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PBS Ombudsman

The Mailbag: A Lot More on Downton; a Little More on Moyers

As has happened before, when something we think of as sort of contemporary — a gay kiss, a loved one lost to a fatal car accident, a rape — unfolds amid the gentility of Downton Abbey, some viewers object. I write about it and then some object more, sometimes to the program and sometimes to my take. So here, with no further comment, is a collection of additional mail from viewers in response to the continuing saga of privileged and not-so-privileged British life in the early 20th century.

Toward the bottom are a couple of additional letters about the ombudsman's column posted on Jan. 9 about a Moyers & Company program about politics in North Carolina.

Love Downton, Hate Violence

First, thank you so much for the beautiful series!!! We have looked forward to it every Sunday. My family was, however, really disappointed in the choice to include sexual violence in Downton Abbey last night. We have LOVED having one show each week to escape the brutality of network TV shows, and real life for that matter. It's not that much of an exaggeration to say that Downton has been a little TV oasis, and weekly escape from a super stressful job and a coarse culture. We were so disturbed by the choice to show brutal sexual victimization. What value does it add? We are not watching to be educated about the realistic history of feudal England. We have been drawn to the high moral standards of many characters, the gentility of ages past, and a beautiful, romantic, Jane Austin-esque storyline where there are happy endings and no salacious brutality. Everyday news gives us QUITE enough of brutal reality. My husband, who watches almost NO TV besides Downton, said this morning that he likely won't watch any longer. Anna was one of his favorites . . . altruistic, strong, feminine, honorable, young-girlish . . . It really disturbed his peace to see that. It was still bugging him this morning. I just wanted to give feedback from a loyal, all 4 seasons, family of fans. We love the escape, and the uplifting of civility and humanity. Please leave the salacious brutality for the rest of rotting network TV.

[second message]

After reading the ombudsman response to the negative feedback on Anna's rape on Downton, I have to say, he just doesn't get it . . . That's not what we watch the show for!! Read the comments . . . We look forward to being UPLIFTED by Downton. We don't care about harsh realities, we want the peace of being uplifted by the storyline. Don't give us more brutal reality, PLEASE! We are trying to raise a generation who almost never get to see gentility, civility, honor, respectfulness, modesty, etc. etc. We need it from somewhere!! That's how you got your global audience! Please hear us!

Lauren and Pete Arendt, Columbus, OH

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I watch PBS because all the other stations are so full of violence and I can count on Quality showing on PBS. NOT anymore, the rape scene Sunday night changed the quality program to TRASHY program. Everyone I have talked to has agreed, Sunday violent show has brought DA down to just JUNK. Did you receive any letters applauding this violence?

Sylvia Nagy, St James City, FL

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I cannot believe that PBS would allow such foul material on Downton Abbey. Any high regards for PBS just got absolutely marred. In a society full of explicitly, the values supposedly upheld by PBS stand out all the more. Mr. Fellowes has overplayed his hand. Our world is full of enough evils. People do not wish to get emotionally stuck in the perils of television characters. Allowing such material on your programming is wretched. I dare not ask what inspires your dark writing Mr. Fellowes . . . I want to spew you out like poison. PBS . . . I don't think viewers need to be "educated, informed, or inspired" on such topics as rape. Perhaps your ratings and donations will speak for themselves from here on out. What an embarrassment for the dignity of your programming.

Los Angeles, CA

'Shocked' and 'Angered'

In regards to Downton Abbey (as you know season 4, ep.2) I am shocked and angered at the fact you probably knew about the reaction from the earlier British release yet there was no warning of the extreme violence written in the show. This is not what I have come to expect from PBS. With all the other stations that continue to influence violence to children and people in general, PBS could be counted on for clean viewing. These writers have no imagination any more there writing is so predictable. I now have chosen to skim read the story on the net. And have no intention of watching this show any further. This will hurt your sponsorship if these shows are to appear on your station.

[second message]

Thank you for your reply to my comments on Downton Abbey episode 2. Yes there was a non- suitable warning, but it should have read: contains violent scenes and rated 18. As much as it may be less violent than most American TV, that makes no exception to putting a rape scene in. If the writer had to, he should have been aware of his fans and I think it would have been less upsetting if it would have been one of the other maids. The story is now predictable without watching it, that Bates will retaliate and Anna will become pregnant. I'm glad the USA pulled him off if they do season 5. Maybe a new writer will pay attention to his or her audience and write with a good feeling show without copying the depressing violence of every other show.

Martin Barrett, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada

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The latest episode of Downton Abbey has not only divorced me from the series, which was beloved to me until last night, but has made me doubt PBS for the first time ever. I do not remember ever feeling so betrayed by an episode, a writer, a script. Is this truly how you gain ratings? There was more than one rape, there were thousands. I don't know if there is a way to make amends for this, but it will involve deep introspection, apology and wisdom.

Princeville, HI

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I was outraged at the scene in Sunday's episode of Downton Abbey — the rape scene. This was not necessary at all. The reason I watch PBS programming is to move away from all the violence on other channels, but I guess violence is now taking over PBS. My husband wants to give up on Downton but I will give it another chance and hope for no more violence. KEEP VIOLENCE OUT of Great Television.

Joanne Cichocki, Vernon, CT

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The last episode of Downton Abbey with the rape scene was totally uncalled for. You are getting away from terrific writing and as a viewer I do not see any place for this type of scene in your show. It was like watching Law and Order SVU. I am interested in seeing how the lords and ladies live act and think. And how the servants live and deal with the life they serve in. I will be turning off your show. It is extremely sad your writers have to try and mimic the violence that is on main stream TV.

John Drega, Vernon, CT

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I have read the comments about the rape story line and seen episode 2 this year. My disappointment was that the rape story and the defense of this story is simply an expression of current American controversy over this issue. The view that rape is common in the American sexual experience was offered by Susan Brownmiller in the 1970s and became government policy with the Violence Against Women Act in the 1990s. It seems the definition of gratuitous to insert this position into the Downton story line.

John Brigham, Bridgeport, CT

Thinking of the Ombudsman

The minute the rape scene began . . . we both thought that you would be hearing from lots of DA fans . . . and everyone loves Anna . . . so it was the most shocking plot twist . . . but I agree with you . . . it will be interesting to watch how they handle the reactions of the rest of the cast in future episodes . . . We'll still be watching!

Charlottesville, VA

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Thank you to Downton Abbey for portraying a rape with sensitivity. Rape is real and more frequent than those of us untouched by it would like to believe; therefore it is a perfect topic for a superior program like PBS's Downton Abbey and its author to handle. In my profession as a legal consultant, I am confronted by it often enough to remind me how fortunate I am not to have experienced this trauma. Anna made it clear why she chose to protect her beloved, and I know from my consultations that many women and girls protect their families often for those who don't even deserve it, unlike Anna's husband. I marvel at the genius of Julian Fellowes, and although I was shocked the first time and cried each time I perceived this scene (twice), I realize that we will see how events unfold and be coached as usual about how love and forgiveness must ultimately prevail over politics, religion, race, sexism, classism, brutality, revenge and other human failings. I agree with the reply by the Ombudsman and will never fail to watch any product of Masterpiece Theater for any reason whatsoever. Thank you PBS for delivering outstanding products, and I hope those who are disappointed return to see that the Victorian era as any other era involving humans, was not all pretty.

Newark, NJ

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I respect DA viewers' disgust regarding rape violence as part of the plot line. It was emotionally explicit. Since rape is the most common form of sexual assault against women, it also sets up a plethora of important paths for Anna as the representative of powerless women of her era, and I think it could be one of the most insightful threads of the show going forward. Was the violence of WWI not offensive, or the casual classism, the condescension toward Irish Tom the chauffeur, the rigidity of social and financial spheres for all? It's all offensive to me, but a great drama like this walks us through the consequences for people in different eras, from which we all can learn and grow. Alas, rape is as common as ever. So I didn't think Anna's assault was gratuitous or included as an "in-your-face" TV plot point. She and Mr. Banks will have a lot of conversations ahead, and I'm looking forward to them.

Janice Z, San Luis Obispo, CA

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Your reaction to the pearl-clutchers complaining about Downton's recent episode was succinct and appropriate. The problem with popularity of a PBS show is often the same. There will be those who want it watered down to their own expectations. There are many silly shows out there which are light and amusing. Good riddance to such sheltered casual observers.

On Moyers. We have so few news people who care or even know about those who make less than $100,000 per year, much less those in poverty. A strong commitment to democracy is unusual in these times, and few journalists have more than the most fleeting interest in it. Bill Moyers is one who does know and care; his life has been a rich one from which to draw perspective. His voice is needed now more than ever. Yes, it is advocacy journalism, but so is that which favors the powers that be. Moyers gives voice to the powerless and the plucky. In his letter to a viewer from Missouri, he addresses stupidity with tact and grace. I already miss the 30 fewer minutes per week and will be in mourning when the remainder is no longer.

Samantha A. Matson, Waterford, PA

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Bill Moyers is the reason I stopped donating to Public Television. His "journalism" is nothing but liberal ideology using liberal hacks to push an agenda. His programs should be labeled as his opinion and may not reflect any reality concerning the subject matter. His piece on the NC elections is so far from reality that it doesn't qualify as journalism.

Sherrills Ford, NC

This posting was updated at 2:16 p.m. to include an additional letter.

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