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PBS Ombudsman

The Mailbag: In Rematch, NBR & Skousen 6, Critics & Ombud 0

Here's a quick, pre-holiday catch-up on the mail landing in the ombudsman's inbox recently.

Getting the most mail, and thereby earning the headline on this posting, was additional viewer reaction to an appearance earlier this month on the Nightly Business Report by financial analyst Mark Skousen. The first reaction to his appearance from viewers was that he had introduced an anti-Obama spin when making his case about what's wrong with the economy. But that assessment, in turn, provoked other viewers to say they disagree with the first chorus and that Skousen was merely telling it like it is.

The Nightly Business Report, by the way, is under new management. You can read about it in Current, the newspaper reporting on public media.

There was also some follow-up viewer reaction to last week's column about the Masterpiece Contemporary feature film, "Page Eight," and then a collection of letters spread across a couple of subjects, but all reflecting some of the anger and frustration that is felt by many people these days about how some issues are treated.

First, on NBR and Skousen

Regarding Mark Skousen's comments on the effect of the federal minimum wage on teenage unemployment: Those with experience in business understand that you will not pay exorbitant wages to an untrained individual with no track record on employment. A training wage would offer an opportunity to hire a young individual so they could earn a track record. By requiring a large minimum wage for unqualified trainees, companies will decide to either do without, or hire an older employee who at least knows they have to pull up their pants and report to work!Unfortunately, it appears that many who commented on this segment either don't live in the real world, or don't want to hear the truth.

Carter Wilson, Fairfield, CA

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I have been subscriber to some of Skousen's investment strategies and found the results to be above the market averages. I believe many of his statements regarding this last interview are definitely to be noticed for their accuracy.

Myles Peinemann, New Braunfels, TX

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Skousen's observations were a highlight to an otherwise routine review of recent market action. The type of insight he offered is of value to understanding the effects of government policy on the market and economy. I submit that more reporting of why, with documented substance to support opinions, will lead to a healthy, robust debate and better information for investors.

Whitehouse, OH

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I am quite surprised that many of the critics of Mr. Skousen don't realize that when a law is passed saying that business will do or not do something, that law is having an effect on business either for better or worse. The judgment about being better or worse is subjective, but the very fact that a law dictates something to business says that that law can be discussed either as a legal/political item or a business item as it is in fact both. It is very difficult to draw lines separating many items, for instance: tax payers and voters (don't voters pay taxes), or military personnel and citizens (aren't most military personnel also citizens—a few aren't).

Bob Albers, Mandeville, LA

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I think Skousen's comments were "right on." I think every person should try to make a business work. All these people do is criticize. The easiest thing to do is criticize! The government is supposed to boost business, not make it so difficult. The least little comment against Obama is blasted by left-wing media.

K. Scherbarth, PC Beach, FL

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Investors and businesspeople would be making a major error if they believed central-government economic and social policies could be treated as irrelevant to their economic lives. To say, "Sometimes [investment] strategy is influenced by politics" is to say something like, sometimes the time of day affects temperature (it doesn't always, but usually does).

As you hinted, Bush started many of the most recent revolutionary financial policies and Obama has merely followed Bush's lead. Therefore it is not a question of Republican versus Democrat but of citizen versus the state. Central economic policies do affect the financial well-being of individuals and businesses, so I think it is very reasonable to talk about them in the context of business and investing.

Friendship, MD

Not Afraid of 'Page Eight'

I saw the program [Page Eight] and was grabbed by the idea of how governments lie and how little we know about what lies behind actions of any government. I'm Jewish and was not immediately (or later) annoyed that a story about governments, true, false, or a bit of both would make good drama. I hope that PBS will NOT shirk from showing good stories, imagined or real, regardless of who is shown in a favorable light. I did think the ending was weak after the build-up we watched, I expected something more.

Tillie Krieger, Eugene, OR

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I am a station programmer who has been asked about airing "Page Eight." In addition to steering folks to your column, I've added the following considerations: The piece that I think is missing from the letters cited in the Ombudsman's column is that fictional dramas have been demonizing one or another foreign power for many years. The terrifically popular "24" treated Arabs as one dimensional villains, and the BBC has had its share of Arab villains too. Much more widespread (and making a comeback), Russian nationals have been the target of remarkably vicious portrayals in both US and British productions for decades. That the Israeli Defense Forces, the CIA and British intelligence were depicted as brutal and/or inept is not such new territory for many dramas of the last 10 years or so. The dialogue reminds me of the controversy swirling around "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "The Da Vinci Code" that alienated many Christians and Catholics. My feeling is that fiction be acknowledged for what it is…a flight of fancy on the part of the author and we be thankful that there are still organizations (the BBC in this case) willing to produce exceptionally high quality fiction for television.

Colin Powers, Mountain Lake PBS, Plattsburgh, NY

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My wife and I were very impressed with "Page Eight." We loved it and I said to her "we better write and praise it because I bet some people won't like it." I am sorry that I waited until I received the Ombudsman's report to write our STRONG APPROVAL for this Masterpiece Theatre. Thank you for making us think and considering us adults.

Bruce Hann, Denver, CO

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I don't usually write in like this but the bias in this program was quite unfair. By giving a false understanding to the viewer of what might happen, it undermines the integrity of the Masterpiece name, BBC and PBS. It's hatred of Jews wrapped in nice British accents. The harmful falsehoods may be given credence by PBS viewers because it is presented on PBS. This should be a concern not just for those who care about the liberal, democratic, egalitarian, law-abiding, tolerant, rule of law based, state of Israel. This should be a concern for those who care about truth, integrity, decency and the value of the brand PBS.

Woodbridge, CT

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Wow! It must be great to have your job!! Every few weeks you can pretend to be an "ombudsman" while spewing your irrational illogical liberal garbage!! The most recent example is your extolling the "Page Eight" program as is part of what is called "Masterpiece Contemporary"!! You had high praise for it even though you included numerous emails against it and ONLY ONE for it!! WHERE IS YOUR OMBUDSMAN OBJECTIVITY??!!

Ed Kertz, Ballwin, MO

Is PBS Taking on the Challenges?

PBS seems to be falling behind in taking on the Congressional excesses that are now so obviously threatening our democratic form of gov't. Both CBS (60 Min) and CNN are now taking on Grover Norquist, insider trading, and special interest lobbying. I hope you're not being cowed by a threat of losing federal funding.

Len Sullivan, Chevy Chase, MD

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Thanks for the upcoming American Masters' program celebrating the life of that pedophile Woody Allen. Perhaps you should have a show on Jerry Sandusky, the football coach/molester? PBS used to be an uplifting experience. Thanks for helping to end that.

D. Gallardo, San Francisco, CA

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I'm concerned about the move of PBS streaming videos to YouTube because of the ads/suggested videos that appear next to the PBS content. While watching Washington Week online Saturday (11/19), linked from the PBS website, I was inundated with YouTube suggestions to watch "The Truth about Scientology." It was a Paid-Ad from the Church of Scientology; NOT a group that PBS programing should be seen as supporting or endorsing.

Steve Bloomfield, Cleveland, OH

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I think it is inappropriate that the PBS News Hour has on "experts" from an extreme right-wing organization like the Manhattan Institute —supported by millions of dollars from the Koch Brothers — without properly identifying them as such— especially since the Koch Brothers are leading donors to PBS!

James Adcock, Bellevue, WA

(Ombudsman's note: The Koch Brothers are not financial contributors to the PBS NewsHour or other public affairs programs such as Washington Week, Frontline and Need to Know. David Koch is a supporter of the science series, NOVA, at WGBH in Boston.)

Watch Fri., Nov. 18, 2011 on PBS. See more from NEED TO KNOW.

PBS no longer represents the public. We will no longer support PBS (financially or otherwise). In the most recent episode of Need to Know (segment on the military budget), you presented the American [Enterprise] Institute as an arbiter of fact. Yet, they are a biased and partisan think tank-this is demonstrable fact & we are certain is no secret to your producers.

Additionally, PBS is growing increasingly afraid of its own shadow in our ever-partisan political climate. Falling into the pit of presenting what, on the surface, appears to be two sides of an issue is simply a venue for partisan 'hacks' to present biased information and not factual evidence. At what point do you cease to be representatives of the people —becoming tools for the state and corporate donors? The question is rhetorical because we both know-we all know-that that line is being crossed. Even within PBS, employees feel this way. Can we all be wrong? You certainly are. Continue to ask the 1 percent for donations—the 99 percent are broke.

Carmel Valley, CA

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I'm writing in response to a program which aired 11/19/11 at 1:30am. I do not recall the name [Need to Know] but, it was two discussions on the defense budget. I do not watch PBS as much as I would like but I have always revered and respected the integrity of your journalism. It is for this reason that the following occurrences have left me feeling well…kind of sad as if, a loss has occurred.

In the first portion of the program an honest discussion appeared to be under way when a graph appeared to depict some measure of military spending. The source of the data was the Heritage Foundation. It seemed an odd provider for PBS. The second portion involved a discussion centered on the same subject with Ray Suarez and a "fellow," I believe, from the American Enterprise Institute. As a conservative organization composed of so many persons who've espoused often, harsh and unrealistic positions, politically combative and partisan in nature, it seemed a strange ingredient for an honest, informative discussion.

Now, I can't say, with certainty, what stance AEI has on any one position w/o some research but I know they are less reputable and unnecessarily partisan than many legitimate resources available to PBS. The Heritage Foundation would be laughable if they weren't so hard at work concocting misinformation …This is not a secret, the evidence is readily available. So, I'm left to wonder, "What the hell, PBS"? Is this the ultimate virtual reality in which I am made to believe the last bastion of insightful, uncorrupted journalistic integrity has become a platform for today's right-wing extremist lunacy? I really am stunned! Are you being bought out as a stopgap until they abolish you all together, congressionally? PBS, where have you gone?

Danny Smith, Tallahassee, FL

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(Ombudsman's Note: With respect to the two letters above, I thought Need to Know did a good job on this segment. Aside from a Heritage Foundation graphic there was one from the Center for Defense Information, an organization that brings a critical eye to Pentagon spending. And, the first round-table segment of this program contained considerable questioning of the Defense Department's undertakings while the AEI representative presented the opposing view in straight-forward terms.)

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