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Sunday, August 31, 2014
PBS Ombudsman

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Here's another Ombudsman's Mailbag, this one recording observations from viewers about a variety of programs that aired since the last posting just before the Thanksgiving Day holiday break. Most of the mail, as has been the case in the last few weeks, continues to be focused on issues raised by the Nov. 13 airing of the program, "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" and the letters that followed in its aftermath.

Here Are the Letters

Is Charlie Rose a journalist or a talk-show host? Karl Rove's recent assertion that it was Congress that hastened our nation to enter war with Iraq, may be laughable, but the fact that PBS squandered the opportunity to publicly refute his assertion is both pathetic and tragic. Apparently our "Administration" has succeeded in co-opting the final "voice of the people," PBS.

Jack Apple, Queen Creek, AZ



The McLaughlin Group's discussion on Nov. 25th about climate change and energy was the right topic to discuss, but the discussion was marred by the profound ignorance of all the participants on any of the scientific or technological aspects of these subjects. From what the climate history of our planet is, to how much oil is apt to be discovered at what energy cost, whether oil shale can ever produce a useful barrel of oil, whether there is enough uranium to make a new push possible for nuclear reactors, or that a major climate change risks will include the destabilization of a large part of the planet's human population from relatively small rainfall and freshwater problems and on and on . . . Ignorant speculation by these folks is of little educational value. All together the discussion was a disservice to the viewing public.

Sidney Quarrier, Appleton, ME



I don't understand PBS's complicity in this ENDLESS presentation of WAR. war, war, war. Why can't there be endless presentations on PEACE MOVEMENTS — on heroes and heroines who have sacrificed themselves for peace — and to STOP man's inhumanity to man.

Mary Lou Erickson, Berkeley, CA



Where is Mark Russell???? With the politics we have running around today, it is a crime not to turn Mark loose on all these characters.

Bud Fair, Wichita, KS



I am disturbed by a trend on the NewsHour, the only US network news I watch (other than BBC World), in not presenting an entire story. I don't mean balancing views but leaving out an essential part of a story that viewers should know. Last night's broadcast (Nov. 28) offers the most-recent example.

The lede story was about Wall Street's second day of major gains, yesterday's rally being triggered by hints by the Vice Chairman that the Fed might again lower interest rates. However, that comment was made in a speech in which he spent most of the time offering a very pessimistic view of the economy over the next 12 months, and citing several reasons for the Fed's concern.

Yet when Mr. Lehrer read the market story, he did not even mention the much more crucial news from the Fed's vice chair, who all but said the economy is heading into a recession and the central bank doesn't know how fast or how deep. I know this was part of the speech because I saw it on BBC World — just before the NewsHour. Especially given the upbeat economic story from Milwaukee later that Paul Solman did in the same broadcast, it seems to me that the producer and Mr. Lehrer had an obligation to tell the audience all is as not rosy as one day's DJIA performance.

Mr. and Mrs. James Charles, Minneapolis, MN



I think the so-called NewsHour with Jim Lehrer should be retitled "The NewsHour, Occasionally with Jim Lehrer."

Wallace Mitchell, Frankenmuth, MI



Gwen Ifill had a Fox News moment on the Nov. 26 NewsHour when she referred to "Hamas seized power" . . . Would she refer to Bush winning the Presidency as "Bush seized power" when he actually won the second election (the first one, seizing power is still a question). Hamas actually won a democratic election. Are there Israeli sensors on PBS who check the wording of these reports? Insertions of words such as this taints the fair and unbiased reporting reputation of PBS.

R. Barrier, Rileyville, VA



Most TV I watch is PBS and I've supported RMPBS through the years by contributing my art. As much as I dislike pledge weeks I really dislike shows that actually exclude me watching them because they're for women programs like Suze Orman. The show with the title even is premised on a female audience and not male. I can't think of any other programming that is a men's only program and if there were I imagine the feedback would be immense. Please schedule programming that will be inclusive of all viewers and doesn't discriminate against a group of viewers based on its gender.

Monument, CO



I appreciate the concept of your support for the Building Green show; however, I am very disappointed at the size of the projects they have taken on. The over-consumption of resources to build, furnish and sustain houses of this size disgusts me. The disingenuous nature of minimizing the amount of resources used, not to mention the consumption of water for the pool strikes me as an attempt to GREENWASH a gluttonous lifestyle. I was hopeful at the conclusion of the first house when Kevin said he was disappointed at how big it was, and implied his house would be different. I'm sorry but a 4000 sq ft. house is NOT a sustainable model! Using excessive amounts of green materials like the eco-concrete among other things does not minimize your impact on the environment. Remember the first of the three Rs is REDUCE. Shame on you for helping to legitimize overuse of our limited resources!

Mark Leugers, Traverse City, MI



I just watched Sunday's presentation on "e2: energy: coal & nuclear: problem or solution." There were a number of comments/assertions that the green-house gas buildup from human-caused CO2 was real. This is totally false and I resent a publicly funded media source perpetrating this lie. The build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere "causing global warming" is a total THEORY, not fact as presented in most of your programs.

The IPCC seems to be driven by political and economic "consensus," not actual scientific facts and history. That PBS continues to present only one side of the story is cheating the public out of information they are paying for with their donations to your media source. I request that you air a program that shows both sides of this very important issue in a fair and balanced way. I recognize that for you to do this a number of your program people are going to have to stuff their radical, liberal viewpoints, but so be it.

Paul Ingraham, Santa Fe, NM


Still More on 'Judgment Day'

One question that hit me after viewing this documentary is why aren't there any people of Jewish faith questioning the "theory" of evolution? After all, this is from Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. From what I know about the more conservative sects in Judaism, rabbis spend hours sorting out the meaning of the Talmud, often searching for literal meaning in each word. Yet the crusade for "intelligent design" and "creationism" seem to be wholly a Christian endeavor to question real science in favor of a Biblical explanation of creation. And if this were to succeed, why not teach the various many other creation myths from around the world to explain how life is created?

L. Bell, Livermore, CO



By reading the letters, I've come to one conclusion: Abe Lincoln said it best. It's better to be known as a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. There was a very good reason for church and state to be separated. One day every one will know if creation-believing folks are right in their beliefs or the science community is right. My reason for chiming in is the children. You may teach a child science and they may go on in their life to be a great fact finder. But tell me the harm in allowing a child to pray or not to pray, their 'choice' for one minute a day. If you believe that man came swinging down out of a tree, maybe you should let the child have their choice. Because the evolution that I have seen in the last thirty years within our children's lives, is in retro. Even apes do not kill without a conscience, and they have a sense of right and wrong. They raise their babies to be part of the community not throw them to the proverbial wolves to fend for themselves. Even Darwin admitted that his theory was just that a theory. So where will you be on Judgment day?

PA



I'm a Christian Police Officer and have turned to PBS.org and channel 8 here in Houston-Katy Area in Texas. I love God-Jesus Christ and I find "Clean Programming" but when I saw the "Intelligently Designed" program I was very much "tuned" with your station . . . I'm not only donating to the cause of PBS but also to the cause of educating other human beings on the fact that we are not descendants from "Monkeys" or just the mere result of an infinite possibility, casualty or millions of millions of years of "evolution" but . . . a skillful design from a supernatural power . . . we call GOD the creator. Just "look around" Day, Night, Water, wind, Flowers, faith, prayer, forgiveness, justice, Just Ask "Elmo"

Houston, TX



Author and outspoken evolutionist, Sir Arthur Keith said, "Evolution is unproven and unprovable. We believe it because the alternative is special creation, which is unthinkable." Pretty much says it all, huh? There are profound spiritual and metaphysical implications if the account of creation given in the Bible is true. So rather than to grapple with that, it seems more comfortable and more convenient to believe something else, even if it is "unproven and unprovable." Well said, Sir Keith. The Nova program conveniently left out that little tidbit.

A.G. Robbins, Camp Atterbury, IN



Kudos to the producers of "Judgment Day." As one who followed accounts of the trial on-line from one end to the other, it is a terrific re-telling of the saga. The trial was a humiliating defeat for myth at the hands of science and law, which has left plenty of so-called Christians unhappy (how can they call themselves Christians when Christ said "The truth shall set you free" and they deny the truth?). What's worse, they repeat untruths. "Springfield, MO" cited a link at ARN.com which asserts that there was something wrong with Judge Jones' use of the ACLU's "Proposed Findings of Fact" in his decision. This claim was debunked in detail nearly a year ago:
http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/12/weekend_at_behe.html

When judges find that a proposed finding of fact actually IS a fact, they are free to use the proposal verbatim if they so desire. That's what proposed findings of fact are for. Of course, what the creationists are objecting to is that the decision did not allow the teaching of religion as science. They would certainly be better people if they tried to understand the scientific evidence. The universe is 13.7 billion years old, not thousands. Earth is about 4.6 billion year old. All life on Earth shows irrefutable signs of common descent, from man and apes to jellyfish, cucumbers and staphylococcus. So much evidence points toward these conclusions that if a Creator had falsified it, He would be the Prince of Lies by definition. In other words, these so-called Christians are worshipping a being with the traits they ascribe to Satan. It makes no sense, but this is what happens when people abandon reason.

R. Cage, Rochester, MI



I read the viewer complaints on the recent Dover ID program and last year's Privileged Planet special. The most interesting and obvious difference between these viewers complaints, is the vast majority of the proponents of macro-evolution, who claim that ID is not science, did not challenge or even cite examples of poor science in Privileged Planet, instead they criticized, mocked and demonized those who produced the film. However, I found the exact opposite from the supposedly "unscientific" ID proponents; many of which cited portions from the program that they claim to be false. Ironic?

Bill Sweeney, Willis, TX



Public comments on Judgment Day, Intelligently Designed (ID) are excellent, reflecting intelligent news consumers. Parts of Darwin's theory of evolution are supported by science. But, origin of the species is not explained whereas ID approach of data gathering and analysis using advanced biogenetics offers explanations based on modern technology. The required cells and biochemical interactions for life by accident is not probable.

Alan Klaus, Santa Fe, NM



I'm amazed by the arguments & claims by those who objected to the presentation regarding the I.D. trial. I found it fair, well documented and encouraging regarding the ability of TV to do sound investigative reporting. "Bias"? only in the sense that was biased toward truth and justice, exactly the way the courts should be. "Balance"? Decisions in any case tried on its merits are based on the imbalance of truth and validity between opposing sides. Remember the scales of justice? PBS portrayed that admirably and the fallout, while uncomfortable for some, should be taken as a learning experience for every American. Thank you PBS for continuing a long tradition of providing broad spectrum, high-quality information is tragically, so rare on American TV.

Seabury Lyon, Bethel, ME



I have been watching Nova since its inception and "Judgment Day" is one of the best programs ever. It was an absolute pleasure to see the facts portrayed honestly without the "even-handed" approach that the media often take to controversial topics wherein unfounded opinions are given equal weight to thoughtful fact-based understanding. My only quibble with your column is that you profess a "belief" in evolution. If you rationally accept a scientific theory based on an extensive body of evidence, that's not a belief, it's good judgment.

H. Huaman, Stamford, CT



Many letters in response to the Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial program claimed it was highly biased in favor of evolution theory and against "intelligent design." I would suggest that those expressing this opinion should read all of the trial documents and the entire Judge Jones ruling before shouting their un-informed opinions. I read all of the court transcripts on a daily basis during the trial, along with news items from the Dover area papers, and have analyzed Jones' findings in detail. The PBS presentation was a remarkably fair treatment of the trial and its findings, as well as the events in the Dover community. It is clear that those who criticize "Judgment Day" as highly biased against ID are motivated more by their religious beliefs than any objective and informed view of the facts of the issue. Wish as they may, the truth is that ID is neither good science nor good religion, and this has been clearly shown by the trial as well as the scientific and educational communities. Thank you PBS for pointing this out to a wider audience.

David Denning, Salt Spring


An Evolved Staff

Thank you for your presentation on this case. After seeing so many shows on the History and Discovery Channel which misleadingly presume Biblical stories as historical fact, it is refreshing to see that your channel is staffed by evolved people who present tenable fact based material. Three cheers for sanity!!!

Martina Hemming, Douglasville, GA



I read with great interest those letters for and against the broadcast and content of "Judgment Day." With respect to the authors who objected to the content in this broadcast, they failed to acknowledge, either because they did not hear, or chose to ignore the fact that 5 of the 8 expert witnesses for the defense opted not to testify. The viewing audience is left to wonder if, after plaintiffs presented their case-in-chief, whether these defense witnesses were in the courtroom or were provided daily transcripts of the case and, upon reflection upon plaintiffs' very strong case, these experts chose not to testify.

Also, there were many letters claiming extensive research by scientists or case law, yet few were named, nor any controlling case law cited. While I agree with Dr. Francis Collins' statement, in his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief — (I'm paraphrasing here) because you can not trap or measure God in a scientific instrument, that does not mean He does not exist. It is not enough to simply believe in Creation or Intelligent Design. In testing a scientific theory, one must use generally accepted principals and methods to accomplish such testing. But belief in God is done with Faith. Not Theory. Not because of some scientific test. All in all, this broadcast was among the very best NOVA has offered. I hope to see more examples of such excellent journalism.

Randall Cushman, Wells, ME



I was pleasantly surprised by the courage that PBS and Nova displayed in airing "Judgment Day." Those that accuse PBS and Nova as unfair and unbalanced have absolutely no basis upon which to make such a statement. I have read both the trial transcripts and judge's decision. The program presented an accurate portrayal of what happened in the trial. And that's what fair and balanced means in this context- that it was an accurate portrayal. It is neither Nova's fault nor their problem that the defendants' witnesses were of so poor quality for the defense that the sheer inanity of the 'Intelligent Design' movement was displayed for all to see. There is nothing in the program pertinent to the re-enactment of trial proceedings which is not verbatim from the trial transcript. Indeed, the completely lopsided quality of testimony which led to Judge Jones' scathing judgment was well presented. Kudos!

I find it sad that determining what is or is not Science was occurring in a legal setting. This is not the place for such a thing. We scientists have been a bit isolationist and could do a great deal more to educate the public on what Science is and why we do not include things such as 'Intelligent Design'. Indeed, we could do a great deal more to educate the public on why 'Intelligent Design' has none of the characteristics of anything scientific. Nova did a wonderful job on this.

The program did indeed give a fair hearing to both sides. Complaints to the contrary are simply whinings from those upset with the failings of ID being exposed for what they are — nothing more than hand-waving. The political agenda of the ID movement is quite clear. It is trying to use a back-door method to inject religious views into Science. To these people I say cease. It will never happen. They forget that early scientists were religious and it was they that realized that religious dogmatic 'explanations' for the natural world were insufficient to describe what they were observing. These people would have us go back hundreds of years once more. The vast majority of scientists such as myself, religious or not, will never stand for it. The Discovery Institute's public relations campaign can say otherwise, but I can tell you categorically that this isn't changing, nor will it ever change.

Science is not about being fair. The rules are stacked such that proposing something like ID requires that the burden of evidence be placed on the proponents. If ID can't stand up on its own under these circumstances, Science demands that it be rejected. We are not here to give our attention to every crack-pot idea that comes along. It is not up to us to show that ID is not Science, but ID to show that it is, and it has failed utterly.

"Judgment Day" was not a program about Evolution vs. ID, but about Religion vs. Science with attacking Evolution being simply a tactical move. Nova presented this battle in the public eye well, but what wasn't presented was the ubiquity of acceptance of Evolution in Biology (perhaps this was out of scope). I want to express my thanks for taking the plunge and presenting a truly fair and balanced view of what occurred in the Pennsylvania. To distill what occurred in six weeks of testimony down to a two-hour presentation must have been very difficult, but what an excellent outcome.

Randy L. Tyson, Calgary



I think the answer lies in the question: "Why do we insist upon teaching what we really do not know?" For example, there is no class or science or discipline that dares to posit what occurs after death. Why? Because no one knows! There are all kinds of theories and religious beliefs, but scientifically no one knows. So, in reference to death, we basically teach, "insert your faith here," and this is where science ends and faith begins. That would not only be an intelligent design, it would be an honest one.

Since we don't teach what happens at the end of life (because of our ignorance) why are we compelled to teach the creation of life? Since we really don't know (as in the case of death) why don't we admit this to our students? We still have not figured it out, so why teach it? It matters where science ends, we should reasonably allow room for faith based belief. Darwinism has not been proven, it is a scientific theory. Therefore it is a belief. Therefore it is based upon a belief that it is correct. And that is exactly what intelligent design believers are trying to communicate.

Call it hypothesis, theory, belief, or faith — it's all the same! It means there are no hard facts to support it. If religion can be banned because it has no hard facts to base its premises, they why can't Darwinism be held to the same standard? If you can't teach religious beliefs, beliefs in Darwinism should be equally forbidden.

Michael Mullen, Cincinnati, OH



How can PBS/NOVA or any other media outlet truly present unbiased content to a mostly biased audience (statistically about 85% Christian in the U.S., as recalled)? Born and raised to be Christian, myself, I am now a secular senior American who knows all too well how reluctant true believers are to embrace new concepts and ideas, not that evolution is still new . . . Education, personal observations and particular personal 'insights,' resultant of more than thirty years of learning and practicing secular mind power methods, suggests to me, now, we live in a scalar, spectral universe. And, there is a continuum of conflict and evolution in progress . . . As recalled, now, both the actual incident and the presentation, I thought the facts were accurately presented and the perspectives objective. But, then, what do I know? As a secular senior American I have only the consensus reality, nature and the U.S. Constitution to refer to for verifiable basis, legal direction and moral guidance.

Charles Shaver, Westfield, WI



The controversy over Evolution vs. Intelligent Design is a no-brainer. Science cannot explain things that are outside of our present 4-dimensional existence. But, that doesn't mean that science doesn't recognize that there may be as many as twelve dimensions out there, i.e; string theory, f-theory, m-theory . . . The bottom line is, there is more than one kind of reality. There is that which we can see and replicate; and that which operates in higher dimensions. We cannot prove or disprove higher dimensional realities using 4-dimensional tools. But, science has to use and acknowledge other realities in order to exist. It uses thought and consciousness to create a 4-dimensional discipline. But, thought and consciousness have no 4-dimensional reality. Intelligent Design created all possible realities. Evolution explores and develops them to into complete manifestation.

It may not be the providence of science to teach Intelligent Design. But, that doesn't mean that it is the stuff of religion. Religion is organized worship. Like it or not, we are other-dimensional spiritual beings. No idea should be so threatening that it is considered unconstitutional. Humans have a right to explore all "ideas" in all dimensions. That's called evolution. One day we may be "allowed" to realize that there's no Supreme Being — only all Consciousness, of which we are a part.

Los Angeles, CA



I was so thrilled to see your airing of "Intelligent Design." I am so thankful that our courts are protective of church vs. state. I believe in God AND I believe in Darwin. It scares me that these religious people can bend their data and try to trick us into changing our educational systems.

Barbara Austin, VT


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