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Monday, December 29, 2014
PBS Ombudsman

The Mailbag: New Takes on Old Business

As often happens, viewer comments on programs—and on the comments of other viewers—continue well after the program has been the subject of an ombudsman column or mailbag. Posted below is a sampling of new letters about several earlier offerings and issues ranging from the medical advice dispensed on Curious George to controversy about broadcasts on Catholicism and another on detention of illegal immigrants, and still more observations about the various promotional and sponsorship segments on PBS. I've included links to all the earlier columns.


Still Curious About George

After noting Dr. Bartecchi's comments on the "Curious George" episode, I watched the piece myself. I detect no particular emphasis on the words "seem to," nor would I interpret the live-action part as in any way ironic even from the adult viewpoint.

As a developmental psychologist, I saw a number of concerns about how preschoolers would interpret this material, particularly as they develop their understanding of reasons for people's actions. Parts of the cartoon episode turn on the issue of false beliefs (for example, George's belief that a man can have kittens), and this is amusing to older pre-schoolers, who are beginning to master "theory of mind" and to understand that actions may stem from misunderstandings or incorrect information. The false belief issue is also at work in a way engaging to preschoolers when the "scientists" assume that the man has answered the phone rather than the monkey.

However, young children do not assume that beliefs are false, or question the knowledge of a speaker, unless they themselves are aware of correct information or have evidence of a person's unreliability. There is thus no way a preschool child could know that many naturopathic techniques are ineffective, or that uncertainty is signaled by the term "seem to."

Including the naturopathic material was incongruent with the stated purposes of this program. It's not helpful to argue that the segment was intended to show what "some people" like or do; "some people" also believe that the world is flat and /or that aliens abduct human beings, but I trust that PBS will not include those ideas in educational programming.

Jean Merser, Moorestown, NJ

~ ~ ~

Dr. B's objections are absolutely solid. This installment of "Curious George" was propaganda for "alternative medicine" and should never have been made. Next time, be sure to get legitimate and accurate scientific medical expertise on your side.

Timothy Gorski, Arlington, TX

~ ~ ~

If one is curious, then including Naturopaths is logical, since so many people are actually helped by them. Mr. Carey is expressing his own opinions, which may also be subject to fact checking.

Honokaa, HI


On Other Programs


I—a liberal Democrat—sympathize deeply with the letter writers on the Hinojosa piece (Lost in Detention) on Frontline. But I would say that the PBS bias runs much deeper than this. Why hasn't there been a Frontline on the impact of mass immigration, on American workers, the schools and the environmental impact?

The Pew Research Center projects the population will rise 40 percent, to 438 million, by 2050. How are we going to reduce greenhouse emissions 80 percent, as per expert recommendations and the defunct Waxman-Markey bill, with that kind of growth? What about water, which is already a major problem with 310 million Americans? Traffic? Quality of life? It's all going to get much worse.

Why did Frontline let a reporter with a major bias handle this documentary? I should add that if anyone in US custody is being mistreated, that's wrong, and very worthy of journalistic inquiry. But in my opinion, anyone who is here illegally, and caught, should be deported.

David Holzman, Lexington, MA

~ ~ ~

Simply asking you to convey my deepest gratitude to the team that put together Lost in Detention. I have lived and worked on the Texas/Mexico border for 22 years and can testify to the quality of that program. America can do so much better than tearing apart families in the name of "enforcing the law."

Michael Seifert, Brownsville, TX

~ ~ ~

I am very pleased that PBS has the courage to air "Catholicism." Christianity has impacted the world as much, or more, than any other religion and continues to impact the lives of millions. It is important to understand this worldview, just as it is important to understand Islam, Buddhism, and other influential worldviews. Speaking of Buddhism, I enjoyed the somewhat-recent program "Life of the Buddha." Surely if that program can be aired on PBS, "Catholicism" should be too.

Lori Coe, Fountain Valley, CA

~ ~ ~

I generally appreciate your news coverage and program selections, but you airing of the series "Catholicism" is repugnant. The impression to me is that you are endorsing ancient mythologies that have little credibility to many people and allowing self-serving, self-righteous representatives of the established church to pontificate on their enlightenment.

Robert Bultman, Rome, GA

~ ~ ~

Re: 'The Man Behind the Mosque'; I haven't seen the show. However, the authors of the three critical e-mails posted could only be more blatantly prejudiced if they'd started their emails with "I HATE MUSLIMS!" Pam Geller? Oh my god. I gather there really isn't any controversy over this being directed at PBS, other than by the usual nut-jobs.

Hugh Caley, Albany, CA


On Program Interruptus

I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of other viewers about the gaudy, bubbly advertisement for a PBS arts program erupting onto the screen during the showing of "Inspector Lewis" on Masterpiece/Mystery. Sadly, I had just about seen my way to once again contributing to WGBH (that's the Boston PBS station) after boycotting it for a couple of years over their removal of WGBH classical radio from Boston to Lowell, MA. The result of that move was the loss of the signal in most of Rhode Island for all the classical music WGBH had played on 89.7. Those who run WGBH must learn that if they want listeners/viewers to continue contributing money to the station, then they had better listen to us.

David Critchett, W. Warwick, RI

~ ~ ~

Re: Promotional popups during programs. KQED tells me it's not their fault. Masterpiece said thanks for the comment. PBS tells me, "We are working to make them smaller, less frequent and less disruptive, and appreciate your thoughts on the matter." I would hope that they are not used during any program, using any size. The one that got to me was in the middle of Mystery last week. Will they be in the next Met broadcast? I still love PBS.

Jim Berner, Santa Rosa, CA


And More on Chevron

RE: Chevron commercial on PBS, I just wanted to add one more voice of complaint regarding the ad saying Chevron's PROFITS went into bringing energy to the world. Plenty of people have already explained why this is not true. I guess it is possible this statement is misunderstood but that doesn't make it any better. I hope you are informing Chevron about the negative feedback being sent to PBS. It makes no sense for them to run a commercial that makes viewers despise the company instead of appreciating their support of PBS.

Stuart Foltz, Champaign, IL

~ ~ ~

This ad is also run on for-profit stations. Chevron is not telling the truth. They give the impression, they "pumped $21 billion dollars into local economies" in America. The truth would be they may have pumped $21 billion dollars in to the global economy and not into the American economy. Chevron, makes most of its profit draining the pockets of Americans, while cutting thousands of jobs from its American workforce and out sourcing American jobs to countries with lower wages. I think PBS should pull the ad until they can do a true fact check. Or PBS should state that the facts in this ad cannot be independently verified by PBS each and every time the ad is run.

Clayton, CA


…And the NewsHour

A suggestion: I think it would be very helpful to viewers if the News Hour would include periodic "fact checks" of the candidates' statements on an important issue. We get bombarded with diverse views and ads that are clearly bent on persuading rather than informing. But, for the average citizen, it's difficult to parse what is accurate and what is not, especially in an election year.

Robert Scobie, Hanover, NH

~ ~ ~

I'm curious why you didn't ask The NewsHour to explain their editorial judgment. I think it is fair to offer some transparency on the thinking process and it would have given some substance to your opinion.

Do they have standards that need to be reached in order for a protest to be considered for coverage? Were there other stories that were more news worthy? Do they in retrospect feel it was a mistake? Are there concerns that just covering something will be interpreted as supporting it?

I was struck by the two week absence of coverage on the Wall Street protest. I was also curious about the issue of perception. When covering a protest, some will see this as supporting it. How does this play in news decisions about coverage and presentation? In other words, what's the best way to cover a protest without generating the misperception that the news is taking sides?

S.K., Brooklyn, NY



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