By Michael Getler
July 9, 2009
I'm sure a lot of people liked the annual Capitol Fourth concert broadcast by PBS on July 4th from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. But you can't tell that from this week's Ombudsman's Mailbag. Viewers who wrote to me gave it an overwhelming thumbs down. There was also lots more mail about the earlier decision by the PBS Board regarding religious programming. This has been the subject of two recent ombudsman offerings, one a column on June 23 and then a follow-up mailbag July 1. I thought PBS had reached a decent compromise but it's the kind of decision that is going to make some people unhappy either way. In contrast to a lot of previous mail criticizing PBS for its decision to ban new sectarian programming, this week's mail was heavily from viewers who feel PBS did not go far enough in banning all sectarian programming — which means programs that actually advocate a particular religion or religious point of view — and should not allow those stations grandfathered by the Board decision to keep doing what they're doing. We actually got a lot more mail on this than the sample posted below, some of it driven by a Web site. But the thoughts are all there.
The letters follow — first the Capitol Fourth and then the Board.
Disappointing . . . and Dumbed Down, Too
This year's Capitol Fourth was disappointing. Too much trivial Pop — Barry Manilow and the Muppets. No presentation of the colors, no chairman of the Joint Chiefs, no Congressional presence, and not much patriotic music until the very end with the Army Herald Trumpets and Fife and Drum Corps. Generally dumbed down.
Adam Clymer, Washington, DC
I always watch "A Capitol Fourth" concert, but may not do so in the future. The concert should be patriotic, remembering the significant events in our history and the actions of our predecessors that have led to and keep our freedom. Aretha Franklin butchered the National Anthem and sung for her own grandiose rather than to celebrate our freedom. What part of patriotic is her song "Respect?" Similarly, I love Frankie Valli, but there was nothing patriotic to make my heart swell with pride about my country.
Do you remember the phrase, "When uncommon valor was a common virtue?" Where the phrase "Devil Dogs" came from? "Give me liberty or give me death?" Please, you receive our tax dollars, you can surely give us more than the Muppets! The only good part of this concert was the bands and the fireworks at the end which were cut off. Please, go back and look at history and find those events that reflect patriotism and freedom.
I was disappointed, if not outraged, that your Capitol Fourth program contained so little patriotic content and no mention or recognition at all of our military.
Chris B., Russiaville, IN
I just watched your Capitol Fourth show and was very disappointed. It is a sad state that you allow a bimbo to butcher the Star Spangle Banner, and run commercials for puppets and Broadway shows. You let the performers' egos become more important than the anniversary of the nation. You could have found military personnel as good or better than the so-called stars that you had performing. Please let the celebration of our nation's independence be about the people that died making it happen and the men and women currently serving that are still making it happen instead of the commercialization of entertainers.
Steven Schmits, Goshen, OH
I'm having trouble believing that public television tanked the wonderful Boston Pops 4th of July programs for the meaningless "Capitol 4th of July" program. Such a disappointment. Lousy 4th of July. Aretha Franklin has lost her voice. Barry Manilow and the Jersey Boys had absolutely nothing to do with the 4th. Have you all caved too???
Your 4th of July special was not only very disappointing, but was an insult to all of those, including myself, who have served as well as lost their lives, for this great country — including YOU. You & your cronies are ruining our land. The programming at PBS has gotten further and further to the left. Because of that I will never support PBS in anyway.
Forrest Becht, Baton Rouge, LA
The word that comes to mind is insipid. That was one of the worst 4th of July shows that I have ever seen. Did you see the ones from New York and Boston? Now those were celebrations. Also why weren't our troops honored? Way too much Sesame Street. I was saddened at the butchering of our National Anthem. All on all a real dud.
Elyse McLearen, Fairfax, VA
How dare you allow your Capitol Fourth MC to compare the Audacity of Hope to the [Declaration of Independence]. This liberal slant defies integrity. To top that, you allowed BO to speak when Republican Presidents were never given that spot. Equal time should be given to the ranking Republican if you are to be so radically political.
Wonderful program this 4th of July, as always. Mitch Miller is 98 years old. Why not dedicate part of next year's program to Mitch Miller and his "sing-a-long" music. Leslie Uggams is still alive also, I think. Set up a "follow the bouncing ball for the words." Lord knows this county could use a little harmony! I only hope Mitch Miller might yet still be alive, if you would chose to honor his fine sing a long songs.
W Jerry Streeter, Edina, MN
Stand Up for Church/State Separation
As a publicly-funded organization, PBS is right to enforce its own regulations requiring that programming be non-sectarian. Without this regulation, it would be unconstitutional for PBS to receive public funding, and so it would likely be unable to exist. It is disappointing to me, however, that PBS has allowed some of its member stations to violate this rule. It is clear that PBS is afraid of the implications of standing up for the separation of church and state, yet bravery in defense of the Constitution is exactly what our country needs.
Karl Voelker, River Falls, WI
I understand that it might be painful to enforce the rule against sectarian content against the few stations now carrying it, but doing so will be best for the network and the PBS brand in the long run. Allowing an exception will dilute the brand. I urge you to get rid of these grandfathered programs at your next opportunity.
Jeff Haley, Mercer Island, WA
I am writing to express my dismay that religious programming can be broadcast on PBS. Religion has no place in anything that is publicly funded.
William Adams, Superior, CO
I have always enjoyed PBS programs and am pleased overall with your decision to ban new religious programming. I only wish you would have taken the complete step and phased out the existing ones as well. The churches that back these programs are well-heeled enough to bear the costs of having their services broadcast elsewhere. Those who are interested will certainly find them.
I have appreciated the programs you have offered, such as The Mormons, which provide an historical and educational view of religious life and perspectives. I am glad that you plan on continuing religious programming of this type. This is a move in the right direction. Sectarian shows should not be broadcast on PBS.
M. Jones, Wilmington, DE
While I am happy to hear that PBS has banned further religious programming, I do not think they made the right decision in allowing existing religious programming to continue. Religious programming of any kind should never be shown on a publicly-funded television station because such a showing will be considered an endorsement by many viewers and is in violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. I love PBS and am sorry that they did not have the guts to go all the way and do the right thing just to please a few religious people who run the PBS affiliates and want to spread more of their religious poison on the taxpayers' dime. If these folks want to air religious programming, let them use their church funds to get their own stations. That is why they ask for money from their "flock," isn't it?
Julie Martin, Buckeye, AZ