouster of Imus came from an unexpected quarter. It began on Tuesday, April 10, when the New York Times published an op-ed article ("Trash Talk Radio") about Imus and the women of the Rutgers team written by Gwen Ifill, the popular and well-known moderator of PBS's "Washington Week" television program and a frequent presence as correspondent and occasional host on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
In the article about Imus' racial and sexual insults, Ifill said she knew about his history of such comments "because he apparently did it to me." Then she related the story about what she was told by another correspondent that Imus had said about her several years earlier. When Ifill's column appeared, Imus' show had already been suspended by the two networks but the network officials were still consulting and the widely popular and irreverent so-called shock-jock had not yet been fired. That happened a couple of days later and Ifill's column was certainly one more nail, and maybe a big one, in Imus' professional coffin.
Then, a Graveside Commentary
Then on Friday, Ifill signed off her regular "Washington Week" show on PBS with this very personal commentary:
"Before we end tonight, I'd like to say just a few words about the hundreds of phone calls and e-mails I've received this week about a piece I wrote for the New York Times on Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team. Don Imus, as you may have heard, is gone — fired from CBS and MSNBC, not for the jokey insults hurled over the years at Jews and blacks and gays and women and me; he's gone because his words, calling ten talented student athletes 'nappy headed hos,' touched a chord deep within us. And he has gone in part because it didn't occur to him to apologize until after he was caught, not after he has said the offending words.
"Although, as a society, we sometimes fall short of our best intentions, I have to believe we honestly have no real taste for the language and racism, sexism, and plain old fashioned bullying. Almost no one was covered with glory in all this, not his sidekicks, not initially his employers, and not the journalists and the politicians who gamely turned a blind eye to his antics at the time, and then, this week, defended his right to use words to slash people who didn't look like him. I say almost no one looked good in this, but 11 women did. Those were the players and C. Vivian Stringer, the Rutgers coach. As I wrote in the Times, the ones with the musical names Kia, and Epiphany, and Matee, and Essence, and Katie, and Dee Dee, and Rashidat, and Myia, and Brittany, and Heather. They reminded us what we can be when we do live our best intentions. Ladies, thank you for your example."
Then, two days later, Ifill appeared along with three other journalists and commentators as guests on a lengthy segment of NBC's "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert that also focused on the Imus affair.
In the aftermath of these appearances, there was a fair amount of mail to me about Ifill and her role. Some of it is pretty heated. Several of those e-mails from viewers follow. My view of this comes after the letters.
Letters: Going or Gone?
Please send my "You go, Girl," to Gwen Ifill regarding her comments on the Imus controversy. I COMPLETELY agree with her. I appreciate her very well-spoken position. NO ONE deserves or needs the horrible deprecation the Rutgers ladies received. FAR TOO MUCH name-calling "in jest" is going on these days. Real humor happens when the speaker points the finger at him/herself. Pointed at others, it amounts to bullying.
Carole Phillips, Annandale, VA
I watch Washington Week with Gwen Ifill every week. I admire her very much and am amazed at how much news and information she can squeeze into a half hour. What I didn't like was her using that precious time last Friday piling on to the Don Imus bandwagon after he had been fired from CBS and MSNBC. Personally I don't watch or listen to Imus as I feel it is a waste of my time however, it took away from Gwen's integrity and balance to get enmeshed in the Imus problem when others had taken care of the problem. Her personal bias came through and it was ugly to me. I think the discussion on what to do with yellow journalism, rap, skits on TV that label certain groups should continue. e.g. The Eddie Murphy skit on SNL a long time ago where he used the same words as Imus only that was OK. Another is when Rush Limbaugh made fun of Michael J Fox's disease, somewhere it must be examined. I don't think Washington Week should be a podium for personal bias. She doesn't need to do that.
After watching and hearing Gwen Ifill's comments this morning on Meet the Press: She along with Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson and their kind are gleeful over the success of their efforts to gag Don Imus. They purport to be Christian . . . and if that were the case . . . they would have given Imus the chance to fulfill his promise to advance the minority cause dialogue in his broadcasts after the originally planned two week suspension. I am sorry that PBS has allowed this spokesperson to be so vociferous in her hate for Imus. I am also sorry that I and many of my friends feel the same way about PBS.
Gwen Ifill's outrage about Don Imus would be a lot more credible if she had shown the same outrage when Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson were spewing their venom against Jews. Where was she when Mel Gibson spoke his true feelings against ALL JEWS? Where does she stand on the attacks against all Muslims by the likes of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh? And let's not forget all those who rushed to judgment against the YOUNG COLLEGE STUDENTS who were almost railroaded by the media, which included Ms. Ifill. Until Ms. Ifill is ready to forget the past and get on with the future, she should be silenced, just as Don Imus was. She is as much a racist as he is.
Bernie Thomas, Nashville, TN
I demand that Gwen Ifill be immediately fired from PBS! Following in the footsteps of those two self-appointed spokespersons of the Black community (Jackson/Sharpton) whose reputations if converted to money; couldn't buy a jug of cheap wine. On all the television shows they could get on; were actually advocating their own brand of hate and bigotry over remarks made by Don Imus. Gwen Ifill made the rounds, slanting the truth, and making statements that were half-truths. So until the airwaves are rid of outrageous statements made by such figures as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter — just remember we still have a Constitution!
William Draper, Hanover, MI
This message is for Ms. Gwen Ifill, I was so proud of the way you handle yourself and Mr. Russert on Meet the Press yesterday. My wife and I watched your facial expressions as he and others tried unsuccessfully to change the argument away from Imus and throw Rap in there. My wife and I just felt you and what you had to say and the way that you said it. I am a middle school principal and sometimes it is very difficult for me to be diplomatic but you were and we are glad that you were on the program. I also have a concern; where are all of the black journalists on TV when issues arise that are not race related. It appears to us that we don't have opinions on other issues, just race. I find that very interesting, we want to hear a black perspective on the war, investments and other mainstream issues.
Ernest Lowe, Philadelphia, PA
GIRLS: Gwen Ifill spoke more eloquently today about the issue involved in the Imus uproar. That makes it all the more interesting that she used the word "girls" to refer to the members of the Rutgers team. The word "girls" to refer to women is being heard more and more and is being said by more people. The principle should be, to be horizontal in what we say. Would anyone say that the Rutgers men's basketball team are "boys?" No, they wouldn't. Then do not call the women's team GIRLS. There is only one correct word in this context. It is women. It is not ladies or girls. The principle is simple. Ask yourself if you would say boys. If not, then don't say girls.
'Class and Clarity'
Just saw Gwen Ifill on Meet the Press and was astounded by her class and clarity regarding the Imus affair! Always a big fan and can't compliment her enough!!
Steve Tucker, Blair, NE
I was surprised while watching NBC's Meet the Press this morning. The surprise came from Gwen Ifill who evidently still carries a personal grudge against Don Imus for what he may have said about her many years ago. Despite her compromised objectivity as a "journalist," she went on to show her hypocrisy and racism toward whites in that she could change the dial to avoid gross hip hop music but not for Don Imus. When does the double standard end? Blacks continue to put themselves in the proverbial psychological victim's mode which only leads to more dysfunction in this country's attempt to become race neutral.
M.S., Fredericksburg, TX
Please convey to Gwen Ifill my profound respect and thanks for what she said on Meet the Press. She was remarkable trying to bring the conversation to focus on the national opportunity that we have to advance our culture to a more civil state in the wake of the Don Imus event. This conversation showed Ms. Ifill to be a most remarkable person. You are lucky to have her as a part of PBS. The country is lucky she works with you. I'm a hospital president and I very seldom write such messages, but I wanted to convey my thanks to Ms. Ifill.
Richard Batt, Wilton, ME
I think Ms. Ifill is much too eager to play the race card. She implied that Sen. Biden made a racial slur when he included the word "clean" in a long list of complimentary adjectives regarding Sen. Obama. And now she appears to have made a personal crusade out of bringing down Don Imus. I am no fan of Don Imus, but the man apologized for what was apparently meant to be a humorous comment. Had a black man, one with a reputation for irreverent humor, made this same comment, I doubt if Ms. Ifill would have even bothered to mention it. Furthermore, I don't see how the comment is that much worse from the discourse that is so prevalent on talk radio. I think people like Ms. Ifill who are so eager to make victims out of insensitive, naive, or misinterpreted comments should not be in a position of such responsibility on PBS.
Jack Edwards, Richland, WA
Gwen, you are right on regarding Imus as you are on most others.
Sandy B., Danvers, MA
This is specifically directed to Gwen Ifill and in particular to her appearance on the Tim Russert show April 15, 2007. She is an outstanding and highly ethical talent and her comments to Tim Russert and David Brooks regarding Don Imus were spot-on. We need more people like her in the public sphere.
Barbara Barchilon, Tempe, AZ
I am a regular supporter of PBS and wish to register my concern about the comments made on Washington Week in Review by moderator Gwen Ifill on Imus. I doubt she ever listened to him; if she did, she would have realized that he criticizes everyone, but particularly right-wing bigots. She found nothing positive to say about his life, which has included massive support to cancer charities and aid to military combatants. The Rutgers women found it in their hearts to forgive Imus; certainly Gwen could have done the same — or said nothing. It was all too personal for her. If it was not, she would have found something positive to balance out her blast at him. Does this mean she takes on Al Sharpton for his mean-spirited comments — or other reps of right-wing talk shows?
Diana Kitt, Bethesda, MD
Gwen Ifill's commentary was disgraceful. Sure, she has an opinion; one that differs from the vast, vast majority of regular listeners and participants of the Imus show. I think it only fair that someone from the Washington establishment media who regularly listened and supported the show, be allowed to offer an opposing editorial.
Christopher Jones, Grants Pass, OR
Keep It to Yourself
My comment is about tonight's show (Friday April 13, 2007) Washington Week in Review with Gwen Ifill. This is a public broadcasting station. She should not express her personal opinions regarding Don Imus on PBS programming. He may have targeted her TEN years ago, that has no place in today's news as she is there to comment on. If she has a problem, she should go to another news outlet. Not PBS where donors are contributing to have and hear unbiased opinions. No matter her personal opinion, no matter whether Imus said it 10 years ago, it does not belong on PBS. WE do not pay to hear her personal, biased opinions!
Donna Shemansky, Erlanger, KY
Gwen Ifill's comment this evening, 4-13-07, regarding Don Imus and his public dismissal, was certainly a "Got'cha," finger-licking display of happiness. Something akin to that of Al Sharpton and certainly not resembling the "class Act" of the wonderful Rutgers athletes.
Rosemary McCann, New York, NY
I'm a member of WNYC and WLIW and have been for years. I believed that these stations were "above the fray," not taking a moral position on any of the issues they report. But Gwen Ifill's recent crusade against Don Imus presumed that righteousness was on her side, as evidenced by her comments on the Russert show. Has she and PBS appointed themselves the moral arbiters of our times? Why not give the "moral perspective" on all issues presented on the PBS news?
Glen Rock, NJ
I watched Gwen Ifill on Meet the Press this morning and she made me sick with her comments. 1) We just lost a humorous man that raised millions upon millions of dollars for charity every year. 2) It's nobody's damn business what Imus said to those young women except what the women themselves thought and they said they forgive and understand the slip up and mistake so everybody else needs to respect their decision. I'm white and 50 years old. I was raised near Watts in south Los Angeles. My friends were every shape, size and color out there. I can't stand these self righteous black Americans without a sense of humor and a 200-year-old slavery chip on their shoulder. I have four kids and they listen to these comments by people like Gwen and laugh at them and say they need to get out of the Dark Ages. I'd like to ask Gwen to name me ONE time she's brought this type of topic up to anyone that is black. I'll bet she's never done so. I teach my kid's to rise above cheap comments and they know they are stronger than any comment made about them. For the record, my 4 kids are bi-racial just like my 26-year-old marriage.
D. Dutcher, San Diego, CA
I think we've come full circle by allowing Gwen Ifill's "Cleaning Lady" comment to clean up the mess made by Imus. It's like allowing an angry waiter the privilege of serving you. Revenge is best served cold and sweet. That's not sugar floating in Don's coffee. That lump of brown served for dessert isn't chocolate. We all know what this is. It's what's on that dessert plate. Ifill is helping the Bush administration get rid of a critic. She's helping Hillary silence the free speech of her critics. Wouldn't it be nice to tell America what "Bubbled up?" Tell the Whole Truth. I want to be a guest. I want to tell the truth at the bottom of all this.
Cecil Jones, Las Vegas, NV
Your Gwen Ifill appeared on Meet the Press, yesterday, and dishonestly let stand the false story that Don Imus made a racial remark about her during the Reagan Administration. Imus stated last week that he did not make the statement that referred to Ms. Ifill as a "cleaning lady." That statement was made by a person during a skit on his show, and Imus apologized to Ifill for it, since he felt he was responsible for the content of his show. She said yesterday, "Why did he apologize to me?" She knew full well why and I think her allowing this false story making the rounds to stand is a disgrace. SHE should be fired, or at least publicly state what the facts of that event are and apologize for being dishonest about them.
A Long Letter, Worth Reading
This is an open letter to Gwen Ifill. I am a 44-year-old black male. I am a single dad of a 5-year-old son, 19-year-old son, and 12-year-old stepdaughter. My first vote that I was eligible for was for Ronald Regan in 1980. I say this to give a perspective not shown in the national media about who black people really are. This discussion concerning Don Imus and his comments, and the lack of understanding by commentators, media, politicians, is prime example of 2 Americas. These are people who weigh in on just about every subject, yet they found no voice in this matter. I keep hearing the but's: Don Imus said a "bad thing but . . . I don't condone Don Imus' statements but. Then the discussion goes to Rap music, the Duke Lacrosse team, Al Sharpton and Tawana Brawley, Jessie Jackson Hymie Town, but they again say that they are not justifying what he said. The talk goes to how much charity work he does, and that he is inappropriate, but "just" a "shock jock." This is like bringing up the fact that Hitler is an accomplished painter and a loving husband. These commentators, journalists, politicians, sat back and waited to see how the "wind blew" and then jumped on board when the s**t hit the fan.
To defer the debate to Rap lyrics, and Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, shows an ignorance by these supposedly alert and informed people. Jessie and Al do not speak for the black community, and if a poll was taken this would be found to be so. They have organizations and speak out as activists. Does Tom Delay speak for whites when he says that Strom Thurman should have been president? The truth of Rap music is that 70% of the sales are to white males, and that the sales for Rap music have dropped almost 30% in the last few years, and the majority of this is through the black communities' tiring of the degrading, demeaning, irresponsible attitudes of the performers. We know this to be the lifestyle of drug dealers, and criminals, not the black community as a whole. Evident by the audience of the music is that it is not a black person's soundtrack for life. The majority of blacks work every day, and do not take or sell drugs. If you watch the media you would think this is not the fact. The horror is that the same people that report the "objective" stories are the same people that stood back while Don Imus spoke his "mind." What does this say of how the real story of black American, and its exposure in the media.
The year started with the New York "Subway Superman," a black man, lower middle class, father to daughters, and citizen, who stepped up to save a young white man who fell on the subway tracks, risking his life. He then dropped his daughters off and proceeded to work. Blacks looked at this and were so happy to finally see someone they could relate to. Many of us knew him. He was like many people that we personally knew. A good father, a hard worker, brave, but in the media he was viewed almost as an oddity, someone "special." His reaction was "I just did what I should have done." Black people go through this every day. They do what they should do as citizens, but the people you see in the media are the rappers and criminals. We had Jennifer Hudson, at a time when many of the young white women in entertainment are spiraling out of control, she exuded poise and eloquence while having accolades thrown at her within a very small period. She was grateful, and respectful in her handing of this firestorm of praise for just your average everyday woman, and I would say all American women, although the media would not portray her in those terms. If she had blonde hair and blue eyes would that be the term describing her? Instead she was listed as someone who was an American Idol loser. She was the 7th runner up after the show went through thousands of contestants, where is the perspective here. We had the emergence of Barack Obama and his undeniable abilities. Oprah Winfrey opened a school for African girls. The US was able to see, dark skinned black girls, multilingual, intelligent, poised, on national television. They came from the most financially poor circumstances, but were beyond reproach with their ability to show who blacks and women really are. Again another example, finally, of what the truth is about black people. No longer can there be the innuendo that they can't perform, or looking at light skinned examples who perform, and the fact that they are mixed race quietly being discussed. Examples of this are Barack Obama, Tiger Woods. There is almost a surprise when a fully African heritage individual performs, note the comments by Imus about Gwen Ifill being a cleaning lady. I never miss Washington Week. I and my 5-year-old son, and 12-year-old stepdaughter, watch this show religiously. They even remind me when it is going to come on if they think they might miss it as we go home. These are examples of the real black America that is not shown on television.
We finally had real examples of black people in the news, and then in one comment, Imus threw that away. Again what whites do not know about black culture is that we have thick skin, and just ignore comments like this, but the "you can talk about me but don't talk about my kids" culture is evident in the Black American, West Indian, African communities. This is the reason for the "why now" that is being discussed. They say, well he has been making these comments for 30 years. The real truth is that blacks now have positions in businesses, and are a beneficial part of the organizations. They are no longer throw away workers. They talked to their bosses at NBC and CBS and said "we do not want to work for a company that condones this "speech" with indifference." It was either loose these people, customers, or really listen. The people in charge might even have thought Don Imus was funny, now they see we are not laughing. I praise Gwen and thank her for being a light in my son's and daughter's lives, as well as mine.
Maurice Jones, Philadelphia, PA
I had no problem with Ifill writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times, and I thought her presence, especially, on the "Meet the Press" panel was what made it one of the best and most candid exchanges among journalists on the tough subject of race, in particular, that I have seen in a long time. She was essential to this discussion and did not hold back with the kind of fair and factual challenges to other panelists, including Russert, that needed to be aired.
On the other hand, I thought she should have resisted the urge to sign-off on her own news of the week in review program with a personal, editorial commentary on one of the leading news stories of the week, especially a commentary that leads off thanking people who wrote to her in response to something she published elsewhere. I think when a host uses a program for personal commentary it diminishes the credibility and objectivity of an important public affairs program whose format is based upon factual news analysis. Furthermore, the implosion of one of the most popular and controversial figures in broadcasting should have been discussed as a news story on that particular program because it is a complex issue with lots of fascinating aspects. But it wasn't touched on the program except for the personal editorial at the close.
The War That Hasn't Started and Won't Go Away
In the Ombudsman's Column of March 16, I wrote about controversies and protests that had sprung up surrounding the big, new 14 ½ hour documentary series "The War" by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that will begin airing for seven nights on Sept. 23. The biggest dispute involved the absence of Hispanic veterans of World War II among the 40 men and women whose interviews are included in the film, and their apparent absence even from the 500 or so people that were interviewed before the selections were made.
At the time, I wrote that what interested me most was whether, during the six years that this epic documentary was in production — a lot of time to think about all the angles and the diversity of this country — anyone among the producers did actually think about Hispanic veterans? Did it ever cross anyone's mind?
So, some viewers responded, why don't you find out? I asked Burns and Novick about this and here is their response:
"We appreciate being given the opportunity to explain the process through which THE WAR took shape, and to try to shed some light on the choices we made along the way about the stories in the film.
"We set out, in 2001, to make a film that would be experiential and anecdotal in nature, rather than a comprehensive or definitive treatment of American history during this period. As such, we envisioned the film as an exploration of the human experience of the War, and of combat particularly. In this regard, THE WAR is and was always intended to be quite different from our other big series, THE CIVIL WAR, BASEBALL, and JAZZ.
"As you probably know, there is a card on screen at the beginning of every episode that reads: 'The Second World War was fought in thousands of places, too many for any one accounting. This is the story of four American towns, and how their citizens experienced that war.' Our original concept was to focus on one small city or large town, (we did not want to choose a major city such as New York or Chicago) and to try to find veterans from that town who were willing and able to describe their combat experiences. We realized fairly quickly that it was not easy to find living combat veterans who were able to do this in a way that would be effective on camera, for a variety of reasons. Therefore, we broadened our approach to include multiple towns and in each locale our emphasis was on identifying thoughtful and reflective combat veterans who could help us understand the many dimensions of what the war meant for those who fought in it.
"Along the way we spoke with (in person and on the phone) close to 500 people, eventually selecting 40 for on camera interviews. We never set out to include any particular ethnic or racial groups, or to include individuals in the film in order to 'represent' any groups. Conversely, we never set out to exclude any groups either. We were absolutely open to whomever we could find that could tell a good story about what the war meant to him (or her.) In other words, we did not intentionally set out to include Hispanic, Native American, Filipino American, Italian American or German American veterans or ANY other group.
"We went into each of our four chosen towns and tried to find veterans who could share their stories in a compelling way, and whose stories fit in to the larger chronology of the war that we were trying to cope with. As it turns out, we did not find any Latino veterans — neither did we make any special effort to do so.
"The one exception to all of this is that we did consciously seek out and interview Japanese-American veterans — because of the utter uniqueness of their experience. 110,000 Japanese Americans were interned by our government during the war and we felt that the assault on their civil rights (as well as the decision of many Japanese American men to serve in the military nonetheless in a segregated unit) needed to be included in the film. We also, to a much lesser degree, sought out African-American veterans because they, too, were forced to serve in segregated ranks."
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
I'm not sure what to make of this: "As it turns out, we did not find any Latino veterans — neither did we make any special effort to do so." My instinct is that this does mean that nobody really did think about this aspect.
In that March 16 column, I also said that I had no reason to doubt Burns' earlier claim that no one was intentionally excluded, and that I understood the centrality of the filmmaker's artistic vision and that I didn't like artificial quotas. Nevertheless, it seems to me that somebody in the organization — meaning the production company and PBS — having done a huge amount of research on World War II, ought to at least have thought about whether Hispanics, who made a significant contribution in valor for what was then a still small part of the population and whose lives in this country were substantially changed by the war, should have found some way into those 14 ½ hours.
A lot has happened since the controversy first erupted. Burns and PBS, after meeting with Hispanic groups and activists, agreed that additional content will be created and added within what PBS called the "footprint" of the program. That is a terrible word that nobody understands except TV insiders and conveys the sense of not really leveling with people. That's my view, anyway. What it means is that new material will be included in the air time that the programs are allotted but will not be included in the already completed original film. A lot has been written about this already, including last week's Ombudsman's Mailbag.
What still hangs out there for me on this episode, however, is the larger question of the Public Broadcasting Service and diversity.
On one hand, the face of PBS presented to the public is often diverse — especially on such top-ranked public affairs programs as Gwen Ifill's Washington Week, Jim Lehrer's NewsHour and the Tavis Smiley nightly talk show from Los Angeles. And there are other programs — such as Independent Lens, P.O.V., NOVA scienceNOW and some children's shows — that also reflect the diversity of the American public.
So PBS, in one sense, can be seen, literally, as doing okay. But the controversy over the Burns film produced another thought, even though it may not be appropriate in this case or explain how things unfolded. The way diversity works is not really through quotas or numbers, although numbers are not unimportant. The way it works — especially for organizations that have a big stake in the public — is through having smart people with varied backgrounds and valuable experiences among the decision-makers, both at headquarters and within the affiliates and independent companies. My journalistic experience is that you make better decisions and fewer mistakes that way. I've only been here 18 months or so and still have a relatively narrow view of a very spread-out organization. But my unscientific, visual impression from what I have seen is that PBS and some of the big stations are very heavily white at those decision-making levels and that, as good as PBS is on the air, maybe it could be even more, as they say.
More Letters on 'The War'
I just read a copy of the letter that Paula Kerger, President of PBS sent to Maggie Rodriquez, the Latino activist, and I gagged. She reminded Ms. Rodriquez that PBS is "the most trusted organization in America." Hah, how can you trust an organization that does not defend artistic integrity against a mob? She then gave a list of compromises that PBS is making over the next year to satisfy the Latino community's demands. What happened to America, the great melting pot? What happened to the American way of honoring bravery, service and courage without mentioning someone's color or ethnicity? All American WWII veterans should be honored as that: American WWII veterans. Not white ones, brown ones, yellow ones, red ones. This is racism, can't you see that?
Cathy Cloud, Elizabethton, TN
Recently Mr. Burns said that an effort to add stories is like amending the Constitution. If the understanding is that his documentary, The War, will be the held in the same regard as the Constitution, well, shouldn't the stories of Latino and Native American war veterans be included? I understand his unwillingness to go back into the documentary. That said, the series hasn't aired. I would rather wait a few months, even a year to have the stories of Latinos and Native Americans included within the fabric of the show — not during breaks/and at the end of the hour — than to omit their contributions based on the documentarian's willingness to go back into his work because he deems his finished documentary perfect. There is an obligation to get it right and I believe PBS's reputation is at stake.
Dan Ibabao, Seattle, WA
I just read that the Ken Burns documentary about WWII will be not be amended, but that interviews with Hispanic veterans will be added to run during breaks or at the end of each hour. To marginalize these AMERICANS veterans, is unbelievably insulting and racist. Keeping the documentary unchanged is not a matter of artistic integrity, but just another case of historical revisionism. Add the Burns documentary to the list that includes inaccurate books like Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation," and Mike Wallace's "Medal of Honor: Profiles of America's Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present." The media constructs all of us as "aliens" and "foreigners" and to acknowledge that we have been part of America since its founding and that we have fought in every US military conflict since the US Revolution, and that many of us have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, is to force the media to admit that the people they label "Hispanic/ Latino" ARE Americans, and not some subgroup with a "special experience." My grandfather fought in WWII, and it makes me sick to think that his contributions are less valued than those of other WWII veterans. Burns worked on this documentary for six years, so there is no excuse for such a blatantly egregious oversight. I thought PBS valued accuracy and integrity.
Karen A., Los Angeles, CA
As an American citizen of Hispanic descent, I was stunned to learn that Ken Burns, a well known documentarian, omitted the contributions of Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in his revision of World War II stories of hardship and valor, in "The War." I will not call his film a documentary, because to do so would imply that the film is accurate in its exclusion. Mr. Burns failed to include Americans that time and time again are ignored in the telling of history, their contributions and stories of valor in defending our country, untold. Whether it is due to indifference or planned omission, the pain of exclusion to those who fought in World War II, and were forgotten in the telling of it, (and their families) is much the same regardless of motive. My intention is not to be derisive in any way. I am simply stating that Mr. Burns did not do the job I thought someone of his standing would do.
Ines Galindo, Sacramento, CA
I am extremely disappointed at the failure of Ken Burns, a historical documentary maker who I have greatly respected for is accuracy, to recognize the serious problem at the core of his film about WWII as it stands. I confess to great disappointment as well at some viewers who seem not to understand the crucial social difference between art and a claim of historical accuracy to which documentary film makers of the stature of Mr. Burns must aspire. I read comments that cavalierly equated concern with the omission of Hispanic soldiers from the film with the omission of many other groups whose numbers do not come close to comparing; bald men, etc. Many seem to erroneously believe that Mr. Burns has some right to develop a program "as he sees fit," when the responsibility of citizens is to evaluate the likelihood that his film will be historically fair and accurate and comment accordingly with their viewing choices.
Patric Stanton, Mahopac, NY
I, along with my fellow Latinos/Latinas of California cannot understand your apologetics to the void in Burns' latest doc on WWII. As long as PBS and CPB are led by white men and women, history will NEVER be told. I have never enjoyed Burns' docs. He is totally overrated and his omissions of muffled historical moments are pages long. Why use Burns as the sole creator? There are many other historian/filmmakers who can do more critical work than him.
Carol Chandler, San Francisco, CA
What really bothers me is the notion that to include Latino vets is to pander to an insignificant, but vocal minority group at the expense of artistic freedom. The issue here isn't race or ethnicity, but accuracy. If Burns is going to call his work a documentary, then he needs to get the history right. Thirteen Latinos (eleven Americans of Mexican descent and two Puerto Ricans) received the Congressional Medal of Honor from FDR and Truman for their service in WWII. Yet their stories are not good enough for the history books, documentaries, or Hollywood movies? I don't think so. If Burns cannot see how egregious his omission is, then he should stop presenting his work as non-fiction and move to Hollywood with the other liars.
N. B., Pasadena, CA
There has to be an end to this nonsense about including all kinds of ethnic groups in Ken Burns' WWII documentary. Enough already. We are all Americans. We'll never solve our racial problems until everyone stops trying to one-up each other and get special recognition. This culture of victimhood is going to destroy us. I will not view the documentary, and will no longer contribute to PBS. There, are you satisfied?