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PBS Ombudsman

'This Show Needs To Be Aired Again and Again Until . . .'

This is just a brief posting to reinforce a couple of points I've made many times in this space over the years. One is that viewers tend to write to an ombudsman to complain rather than to praise. Another has been to offer my own frequent assessment that the long-running PBS investigative series Frontline, produced at WGBH in Boston, is, along with CBS TV's venerable "60 Minutes," about the best public affairs program anywhere on television. They don't always hit a home run, of course, but who does?

So Frontline, in my view, is a national treasure, especially at a time when straightforward, authoritative investigative reporting on controversial subjects of great importance is all but disappearing from broadcast television available to a wide audience.

I have written about Frontline programs many times, often critically about one aspect or another, sometimes on my own and often echoing the observations of viewers who write to me. But those criticisms, which are sometimes acknowledged and sometimes challenged by Frontline producers, are almost always in context of what I consider to be serious efforts to get at an important issue. So it is natural in a series that tackles the big questions that there be occasional criticism and controversy.

Last night, Jan. 22, Frontline aired "The Untouchables," an examination of the aftermath of the calamitous 2008 financial meltdown and specifically, as the program explains, why not one Wall Street executive has faced criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice for "fraud tied to the sale of bad mortgages. Through interviews with prosecutors, government officials and industry whistleblowers, the film raises new questions over whether senior bankers either ignored or contributed to fraud while inflating the bubble through the purchase and securitization of shoddy loans."

It is worth an hour of your time.

My guess is that viewers appreciated this program because nobody wrote to me to complain, while the Frontline website is loaded with viewers expressing their support for the reporting.

I did, however, get one letter from a viewer in Ohio, Keith Weborg, which I thought contained a good idea and gave me the idea to post something about the program. Here's his letter:

"Dear PBS, I was much impressed by your Frontline concerning the 'Untouchables' of Wall Street. This show needs to be aired again and again until some of these thieves go to jail. Please air it at various hours so that the working class of America gets to see it. Slip it in right after the news or preempt the news with the show, that would yank some chains. May I suggest that you use it as a fund raiser like Link and FSTV do. You could offer a DVD of the show for a donation of say $50. After each airing, you might ask for further donations and if you hit a certain goal, say $5,000, the show will be aired for another week."

I'm not endorsing promotion techniques or preempting the judgment of the Justice Department, which gets plenty of airtime on the program to lay out its reasoning. But it seems to me that this is the kind of program — and some others like it — that does deserve to be seen more widely.

I was also surprised that it got rather little attention among reviewers. Here's one from Toronto's Globe and Mail that doesn't pull any punches.

UPDATE: Soon after my column was posted, this strongly-worded review supporting the Frontline disclosures appeared on the Salon website.

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