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PBS Ombudsman

The Ombudsman Column

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Here's a sampling of letters from viewers that arrived while I was away last week. They focused on three offerings: the latest appearance on PBS of self-help guru Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., and on a couple of segments on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer that left a number of viewers frustrated. There are also responses to the viewer observations about the NewsHour segments from the program's executive producer, Linda Winslow.

Dyer's Back, for Better or Worse

I am in the middle of watching Wayne Dyer's newest offering on PBS. Let me admit that though I have made donations to PBS in the past, I have not done so lately. This is simply because I'm cheap and I'm lazy. But when (not if) I give again it will be due largely to Dr. Dyer. I feel compelled to write because during the actual asking-for-money portion of the show I hopped online and came (via Google) to your (ombudsman's) article of March 24, 2006 and was surprised to learn of ill will towards these programs. I will agree that Rich Dad, Poor Dad has no place on PBS whatsoever, without any question, and I hope that you have all reached that logical and clear-cut (to me, anyway) conclusion based on its total lack of redeeming social value. Dr. Dyer's programs, on the other hand, seem to me just the opposite: they offer the slightest glimmer of hope that humanity could actually save itself from itself. I find them to be the most important, inspiring, educational and thought-provoking programs on television, period. I was surprised that some viewers found these programs to be pushing a specific religious agenda. That an engaging, intelligent, thoughtful, humorous and emotional roundup of centuries of philosophical wisdom and anthropological observation could be deemed threatening or offensive by PBS viewers seems absurd. Maybe they are put off by the fact that it's in a format that will allow people to actually make practical use of these ideas to improve their lives and show kindness and understanding to those around them. Do you get many complaints that Barney is explicitly inciting kids to share and play nice? My daughter will be giving soon, too . . . thanks!

Noah Leed, Nottingham, NH

I find the Dr. Dyer broadcasts extremely disturbing on a publicly supported channel. Would an evangelical or orthodox Christian be given several hours to expound on their world view? Of course not; there would be outrage. What is the view and policies of PBS towards proselytizing? Does it depend on the particular brand of religion?

Richmond, VA

I'm seeing a disturbing trend in some of the programs that PBS is airing for the past several years. I've noticed a sudden increase in the number of "self-help" programs/characters such as Dr. Wayne Dyer, Robert Kiyosaki, Suze Orman and several others that seem to frequent the PBS channel.

First, I'm not sure why a private enterprise such as Suze Orman is able to purchase such great amount of air time in public television. I'm not convinced, just because the word "women" is in her program title, it's any less enterprising. If you catch her program at certain moments, you would think that she is a licensed psychotherapist who is counseling to a group of troubled family or marriage.

These speakers, preachers and so called experts are no different than self-promoters like Oprah, Tony Robbins and Bill O'Reilly. They themselves are the biggest asset of their own enterprise. All these TV personalities use the same tactics over and over again to woo and captivate their audience/followers. Anyways, I don't want to get into the details of these deceitful tactics and manipulation of unsuspecting people. I'm simply worried that PBS will become just another platform for TV personalities to use as a stage to promote and propagate their personal agenda and interest, masquerading their content as some self-help/lifestyle programs.

N. S., Los Angeles, CA

Dr. Dyer is no different than Benny Hinn or Jerry Falwell except his methods are a bit slower.

Baltimore, MD

Wayne Dyer is a phony who makes money off of emotionally troubled people and uses PBS to sell his goods. He talks about living a simple life and not be concerned with material things but lives on an estate in Maui. Now, in his current presentation he takes on the persona of the character that Marlon Brando played in "Apocalypse Now" dressed in black pajamas, shaven head and bare feet. I guess he thinks this will sell his more of his psychobabble with a new and different look. The bottom line is Dyer is a snake oil salesman promising enlightenment to relieve the world's problems if only they would buy his books and DVDs. PBS should not be a party to this as it takes advantage of people who can't afford this nonsense but is hyped into buying it by the ever skillful salesmanship of Dyer who touches on the emotions and heartstrings of your viewers.

Frank Michaels, Los Angeles, CA

I am very disappointed that PBS has chosen to show the Wayne Dyer program this evening. This man is renowned for his inaccurate religious, new age teaching that misrepresents Christianity and the life of Jesus Christ. I find this opinion offensive, and feel that taxpayer money should not be used to misrepresent one religion and promote another.

Randall M., Rochester, NY

He Said/She Said, But What Does the Bill Say?

Recently, Judy Woodruff had a program re: the just-passed bill legalizing intelligence gathering without warrants. This was a subject very important to me and I was looking forward to learning the facts of the bill. Unfortunately, the program had 2 guests who argued about what was in the bill. It seemed that they couldn't agree on anything the bill actually said. There is an actual bill that Judy or an independent expert could have read and provided some real information about it to the listeners. I was frustrated that all I came away with was 2 guests arguing about what the bill said. Your programs are usually more factual. Thank you for caring about our view.

Seven Fields, PA

Tonight's NewsHour segment on the new Protect America Act is an extreme and flagrant case of the "he said, she said" duel we see too many times on that show, where the two views presented are so opposed and extreme that at least one of them has to be completely unreasonable.

Why are journalists so afraid to call out invitees on their lies and inaccuracies? How could tonight's guests be both right? Either that bill did authorize the NSA to tap foreign communications to/from America or it did not. This is a black and white case. A fact, which is either true or false. There is no subjective aspect to this matter that PBS should be afraid to correct on the show. I would expect your staff to research that bill and be able to tell which it is based on the facts. I'd like to see a more active participation from your journalists in those debates to tell us the facts and correct guests if their assertions are unreasonable or unfounded.

Cyril Bouteille, Mountain View, CA

I watch The NewsHour every day because you take a few topics and do a more in-depth review than other TV media. Today (8-6-07) Judy Woodruff interviewed two guests regarding the new wiretap law passed by congress and signed by the president. Her two guests were at opposite ends of the pole in regards to what the law did and did not allow. And obviously Judy was not familiar with the law and thus she did not even attempt to settle the dispute and inform her viewers. Reporters should not take on subject matter they are not familiar with as doing so is a disservice to viewers and defeats viewers' reasons for watching.

Kenneth L. Barker, Honolulu, HI

Linda Winslow, executive producer of the NewsHour, responds: "Our recent debate about the new FISA bill was intended to highlight the possible impact of the law Congress had passed in its closing hours. Based on their pre-interviews, that's what we expected our guests to disagree about. Instead, the language of the bill and the facts themselves became the subject of interpretation.

"As the moderator, Judy Woodruff did her best to keep the guests focused on one or two points, to avoid confusing the audience, and to make sure that each guest had time to make his/her point and to counter points made by the other guest. I have reviewed the segment and I invite you to do the same by going to our website. I think Judy handled the 'discussion' well, in keeping with the NewsHour's style. That is, she was polite but firm, and gave Ms. Martin an opportunity to respond to each point Mr. Cunningham made.

"I do agree that ultimately the segment shed more heat than light on the subject. Unfortunately, that sometimes happens in the course of producing a live television program; you don't get a 'do-over' when things don't go as planned."

And What Does Candidate Bill Say?

Today I watched the NewsHour and its coverage of the debate in Chicago. I was appalled that 3 candidates got 90 percent of your coverage. Bill Richardson was on the stage, did he sit there deaf and dumb? The news did not cover his comments at all. Be fair and cover all the candidates not just the favorites.

Lansing, MI

In the report about the debate of the Democratic candidates for president tonight, we were very disappointed not to be able to hear the comments made by Governor Bill Richardson. We have noticed several times that Gov. Richardson is not even mentioned. Most news outlets always have stories about the so-called "top three candidates" meaning Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Today, you had a few more, but not Gov. Bill Richardson. We really wonder why not? He is the candidate with the most hands-on political experience and deserves to be heard by the public.

Barbara & Paul Nettesheim, Chapel Hill, NC

Linda Winslow responds: "A very good question. I think we erred in not including a clip of what Governor Richardson said. Our production team was trying to capture the flavor of the debate (which I think they did) and that involved focusing primarily on the dynamic of the exchanges between Clinton, Edwards, and Obama. We were reporting the editorial significance of the event, and tried to work in the comments of the rest of the field as they joined the fray. And frankly, not including Governor Richardson was a mistake. Under no circumstances was it a comment on his qualifications for the Presidency. We have included him in our coverage in the past and I assure you we will do so in the future."

Not to Mention Candidate Ron

Please be advised that we have been contacting your sponsors in regards to your slanted reporting of poll results and your continued censure of Dr. Ron Paul and his campaign for president. I would expect better from PBS. But I guess you are just another corporate controlled mainstream media mass mind manipulation tool. So being that as it is, we are forced to exercise our only way to handle this situation by boycotting your stations and your sponsors.

Garrettsville, OH

Why don't I see any news about Ron Paul and his rEVOLution of a presidential campaign? Please have your news programs report the news. Please!

B. B., Arlington Heights, IL

Finally, Air Controllers, and Luther

In regards to your Marion Blakey interview (NewsHour, Aug. 7, 2007, "FAA Official Discusses Flight Delays Across United States"): I have been an Air Traffic Controller for 27 years. There are only two things that can help eliminate delays. First: more runways (a piece of concrete has a finite arrival rate per hour). Second: More controllers (we have half the staffing authorized and are working more traffic). This is a nationwide problem. Aviation is one of the corner stones of our aging infrastructure. Don't let the FAA sacrifice the flying public's safety any longer. Because the controllers that are left are taking the bus.

Allen Bieber, Tucson, AZ

Luther: Excellent. Fiennes and Ustinov: Emmys.

K. McCart, Missoula, MT

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