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PBS Ombudsman

The Mailbag

This was one of those weeks where I, too, felt like that airline cabin attendant who grabbed a beer and hit the escape chute. Actually, there wasn't much going on. What follows is a brief mailbag before I set out on a too-brief vacation.

Most of the e-mails are about one or another segment of the PBS NewsHour, which is about the only game in town during August. But the first batch of letters, and the real reason I wanted to grab a beer and hit the chute, is, once again, about The McLaughlin Group, that weekly scream-fest "talk" show that is aired by some 315 PBS member stations but is not produced by PBS, nor does PBS have anything to do with its content. And so PBS, of course, takes no responsibility for this obviously popular but raucous opinion program, even though most of the people who watch it on their local PBS station seem to think it is a PBS program, and who can blame them.

I have written about this program many times in my columns over the past four years, having received probably thousands of e-mails from viewers about it. Most of them are critical. I've argued, to no avail so far, that PBS and its member stations ought to figure out some way to flag programs on the screen that are not part of the national PBS programming. Programs such as the NewsHour, Frontline, NOVA and Antiques Roadshow, for example, are part of the national programming service and carry the small PBS logo at the bottom of the screen. Just the absence of that little PBS logo doesn't seem to do it.

I write about The Group at times, anyway, because even though PBS washes its hands of this program, so many people think it is has the PBS seal of approval that I feel an obligation in many cases to respond to the issue people are writing-in about, and also to explain, again, PBS's alleged non-role and that all of these member stations are independent and can broadcast whatever they choose.

I say "alleged" non-role because the program reaches all these stations through a long-standing satellite distribution agreement with the Chicago PBS-member station, WTTW. That's how it gets to those 315 or so other PBS member stations (out of close to 360 total) that use it.

The McLaughlin Group has been on the air for more than 25 years. It is produced by McLaughlin's own production company, Oliver Productions, currently at the Gannett/CBS-affiliate in Washington, D.C., WUSA-TV, and at WCBS-TV in New York. This switch to CBS came after many years associated with NBC affiliates in Washington and New York.

So, getting back to the guy with the beer going down the chute, for PBS viewers and readers of this column who have a beef, or compliment, about The McLaughlin Group and/or about its "connection" to PBS, I would suggest you write to 1) your local station manager, 2) WTTW in Chicago at ask@wttw.com, 3) The McLaughlin Group at comments@mclaughlin.com or Allison Butler, managing producer, at abutler@mclaughlin.com or 4) the PBS Audience Services department at audienceservices@pbs.org.

Here are the letters.

Bye, Bye!

Re The McLaughlin Group: I know that PBS does not produce it, but I have watched this program over 10 years and it grows more acerbic and tumultuous every year. Tonight [Aug. 6], I stopped viewing mid-way through because the 'debate' had become, perverse, unbalanced, and somewhat ridiculous. I believe PBS should re-consider showing this program up through the fall election, & make that decision in the best interests of informed viewers. Tonight our consensus-seeking president was labeled an ideologue by a vocal majority of panelists — that's the ridiculous part — while Crowley and Pat spouted spiels of foundationless propaganda like they had suddenly become right wing nut jobs. In chimed the big time investors to protect the interests of big business and Wall Street while the country is reeling its way into a double dip recession because of — you guessed it — big business & Wall Street.

Bruce Russell Sr., Missoula, MT

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RE: The McLaughlin Group: I don't mind hard hitting questions and discussions of political shows but this entire show and panel are all from the same side (hard core right wingers) AND racists. Is this what my tax dollars and donation dollars are going towards? Cut them loose and let them go on Fox or CNN. You should be ashamed for letting this show go out on PBS.

Los Angeles, CA

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I turned off the McLaughlin Group last night in disgust. I used to watch to hear the conservative side because being more of a liberal, I want to hear both sides. I find Monica Crowley a most unfortunate choice for her side. She is poorly educated on the issues and eager to use slanted phrases rather than factual reporting. Eleanor Clift should be given a Purple Heart.

Virginia Mason, Laguna Beach, CA

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Are you saying that PBS in general has no responsibility for KQED's feeds even though it comes to any home in the Bay area under the PBS aegis? That the McLaughlin Group is not KQED's "fault," just their programming department's choice, and we should all just ignore it's right-wing slant. We are inundated with fundraising campaigns every six weeks with the claim that KQED and PBS are not beholden to sponsors. We are to take on good faith that our local affiliate, and by extension corporate PBS, haven't been bought and sold by their corporate givers.

While I like John McLaughlin as a TV personality, he is atrocious as a moderator. He lets Monica Crowley's arch-conservative tirades go on at length. Yet when Eleanor Clift tries to make a point, he shouts over her repeatedly, barely allowing her to make point. I guess this is because she is an older female. Finally, they have allowed on a real progressive, Bill Press. Go Bill, you kick Pat B's conservative ass.

Tim Ryan, San Jose, CA

Seeing 'Red' and Medved

Whenever I see Nihad Awad of CAIR [Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations] appear on TV, as took place August 10 on the PBS NewsHour, I see red! Please! Mr. Awad is a senior supporter of Hamas, according to a veteran special agent with the FBI. He has publicly praised Hamas. Known by law enforcement as "Jihad" Awad, he has turned down congressional invitations to answer questions under oath. CAIR's rap sheet is long and growing. The media ought not give CAIR and Awad a public platform!!

Colorado Springs, CO

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Since when is a radio talk show host (Michael Medved) a newsmaker worthy of time [Aug. 10] on the PBS Newshour?

Dave Sutton, Pleasant Hill, CA

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I saw the session regarding the mosque near ground zero, and was appalled beyond belief, both at the content and at the difficulty of trying to find a feedback mechanism. You are what was found. Michael Medved is nothing except a racist and an advocate for bigotry and racism. I was truly appalled. There are some persons to whom one simply does not give voice, and he should be one them. Yes he has a total right of free speech, but you don't have to be the vehicle. I am stunned by the resistance to a mosque near ground zero that advocates for forgiveness and understanding. We should all suspend the Constitution within in X blocks of ground zero. And why would that be? I was not aware that there are "Constitution Suspended Zones" within the U.S. Medved was a lousy movie critic and he is a worse social pundit. Send him packing.

Iver Johnson, McHenry, IL

(Ombudsman's Note: No response from the NewsHour on these criticisms but I will rise to its defense. At issue was the heated debate over whether to build an Islamic community center and mosque near (two blocks away) the former World Trade Center, site of the 9/11 attacks in New York. I thought this was actually quite an informative, and civil, discussion conducted by correspondent Jeffrey Brown with four guests, including two who lost relatives in the attack as well as Awad and Medved. As a viewer, it seemed helpful to me and it was clear where each guest was coming from. This is the kind of segment where one or another guest is certain to meet with the disapproval of some viewers. You can watch the video or read the transcript here.)

A Valuable Interview

Re: NewsHour Cyber Interview [Aug. 11]: Kudos to the Correspondent [Spencer Michels] who interviewed Gen. [Michael] Hayden [former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency]. Very insightful questioning, bringing questions that would delve deep into what our global view of cyber vulnerability is by his reckoning, and drawing out the questions in such a way as to have high value and understanding relayed to your audience.

E.R. Chavez, Colorado Springs, CO

(Ombudsman's Note: I will second the notion that this was an extremely informative, fast-moving interview on a tough, complicated and important subject. Michels' questions were short and to the point, and Gen. Hayden was very helpful in explaining the challenges surrounding this issue. See the video here.)

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The report of joblessness on the PBS NewsHour tonight [Aug. 6] was very disturbing. However, equally disturbing was PBS' failure to comment on lack of gov't support of job creation. As a reader of the Wall Street Journal I am biased; however, I feel it would be appropriate for PBS to investigate what might be done to support job creation by US industry (large and small) and why this is not happening.

David Jahsman, Sedona, AZ

About that Global Warming 'Hoax'

The NewsHour has done it again tonight, 8/9/10! They acted as a shill for the global warming hoax and campaigned for the ill-advised "energy bill." Everything about the "news item" had the theme of promoting the global warming hoax. There was NO sense of balance!! Even the 2 guests were pro global warming hoax and the energy bill!! I thought this was supposed to be a "NEWS"HOUR!! When a non-politically correct analysis is made of global warming, it is found that the warming is NOT caused by an increase in CO2! Historically, CO2 has increased an average of 800 YEARS AFTER a temperature increase! This shows that temperature increase CAUSES CO2 increase rather than the opposite politically correct position. More recent facts show that CO2 increase does NOT cause temperature increase! Look at the temperature change from 1940 to 1980. A "coming ice age" was the crisis du jour! This was during the time of the greatest increase in man-made CO2 increase! Also, the temperatures have been dropping since 1998 while the CO2 emissions have increased! . . . The News(?)hour continually IGNORE these SCIENTIFIC FACTS and push there global warming hoax!!

Ed Kertz, Ballwin, MO

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I must be a masochist. I keep telling myself not to endure further pain by watching Need To Know, but I keep picking the scab. I quickly glanced at the [July 30] segment and ran into their article entitled Wikileaksgate. It was horrible. To compare how NTK reviewed this important news item with what Moyers would have done is disheartening. Only one guest is interviewed and his opinion was clearly pro-Pentagon. Many people throughout the world are very glad there's a Wikileaks, but NTK seems to want to sweep that under the carpet. If NTK had interviewed someone from the other perspective, at least we would have the semblance of intelligent, investigative journalism.

E. Rivers, Portland, ME

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Are you going to report the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement union's vote of no confidence for the agency's leadership? I saw no mention of this on the NewsHour. Did I miss something? Is this not significant? The vote was 250-0.

Greenville, SC

(Ombudsman's Note: As far as I can tell, the answer is "no." The story did not make the cut as far as major headlines of the day and there was no discussion of immigration on the Aug. 10 program where that news item would have fit in. Here's a Washington Times story.)

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