By Michael Getler
May 17, 2007
Welcome to another Ombudsman's Mailbag. This one is very long, so here's a guide to what's in it so you can pick, choose, skim, scan or devour the whole thing.
The length is mostly because there were hundreds of e-mails about PBS's two-part, four-hour documentary, "The Mormons," that aired early this month. To provide just a representative sample requires a fair amount of space.
In last week's ombudsman column, which was on another subject, I mentioned "The Mormons" only in passing, saying that, "As a viewer, I found it very informative and fair in capturing a complex faith." Some viewers who were critical of the program, and were also critical of my judgment, said that I "only felt it was balanced because he does not know what we believe," as one viewer put it, or "How would you know if it was fair?" as another said.
Those are fair points, and that's why I said I was reacting as a viewer. I'm not well informed about Mormonism, but I do have what I hope is a fairly well-tuned ear for bias and unfairness and what I was going on was my overall impression that this was a serious and honest attempt to inform people like me and, as PBS likes to say, "viewers like you." Also, both of Utah's major newspapers, the Deseret Morning News and the Salt Lake Tribune had printed columns favorable to the series and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had said, in a statement, that: "At a time when significant media and public attention is being turned to" the church, "and when news media is so often accused of superficiality in its coverage of religion, this serious treatment of a serious subject is a welcome change. But even four hours and numerous interviews," the statement added, "can't cover everything. No doubt, some Church members will feel essentials were left out."
Moyers May Need a Dedicated Ombudsman
There is also a lot more mail about the latest "Bill Moyers Journal." Moyers is now back on PBS with his "Journal" every Friday and I'm beginning to think that PBS may need a separate ombudsman just to deal with the weekly mail praising or pillorying this lightning rod/icon.
The Ombudsman's Column of May 4 dealt with Moyers' initial offering, actually a special on "Buying the War." And, by the way, the ombudsman at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ken Bode, also wrote a column about this first new Moyers special that is very much worth reading and that included a very good point that I wish I had also made.
Bode wrote this: "The reason this examination of the failings of the mainstream press is a flawed effort is simply that Mr. Moyers did not examine his own network, PBS, and particularly its flagship news show, The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer with the same scrutiny as the rest of the media, In an otherwise admirable and courageous documentary, how would Moyers have judged The NewsHour's coverage of the run-up to the war? Would he have found the same penetrating courage of the Knight-Ridder reporting, or the compliant complicity of the majority of the mainstream media? More important: Why was The NewsHour left out of his analysis?"
I'm not offering any detailed assessment of last week's follow-on offering, but these thoughts come to mind.
Moyers clearly has huge numbers of fans among PBS viewers, and they depend on his reporting, analysis and commentary. He clearly also has lots of critics who view him as a relentless Bush-basher. In last week's column I described him as "definitely a force, an original, a hard-to-categorize person of many interests and talents." This week's mailbag brought more criticism along those lines. Moyers devoted two segments of the May 11 "Journal" to aspects of the war in Iraq.
One involved an interview with a professor at New York University, Marilyn B. Young, who is a historian and author. It was about a recent interview on PBS's Charlie Rose show with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Moyers introduced the segment by saying that Rice's "language seemed as removed from reality, as it was four years ago before all the blood and chaos that has followed America's invasion." A concluding segment dealt with "the costs of this war," an accounting of the financial and human toll so far.
Rice had said some things on Charlie Rose that would, indeed, make anyone who has followed the war closely, sit up and say "What?" She said that she thought America's credibility remains strong, that the U.S. is in Iraq because the Iraqi government asked us to be there, and that it wasn't just American intelligence that thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction but that the UN also thought he had them.
Charlie, Charlie, Charlie
Moyers didn't say it, but the impression was that he didn't think his colleague Charlie Rose had challenged Rice sufficiently so Young was brought in and she hammered away. Now, there is no doubt that this segment was set up to hammer away, and if you are a Bush administration supporter you are not going to like it and it will seem unfair. On the other hand, nobody else in the press seems to be doing much these days in terms of fact-checking and challenging administration statements in a prominent, detailed and timely fashion and, in my view, Moyers is providing a public service because these contradictory statements need to be heard because war is a factual and not a partisan matter. The administration gets to make its case virtually whenever it wants to.
Young, however, I thought fumbled slightly in one of her counter-attacks against Rice's point that even the UN believed the WMD claims. Young cited Hans Blix, the chief of the UN inspection effort, as "quite persuaded" that "there were no weapons of mass destruction." In fact, Blix was cautious right up to the war, reporting only what he called "cautious formulations." Based on inspections that had been carried out thus far, he said in March 2003, no evidence of underground or mobile facilities for chemical or biological weapons had been found.
It was actually Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, whose public report at the same time proved to be much more conclusive and vastly more accurate than that of the Bush administration. It was also more powerful because it dealt directly with the administration campaign to have the public perceive the Iraq threat as a nuclear "mushroom cloud." ElBaradei said the IAEA inspectors had found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapon program in Iraq, no indication that Iraq had attempted to import uranium since 1990, and no indication that imported aluminum tubes or special magnets were for centrifuges to make atomic weapons.
As for the cost of the war, that, too, as I see it, is something that is not often pulled together prominently for the public by news organizations. The military and civilian killed and wounded frequently make the nightly news shows but mostly in incremental coverage, and the financial cost is rarely focused on. So here, too, I view Moyers focus on this as a public service whether or not it is, or is viewed as, partisan. These are real numbers. That is, except one, where I thought the program also stumbled.
In his list of horrors, Moyers says it's been difficult to get an accurate count of the dead and wounded among Iraqi civilians. That's true. But then Moyers goes on to say, "estimates range up to three-quarters of a million killed." That is a reference to a highly controversial estimate last fall made by a team of U.S. and Iraqi epidemiologists. It was produced by Iraqis interviewing residents during a random sampling of households in the country. It was more than 10 times higher than estimates made by the widely used, British-based Iraq Body Count research group. Whatever the actual figure, it is no doubt high. But using only this one estimate — which has been widely challenged and is so at odds with other accounts — needlessly weakened the credibility of the segment, in my view.
Some other viewers wrote to complain about film clips of Rice statements going unchallenged on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and also about filmed comments by White House spokesman Tony Snow on April 30 claiming that "there's been no attempt to try to link Saddam to September 11th." Vice President Cheney has tried many times to make that link publicly and it has been implied on many other occasions by many officials. One of them was the "Mission Accomplished" speech by President Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, in which he said, "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001 — and still goes on . . . The liberation of Iraq . . . removed an ally of al Qaeda." In August 2003 a Washington Post poll reported that almost 7 out of 10 Americans thought it likely that Saddam was involved in the attacks. Now, how do you think they got that impression?
The Mailbag Starts Here; First, 'The Mormons'
I was disappointed in the PBS broadcast of "The Mormons." I thought it reflected poorly on your standards of conduct to have fair and balanced productions. The production was skewed by a heavy reliance of non-Mormon or non-practicing Mormon interviewees or so called "experts." I have found in studying other religions that I gain a better understanding asking a member of that faith about his or her beliefs than asking a nonbeliever to tell me their version of the story. I don't mind hearing the critics' point of view, but it should be balanced, not a 10 to 1 ratio of a critic's disbelief to a Mormon's view. I thought that was basic journalism skills and integrity. Perhaps some of the producers at PBS should take a refresher course in what it means to be "fair and balanced."
W. N., Kennewick, WA
The documentary, "The Mormons," which aired on PBS was such an imbalanced and skewed presentation it was sickening. PBS has done a serious disservice to the viewing public, to the millions of members of the LDS church, and to the reputation of PBS. Viewers were left with erroneous and false impressions about the Latter-day Saint people, and, PBS is directly responsible for that.
Your words: "As a viewer, I found it very informative and fair in capturing a complex faith." Of course it was informative. Any 4-hour documentary would be informative, but how would you know if it was fair? As ombudsman, you review commentary and criticism from viewers and seek to ensure that PBS upholds its own STANDARDS OF EDITORIAL INTEGRITY. You have some work to do.
I was greatly disappointed in the very unbalanced and weird portrayal of our faith recently on PBS. ("The Mormons") To have 90% of the time (their opinions) of the broadcast given to folks (including many who had axes apparently to grind, anti-Mormons etc.) who misrepresented the facts about our church and our true history, showed a huge lack of integrity/fairness on the producer's part.
Why PBS would do this to a Church and people who strive so hard to serve their fellowman is truly amazing to me. I know I will not be contributing to the station in the future. I'm sure others of the 2nd largest Church in California will feel the same way about that now. What was done was not only unethical but a bad business move on PBS's part. I hope you can pass this on to PBS. All the best to you though, and thanks for listening.
Dave Thompson, Long Beach, CA
I have been an avid watcher of PBS through the years. I watched the PBS Frontline program, "The Mormons" on April 30. I am a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was not expecting a totally rosy picture of the church in which I belong as I am aware of the controversies that were presented; however, I was expecting a fair and balanced view of who the Mormons are. The program clearly presented a biased view of Mormon history. I have read and studied Mormon history from both sides of the fence. The amount of time focused on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and polygamy, without a fair amount of time given for a rebuttal or viewpoint was really unfair and a cheap shot. Not knowing a lot of the background of many of your programs, I now question the integrity of your program.
You missed the mark again! In your "Old Business" introduction you said there was a "big write in campaign" from those who did not like the showing of "The Mormons." There were no write-in campaigns going on. (Ombudsman's note: http://www.mormonapologetics.org/index.php?showtopic=24202) We wrote our feelings because of the misconceptions you aired about our religion. The Church nor anyone in it encouraged us to write to you guys. Once again you distorted the truth. Our church does not have campaigns going on. Mormonism is not a "complex religion." It is complex to the world because the world cannot see spiritual things through eyes. We still believe in morality in a world that is sinking in immorality. That's why there are "campaigns" against the Mormons. Our Church just doesn't stoop to the world's definition of what's acceptable and what's not. We don't change our values as the world keeps getting more and more corrupt. I still say you are biased and that it was a very politically oriented program. The presidential debates viewed shortly after, my your timing was perfect to target Mitt Romney by deceiving the public by showing the distorted views of what you perceive as truth. I just can't trust the "journalism" that PBS airs from now on, simply because you guys can't separate truth from fiction.
Nonnie Moak, Humansville, MO
My husband and I are long time viewers and supporters of PBS, especially such programs as Frontline. However, I can't tell you how disappointed and dismayed we were at the Frontline/American Experience program on the Mormons. In our opinion, this program not only did not maintain an objective approach to the subject, but appeared to us to be a commercial for Mitt Romney for president.
Our concern about the program started when the list of contributors concluded with "others," and if you wanted to know who the others were, you could contact PBS. No contact address was given for PBS. I e-mailed Frontline requesting the list of "others," but they never responded. So — who were these others? Were they so numerous that they couldn't be listed? And why? Were these contributors solicited? How? It is easy to conclude that there could have been an effort by the Mormon church to "encourage" members to contribute to help spread the word about Mitt Romney and his candidacy.
A second question we had was why this program was being shown when there have already been other PBS programs examining the Mormons? The only difference that we noted was that this program included a segment devoted to Romney. Further, if we remember correctly, the program ended with a smiling Romney going to church. In that regard, why was Romney only shown smiling and greeting people? He was governor of Massachusetts so why wasn't he shown in that role instead of the role of a candidate?
The program featured the well known controversies about polygamy and the denial of the priesthood to black males. Why didn't it include the more cultish aspects such as the temple outfits that the males wear and the secret underwear that both sexes wear as a recent Religion and Ethics Newsweekly program did? Because voters might be concerned about other secret practices that the Mormons engage in?
Last, the timing of the program is also suspect being shown right prior to the Republican presidential debates and Romney's appearances on some TV shows as well as his address to Pat Robertson's Regent University.
A. R., Silver City, NM
I am a financial contributor to PBS as well as a long time member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I watched both nights of this program and feel that it was reasonably fair to the church. I recognize that the LDS church as always been controversial and has a history of bad press. So, a "thank you" should go to those who produced the segments for their reasonable treatment of the church and its people.
Ken Spencer, Blackfoot, ID
First, I wanted to thank you for your recent 2-part documentary on the Mormons. In many ways it was an interesting introduction to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ and some of its more controversial past. However, I do not think the documentary fulfilled its mission of encouraging understanding. Instead, it seemed more to be a dissection of its history and teachings. Even more strange was that instead of presenting pictures and images of God and Joseph Smith familiar to Latter-Day Saint homes and chapels, there were dark images, and even darker music. If the purpose of the program was to introduce the audience to some of the stranger aspects of historical Mormonism (or at least make it sound strange) then the program was excellent. I thought it was balanced (for the most part) between believers and non-believers. On the other hand, if the purpose was (as was implied) to build understanding, I am at a loss why *opponents* of Mormonism were given such a vocal presence.
Pace Nielsen, Iowa City, IA
I found the "Mormons" documentary to be the best ever representation of Mormonism. In four hours one gets a taste of all aspects of the religion — the highs, the lows, etc. Sure the fanatics on both extremes will be mad but the documentary is not trying to show only their perspective but every perspective connected with Mormonism. It pulled this off remarkably well and balanced in my opinion. There certainly could have been a more harsh attack as advocated by critics (for example, where was the Book of Abraham?) or the always sought after faithful history to pacify the orthodoxy. My hat goes off to PBS and Helen Whitney.
Justin Anderson, Calgary, AB
I enjoyed the program "The Mormons" presented this week, and was impressed with most of the quality of the work. There was one fatal error presented at the very beginning of the film, and that is Joseph Smith is not the "Alpha and Omega" of the Mormon faith. Jesus Christ is the "Alpha and Omega" of our faith. Joseph Smith was a mortal like you and me, and subject to error, but Jesus Christ is God. He is the Lord we put our faith in. That's very important, and I wish the producer of the program would have presented this truth more clearly. Thank you for all the good programs that come from PBS.
Steve Evans, Salt Lake City, UT
I was quite astonished by The Mormons program. It seemed to be an effort toward mainstreaming this cult by minimizing their kind of thinking that is antithetical to fundamental American beliefs. There's a reason why the populace is suspicious of Mormons — their Nazi-like rigidity with its strict adherence to the authoritarian 'father'; the abolition of "unhappiness" by church fiat; the brainwashing of children; the squelching of dissent; and the devaluation of un-married women. None of these aberrations were covered with any weight in your program.
Rosemary Scharrenbroich, Brooklyn, NY
I enjoyed the presentation on the Mormons, but the music that accompanied the narrative seemed spooky, odd and irritating. It made me question the intents of the program in trying to sway the audience's perception of the Mormons by the use of such odd music. I do enjoy learning about different religions and I look forward to learning about other religions in the future. With so much fighting and war being waged in the name of religion, it behooves us to learn of people's beliefs. Keep up the good work in providing educational programming.
Kandee McKellar, Phoenix, AZ
I am writing to thank you for the outstanding documentary "The Mormons" recently broadcast on PBS. I am a devout Mormon convert of 20 years and was extremely pleased with the balanced presentation of our history and faith, warts and all. It is rare to find a treatment of our religion that isn't so skewed as to come across as either an attack ad or a public relations campaign. PBS struck a fine balance that will be of great value both within and outside the membership of the LDS Church. Thank you again.
Darin Stewart, Portland, OR
It would have been helpful and would have added to the journalistic integrity of this program if the background of the speakers would have been made clear. I am a member of the LDS church so my opinion will be biased, even though I attempted to view the program with an open mind. Several of the speakers have deep anti-Mormon roots. It does not mean that the facts they presented may not have been true. However, in this type of documentary the background and perspective of the speakers — whether for or against the LDS Church — were important to the presentation.
Your recent program on "Mormons" was far too biased in a negative sense. If you are looking for objectivity, why are you including many ex-communicated Mormons in your interviews, who are obviously offended by the church's actions? All Mormons could claim to be "Historians" for the religion, as they are all well versed in it. You also took comments that were perpetrated to be "present day" practices in the Temple, which are blatantly false. Your piece on polygamy included an excessive amount of "fundamentalist Mormons" who practice polygamy, which in fact is not at all a part of Mormonism today, but instead is a group of apostates who practice polygamy. As Gordon B. Hinckley said, there is no such thing as a "fundamentalist Mormon." Instead of objectivity, you have gone to the practice of "sensationalism," and this is nothing more than "Yellow Journalism." The interesting conclusion is that this negative press will in fact increase the number of people who will eventually become Mormons, because the vast missionary force will have it to discuss with the people they meet, and will often have the opportunity to straighten the crooked that was presented in your program.
James Melby, Martinsburg, WV
First of all I am a practicing Mormon. I found your documentary a fair attempt by a journalist to try to get all views of Mormonism from believers, disgruntled non-practicing Mormons, and supposed theologians, etc. I still believe in my heart, if I want to know the truth of anyone's religion, I would not go to those who became disenchanted with the religion. I would find the most faithful member of that church and inquire about their beliefs.
St. George, UT
The documentary on the Mormons was quite thorough and over all highly enjoyable. However I found some of the comments were a might confused. For example, the documentary stated there was a "new" Book of Mormon printed with a different title that now included Christ in an effort to mainstream the book. To say that it was a "new" book gives the connotations that it was entirely rewritten to make it more "acceptable" when in fact the only thing that changed was the title. And it seemed the title was only changed to clear-up any misunderstanding that the book wasn't about Christ.
Eliza S., Las Vegas, NV
As a Mormon I enjoyed your recent show "The Mormons." Obviously with the limited amount of time available to you it was extremely difficult to portray the full story of the church. Having said that, I was pleased with your work. I know you will receive e-mails from those who will complain about this and that. I always return to what my father used to say: "Some people would complain if they were hung with a new rope." Thanks for a great job.
Having lived in Utah two summers as an adolescent, & then for fifteen years as a Christian pastor, I was surprised by the perspective that a public television station seemed to advocate. I would not conclude that the presentation was neutral or unbiased. Far from that, it seemed that the creators were either LDS or, at least LDS sympathizers. Please don't misunderstand; I'm not suggesting that the Mormons don't need any sympathy. They were my neighbors & friends for a decade and a half. I shared with many of them their frustrations and misgivings about the claims of Mormonism. The bottom line is this: Mormonism differs from Biblical/Historic Christianity. While your documentary painted the picture from an LDS point of view, quoting their doctrinal conclusions & spiritual interpretations, an honest LDS person (and most of them are) will admit that they differ and in fact disagree with Christianity in four basic categories. Each of these categories were overlooked in your presentation: Biblical Authority (Where do you get your authority?) The Nature of God (Who is God?) The Doctrine of Christ (Who is Jesus Christ & what did He do?) The Plan of Salvation (How is an individual saved?). My conclusion is that the presentation was a good argument for Mormonism, rather than an objective view.
Jim Schaedler, Orange, CA
I would like to compliment PBS on its recent coverage of Mormons. Being a devout Mormon myself I was a bit worried about how the Mormons would be portrayed on the show. After having watched it, I can honestly say that it was as fair a portrayal of Mormons as I ever could have expected. I realize that often Mormons, including myself, have an idealistic view, at times, of how our own history has unfolded. So, I was not expecting every instant to be a feel-good-pat-on-the-back kind of instant. However, I also realize that sometimes those outside a particular religion like to focus on those aspects of the religion that are 'interesting' or could be 'ratings-grabbers'. While there was coverage of the 'interesting' during the show, I don't feel there was an inordinate amount of it.
It is my hope that Mr. Michael Getler was on vacation during the review of this supposed documentary "The Mormons," as his job description is 'to ensure that PBS upholds its own standards of editorial integrity.' Furthermore, I suspect PBS has received a plethora of emails regarding the misconstrued information of the show, not to mention its negative slant, so I will not cite them now, but rather make this point. When it comes to best practices in Public Broadcasting equal sided and accurate information is the minimum that the American public can expect. Today's television medium is littered with agenda driven transmission, PBS must be different otherwise I see no need for its existence. Simply put, I have great concern for the validity of any of PBS's programming, based on what was viewed last night.
J. Ryan Bevan, Phoenix, AZ
Here's Moyers, Again
Your statement, "All's well that ends well" is disturbingly similar to "the ends justify the means." Mr. Moyers is clearly, even if you can justify it to yourself, advocating for liberal views consistently in his programs. Furthermore, your statement that (paraphrasing) there is no shortage of the other views in the media, is beside the point isn't it . . . we are talking about Public television aren't we? Tonight I viewed another of his programs wherein he interviews a like-minded "authority" on the Vietnam war and Iraq and uses his air time to vilify C. Rice and Bush. He and his "guests" busy themselves making smug statements reflecting the current liberal conventional wisdom and support these with half-truths and out-of-context observations. I continue to be disappointed with PBS and its Ombudsman. When and to whom will PBS provide equal airtime on the Public airwaves to rebut Mr. Moyers' spurious claims?
D. Hall, Vista, CA
So Moyers is a "LIBERAL"!
LIBERAL — Encarta: English (North America)
1. Broad minded: Tolerant of different views and standards of behavior in others.
2. Progressive politically or socially: Politics favoring gradual reform, especially political reforms that extend democracy, distribute wealth more evenly, and protect the personal freedom of the individual.
3. Generous: Generous with money, time, or some other asset.
4. Generous in quantity: Large in size or amount.
5. Not literal: Language not limited to the literal meaning in translation or interpretation.
6. Culturally oriented arts concerned with general cultural matters and broadening of the mind rather than professional or technical study
Yep, sure sounds like Moyers. Also sounds like a Jew that lived about 2000 years ago!
Dr. Jerry W. Reeves, Lincoln, TX
What is it with Bill Moyers and his bashing of everything President Bush does or his administration. What a liberal slanted program you air on PBS. Is this where my taxpayer money goes to? It seems the only programs aired on PBS are slanted to the left. Every time I try to see something educational on PBS, all I see is liberal programs and views. I suggest PBS start balancing their station programming and for you to start cutting back on these liberal sided programs on PBS. Please tell me if you can, what conservative programs, commentators and journalists do you have on PBS. The list is probably non-existent. I suggest you really take a good look at Mr. Moyers and his programs. This man is a die hard liberal and all of his points of views. What a way to spread liberal propaganda. My tax money at work.
E. Perez, Miami, FL
How can you allow Bill Moyers' blatantly biased point of view to go out over the airwaves. It is not journalism, it is filled with half truths and weird conclusions that only a far left nut could come up with. These are my tax dollars being used to promote a point of view that I cannot tolerate. How about some editorial objectivity in what is going out over the airwaves? Should be your editor's job, not the government's.
Tom Leclaire, Battlefield, MO
My spouse and I are glad Bill Moyers is back on PBS. We need to enlarge the orbit of political discussion, and he's the right person for the job.
Otto Sotnak, Aitkin, MN
Once again I cannot believe the pure audacity of PBS to let the far left counter culture use its publicly funded national infrastructure to broadcast another political hit piece. In the past I have sent you emails stating how much I love many of the shows that PBS runs, but cannot get myself to ever again support PBS as long as it is willing to let political hacks like Bill Moyers use it to try and advance his and his funders' far left beliefs. The last pile of garbage of his you just aired was even more biased than previous so called "documentaries" he has put together using political left money, there was absolutely no balance, none whatsoever which is ironic considering the jist of his "documentary" was about conservative bias in the media leading up to the Iraq war. As much as I think Moyers is a kook, I do not blame him for doing what he feels necessary to try and convince other Americans that the war in Iraq was ill conceived, my anger is with PBS using my taxes to give him this powerful forum to do it.
Keith Meyer, Little Chute, WI
I was very impressed by Bill Moyers' program on telling the truth about Iraq and the role the news media played. I was also scared to death. I now believe nothing of what I'm told or read and question everything. It is not just this administration that I now hold responsible. And to know that there were people out there that had serious concerns and we the public heard little or none of it. I remember listening to Scott Ritter talk. He was the first to make me question what was happening. Interesting, I don't hear anything about him now. Again thank you I just wish something like this program had happened years ago.
Grace Flight, Bethel, CT
The Bill Moyers' program on the role of the press as cheerleader for the war was GREAT. Now that's professional journalism. I grew up listening to the great ones — Murrow, Pyle, etc. Very few of those courageous journalists around in this age. With the exception of a few, the 4th estate has become the 5th column. Please thank Mr. Moyers for his excellent and very brave program. I look forward to many more.
Mary Macvicar, Columbus, OH
I wanted to welcome Mr. Moyers back to PBS and to congratulate you on your first Journal installment. It was an excellent piece. I watched it with a few friends who have heard me making the same critiques of the shameful coverage in the lead up to and the aftermath of the Iraq war. It was good to have some vindication on PBS. I have two criticisms of the piece however.
First, while the piece was obviously focusing for the most part on journalists who were complicit in the dissemination of misinformation (due to intent or laziness or blind patriotism), I thought Moyers could have painted a more accurate picture of pre-war coverage by featuring more of the journalists who got the story right, like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Jeff Cohen (founder of FAIR and staffer of FOX and MSNBC), as well as myriad writers of the Nation and broadcasters on the independent Pacifica network.
My second critique of the piece is that it didn't spend hardly any time focusing on NPR's and PBS' own failures in the lead up. I was so horrified by the rightward shift of the NewsHour during the last few years starting with the war coverage, that I've stopped listening to it or watching it. And All Things Considered was hardly any better in the lead up to the War, and hasn't much improved. Independent stations within the NPR and PBS affiliate structure have often proved oases of good coverage in a desert of corporate media distractions, but the national programming has often been abysmal. A FAIR study of NewsHour programming on the war found a 3:1 bias in favor of pro-war, pro-administration positions held by guests. Considering that PBS/NPR/CPB are supposed to be the standard for unbiased coverage, their major failings have yet to be adequately exposed. I think the piece's failure to spend any real time on that issue represents a major oversight.
Matthew Isles, Oakland, CA
I would like to thank PBS for bringing Bill Moyers back and also for airing the special about the lies and the media's failure in questioning the administration. It was journalism at its best. I am sure Mr. Moyers is coming under attack from the right but I would like to convey that many people watched his special and are thankful he exposed what many of us have feared for years. I look forward to seeing many more Journals.
Anne Jacobs, Pomona, CA
I was watching Bill Moyers' review of the Iraq war. Although I often disagree with Moyers, tonight I found myself agreeing with him completely. But intuitively, based on having watched him for many years, I knew that this edition of his Journal would have little impact.
Bill Moyers is an example of a person who believes passionately in the issues for which he is an advocate. So am I. We believe that the truth of what we say will make it compelling and convincing. In fact, and in practice, that passion and conviction dilutes and ultimately renders impotent our efforts to recruit others.
In another story immediately following Moyers (on the NOW program), the journalist reported on a whistle-blower who filed a lawsuit against Kerr-McGee and won. The story included a statement: Kerr-McGee declined our request for an interview and sent a written statement instead (words to that effect). This was what often passes for "fair and balanced reporting," and I'm afraid that in truth, it is inadequate.
On paper, if the offer is made to allow the target of a story to respond and they decline, it satisfies the theory of that principle. In fact, as a critical thinker, I believe it is unrealistic to think that a company, in this case the subject of what amounts to an expose, should have any expectation that their response will be presented fairly.
My point: PBS needs to do more of substance to insure that the other side of these stories is presented. It's not enough for the people making the documentary to offer the target an opportunity to respond. If I'm the target, why would I bother responding when I know that my response is going to be edited and filtered by a group of people who have already decided I'm guilty?
Ted Thomas, Portland, OR
Does the Left Control, or the Right Go Unchallenged?
Why does the left so pervasively control PBS? — Well, maybe because they were there first, and made sure that only those that agreed with their ideology were hired, which led to a consistent and pervasive bias in favor of everything to the left.
But things have changed — when PBS first started up, the Democrats and Republicans were all part of the "establishment," although the Democrats were ALWAYS preferable to the Republicans, and the programming at PBS reflected that. Now to be left is to be Democrat as well, so that PBS has become one long campaign commercial, whose function is to make and promote Democrats, or better yet to criticize Republicans.
And you as ombudsman, what is your role? Why to make a small amount of noise when things get egregious but not enough to rock the boat, or to be on record. Of course, in order to be in your position you need the ethics of a snake oil salesman, as you exist solely to maintain the status quo.
But I ask again — WHY is PBS to the left of everything? Why can't a single dollar in CPB grant money be spent on something with a conservative bias for chrissake? That question was asked by a liberal friend of mine who questioned why when it came to public broadcasting all the money was for the left and not a dime for anything to the right. Why? Why can't it be 50/50 i.e. balanced like Congress intended?
Well, sooner or later the pendulum will swing again, and when that time comes, nothing will save PBS. And like I said, as Ombudsman, you're the window dressing so that PBS can say "look we have an ombudsman and gee whiz once or twice he even said we went too far." A situation guaranteed to make you cynical about public broadcasting, and its entrenched interests.
B. Samuel Davis, Morristown, NJ
I watch the NewsHour almost every night, and count on it for in-depth reporting. Tonight April 30, on a segment on George Tenet, the NewsHour showed clips of comments of Tony Snow and Condi Rice. Each of them lied. Rice said that even the United Nations thought there were WMD. That is false. The UN inspectors found no WMD and Hans Blix thought there were none. The Administration kicked the inspectors out and invaded. Snow said that the Administration never linked Saddam and 9/11. That is simply false. Cheney on numerous occasions publicly linked them. What bothered me about your coverage is that you made no effort to point out these lies, simply letting them stand as if they were the truth. Where is your journalistic integrity? Where is the responsibility to speak truth to power? The failure to hold Administration figures accountable for what they say is how we got into this mess. I was very disappointed in your failure to point this out.
Howard Masur, Providence, IL
It is noteworthy that you respond at great length to Bechtel criticism re Katrina trailers but ignore such as my critique of the Jim Lehrer/Charlie Rose good-ole-boy treatment of (former CIA Director George)Tenet.
That Lehrer/Rose pitched soft balls as they helped peddle Tenet's book is made clear by commentary of those with direct knowledge of the workings of the intelligence community. There is, for example, this from ex-DIA official, Pat Lang, who periodically appears on the NewsHour:
Lang says Tenet "is a spoiled child who, in his own mind, is never to blame for anything, never really takes responsibility for his failures of judgment and action, and spins, and spins and spins. George's "admissions" of responsibility are always carefully couched in words that do not actually say things like, "I was wrong," "I failed," "The war was a mistake," "I failed in what I did not do to stop this oncoming disaster." He quibbles. Quibbling is not acceptable in an intelligence officer, certainly not in the BOSS intelligence officer. I wonder if the Society of Jesus is happy when Tenet cites the principles that he thinks they taught him as justification for his way of doing things."
Many people share the view that the PBS treatment of Tenet ill-serves the public. Such treatment of Tenet is in line with the longstanding proclivity of Lehrer and Rose to not probe in depth in discussions with high government officials their responsibility for the Iraq debacle.
For example, neither Lehrer nor Rose asked Tenet why he stood by as Bush, Cheney, Powell et al. said the now famous aluminum tubes as destined for uranium enrichment centrifuges when the government's centrifuge experts at the Department of Energy believed it very unlikely that this was their purpose.
Similarly, in neither interview was Tenet asked his response to charges of dereliction put forth by Tyler Drumheller, a former top CIA official in Europe. Drumheller describes how Tenet and his deputy, John McLaughlin, did not correct erroneous assertions by Bush, Cheney, Powell et al. about bioweapons trailers. Such assertions grew from statements made by a single source, Curveball, who was considered not reliable by intelligence agency officers. It is important to hear directly from Tenet his response to Drumheller whose damning allegations have been left dangling.
Henry Myers, Peaks Island, ME
I am puzzled and disappointed at the on-going absence of coverage of Alberto Gonzales and House and Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. When The NewsHour skipped coverage of the testimony of James Comey before the House Committee on May 3rd, it seemed like a matter of inevitable editorial choices, but when Comey's shocking testimony from this morning was passed over, it seemed more like intentional suppression of the news. It's hard to understand an editorial policy that would choose a Jerry Falwell retrospective over breaking news.
Mary Collins, Corvallis, OR
Falwell Coverage: Too One-Sided?
I found your coverage of Jerry Falwell's death to be terribly one-sided . . . 2 religious right commentators! . . . history will show that this man was stupid, bigoted and hateful . . . let me remind you of some of his quotes . . . the fact you didn't bring these up shows us the right slant that has poisoned PBS . . .
On Sept. 11: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
On AIDS: "AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals."
On public education: "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again, and Christians will be running them."
On the separation of church and state: "There is no separation of church and state."
On feminists: "I listen to feminists and all these radical gals . . . These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men; that's their problem."
On global warming: "I can tell you, our grandchildren will laugh at those who predicted global warming. We'll be in global cooling by then, if the Lord hasn't returned. I don't believe a moment of it. The whole thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability."
On Islam: "I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life, written by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that he was a violent man, a man of war."
Alan T., Exeter, NH
This evening I waited to hear PBS's take on the death of that evil gas bag Falwell. Right off the top you gave him about ten minutes too many. Then you trotted out two sycophants. I left the room and took a shower. I was offended, deeply offended. Why didn't you find someone like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins for a little constructive rebuttal to this evil legacy?
Josef Huffman, Jacksonville, FL
I just finished watching the 6 p.m. newscast and I am outraged by the choice of a pair of theosophical bozos to be the only commentators on the life of Jerry Falwell. WHERE THE HELL WAS BILL MOYERS????? Falwell, it can be reasonably argued, was the founder of the American Taliban, and PBS invites two of his slavverin' admirers to tell viewers what a magnificent man he was. How could this possibly be the best you could do?
Bob Johnson, Smyrna, GA
How about a perspective other than conservative in re Falwell's passing? He did a lot of damage, as far as I'm concerned.
Michael Zonta, San Francisco, CA
Soltz vs. Morgan on the NewsHour
"The NewsHour" is where I go to get away from screaming heads. Melanie Morgan was a disgrace to the program. Who in the world thought she would be a rational voice to counter Jon Soltz of VoteVets.org?
Herb Reeves, Greenville, SC
To have included Melanie Morgan to discuss the Iraq mess was a distinct dilution of the integrity that I believe PBS generally represents. Her qualifications to speak are questionable and her interruptive manner not in keeping with your standards.
The May 8 "debate" between Jon Soltz of VoteVets.org and Melanie Morgan of Move America Forward was one of the worst such segments I've seen on NewsHour in awhile. I turn to NewsHour to escape the shouting heads pervasive on the 24-hour news networks. Between Soltz's offensive insistence that he represents "the troops" (when in fact, many of the troops vehemently disagree with his views), and Morgan's insistence that the Democrats don't want victory (merely because they want to fund it only six months at a time), and their nasty and disrespectful attitudes toward each other and the viewers, I was sickened by the whole display. If I wanted red herrings, straw men, ad hominems, and other such nonsense I wouldn't be watching NewsHour.
Chris Nandor, Arlington, WA
I'm disturbed by the NewsHour's new low; providing a television platform for an extreme right-wing attack demagogue, spewing abuse and jingoistic vitriol. Of course I'm referring to Melanie Morgan's demeaning and disparaging ad hominem attacks on your other guest, along with a slanderous impugning of the patriotism and motives of any and all non-like-minded folks.
Jerry Swingle, Durango, CO
The yelling, interrupting and repeated rudeness by the talk show woman is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me from watching other news/talk shows, and the nastiness that I don't expect to see on Lehrer. I don't really blame her, since rudeness and yelling is the shtick of talk show hosts and maybe she'd never seen Lehrer and didn't realize it was out of place there. A good rule of thumb would be not to invite talk show hosts from either side for these discussions.
Dick Homan, Green Valley, AZ
Please let The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer know that some viewers were aghast at tonight's broadcast when Judy Woodruff let Melanie Morgan of Move Forward America repeatedly interrupt Judy and the other interviewee. Rudeness and a lack of civility are characteristic of some other so-called news programs, but not The NewsHour! We finally pushed the mute button on our remote.
Carolyn Fox, Mount Angel, OR
This evening (May 8) The NewsHour carried a piece that purported to be an interview of two grassroots organizations on the course of the Iraq war. On the Bush side was "Move America Forward." The spokesperson sounded much more like a Republican front organization than a genuine grassroots one. There is nobody with an impressive resume on their web page. I would hope that PBS would check the funding and principles before putting someone like that on the air.
Ben Ansbacher, Burlington, NC
Lehrer's NewsHour tonight was kinduv the last straw for me. Allowing Melanie Morgan to yell and block out the words of her opposite number was unforgivably rude, but she was not reprimanded; the camera swung to her, as though this were a contest show. For a long time the effort to "give both sides" has allowed similarly rude people a forum to promote minority, sometimes extreme, views. Please stop it!
ER W, Oberlin, OH
The NewsHour Responds
Last night the NewsHour attempted to help our viewers understand why the members of Congress are having so much difficulty arriving at a decision regarding the way forward in Iraq. We believe the intensity of the pressure being exerted on Democrats and Republicans by the "wings" of their respective parties is having an impact on those who are looking for some sort of compromise position. We decided to let representatives of those wings explain their positions, hoping they would participate in a dialogue with us and each other. As our guests demonstrated, however, that was a forlorn hope and the result was a lot of heat, but very little light.
Since neither guest was in the studio with Judy Woodruff, there wasn't much she could do to prevent them from interrupting one another, short of saying — as she did at least three times — "please let him/her finish his/her point". The NewsHour style is to ask pointed questions politely; we expect our guests to subscribe to the same rules. Since the program is produced live, we can't do much to eliminate rude guests from your television screen once the segment has begun; what we can do is guarantee you will never see that person on our program again.
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer