The Mailbag: Good Ideas, But…

By Michael Getler

Feb. 24, 2017

The PBS NewsHour had two especially timely interview segments this week. One, on Feb. 23, sought to shed light on the views of the controversial chief White House strategist for President Donald Trump, Stephen K. Bannon. The other, the night before, sought out reports from editors of newspapers in Missouri, Wisconsin and Colorado—well outside the more typically quoted major East or West Coast dailies—about what they are hearing from their readers about the new administration.

The segments drew mixed reactions from those who wrote to me. That is not surprising in today’s national political environment. What follows is a representative sampling of the emails that landed in my mailbox. They are presented here without comment from me.

Here Are the Letters

Re: The NewsHour's insincere and incomplete "profile" of Steve Bannon last night: I guess the viewers are being asked to forget or ignore that Mr. Bannon was/is a leading force in promoting white racist supremacy-nationalism! The daily news fear report is depressing, as we are being taught by the “agents of reporting” to accept a brutal ruthlessness as “normal politics..." The irony is that people like Steve Bannon crave nothing but complete capitulation; and so even this "powder puff" piece presented by PBS/NewsHour won't stop him and his boss from wanting to cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; any news, no matter how much effort is invested in pretending to be "balanced," won't be enough; any news reporting that is not a total praise-full untruth, a mendacious adulation, is unacceptable to them. 

Michael Johnson, Adamsville, AL

~ ~ ~

Judy Woodruff's interview with [Ken] Stern and [Philip] Rucker about [Stephen] Bannon inspired me to write this, but it applies to almost everybody on almost every news network. In WWII some two hundred thousand American soldiers died in the ETO [European Theater of Operations] to stop the Nazi conquest of the world. After the war the word “Nazi” was well-known to Americans, sufficiently well-known to cause an immediate sense of revulsion to most listeners or readers...Recently the Nazis (and their brothers, the Klansmen) asked the press to start calling them by [Richard B.] Spencer’s name, “Alt Right,” a little-known name that evokes an emotional reaction in almost nobody — and that is exactly the point — and the press has often complied.

Today I heard Steve Bannon called “nationalist” and “populist.” Nationalist, without qualifiers, does not communicate the horrors of fascism— and “populist” has nearly lost its meaning if something that originally meant “for the common people”…We now have a president Trump not only because the broadcast media gave him wall-to-wall coverage and ignored Sanders for Clinton, but because the approaching horrors were never communicated clearly to the public. Habitually using mild terms in public to describe horrors normalizes those horrors. Even the parts of the press that now show a dawning awareness of having played an indispensable part in to the rise of Trumpism appear to have no clue. Words matter. Language has consequences.

Benicia, CA

~ ~ ~

Regarding your last mailbag, I'm glad Tavis Smiley has guests that don't spout the usual ignorant garbage on Israel. I find that none of the critics, and very few Americans, have ever driven on the Israeli-only freeways or watched a young Palestinian child bullied by a settler child and later arrested for getting harassed. Life in Palestine would try anyone's patience, and it's stunning that the native residents put up with such grief in their own homes. I could go on. But my purpose today is to mention that I'm disgusted by the casual attitude that the NewsHour is taking towards the shockingly "nationalist" (neo-Nazi) regime of Donald Trump with his "populist" (#AlternativeFacts) sidekicks such as Steve Bannon. Civil discussion is nice to nap to, but when only white males like what's going on in the country, it's more appropriate to panic. This country will not survive the Trump administration unless the media starts acting more like the Young Turks.

Waterford, PA

~ ~ ~

And With the Editors

GREAT interview with the newspaper editors from Colorado, Wisconsin and Missouri. This is JUST what we need--to get the heartland and the East Coast talking (and the West Coast, too). Very enlightening and engaging--the right thing to do. Do more of this!

Dan Sendzik, New York, NY

~ ~ ~

Didn't really get that much from Judy's segment tonight in which she asked three journalists for readers' opinions concerning Trump. Why no one from the eastern seacoast, as well as the west? The story was bland and (Mr. Bradley made it) biased.

Fred Landow, Vestal, NY

~ ~ ~

Your Wednesday evening segment with local news editors/publishers was painful to watch. Is that really the best you can do in your bend over backwards to show you are balanced!? Why not put on members of the administration. Two [guests] tried to present the perspectives of their respective markets. . . And the third pronounced six different ways that he loves the President. - hello! The question was about feedback - not his personal pontification. You guys look like you are groveling for Republican $

Bethesda, MD

~ ~ ~

On Judy's conversation with journalists about new administration, your panelist David Bradley of the St. Joseph [News-Press] in Missouri is definitely biased. He was stating his own opinion not those of his readers/listeners. He was speaking the FOX/Trump stump. If there was an evidenced base way of determining what their readers were stating that would be much more helpful. Waste of 5 min.

New Kingston, NY

~ ~ ~

Really liked the 3 editors from 3 different states talk about reader comments & feedback. CONSIDER MAKING THIS A REGULAR WEEKLY SESSION. STRIVE FOR DIFFERENT KINDS OF COMMUNITIES. Well done. Do more

Robert Erlandson, Birmingham, MI

~ ~ ~

How did you put Bradley on as a legitimate reporter source Wednesday? Why not use Trump’s son-in-law who is another paper owner. You are losing independence and cred.

Minneapolis, MN

~ ~ ~

Thank you!! Thank you! Tonight's episode was a breath of fresh air. Really appreciated dialog and insights about how to bring jobs back to Erie, assessment from regional press, and plight of people living in Syria. It was refreshing to hear insights about the problem and less on the politics from supposed experts. The world is changing and needs new insights. Like Frontline, glad to see more in depth, grass roots, reporting on all sides of issues and less opinions

Peter Twinney, Canton, MI

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ABOUT THE OMBUDSMAN
As ombudsman, Michael Getler serves as an independent internal critic within PBS. He reviews commentary and criticism from viewers and seeks to ensure that PBS upholds its own standards of editorial integrity. Read More >

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