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PBS Ombudsman


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February 2014

February 14, 2014

Tensions Over Pensions

Hold the presses, if there are any of them left operating. Late this afternoon, just after this column was written, member-station WNET in New York and PBS issued a statement resolving the controversy that is discussed below. The joint statement… More »

February 12, 2014

The Mailbag: More on 'MAKERS' and Other Stuff

Today’s ombudsman’s mailbag is a brief follow-up to the last one that was devoted to what I described as “a pre-emptive strike” by critics of some individuals slated to be profiled in six new one-hour documentaries that will be part… More »

January 2014

January 23, 2014

The Mailbag: A Pre-Emptive Strike on More 'Makers'

When you make an announcement before a group of reporters at the semi-annual Television Critics Association conference, you are likely to get some publicity. Among the announcements made by PBS at this year’s gathering in Pasadena was news that six… More »

January 22, 2014

The Mailbag: A Letter from Bill Moyers

This edition of the mailbag contains just one letter. It is a response from Bill Moyers to the Ombudsman’s Column posted on Jan. 9. That column dealt with a couple of issues surrounding the Jan. 3 presentation of the weekly… More »

January 15, 2014

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… More »

January 13, 2014

The Mailbag: A Downton Downer and Other Things

Despite on-screen warnings by PBS at the beginning of last Sunday’s edition of Downton Abbey that the segment was rated TV-14 and “The following drama contains scenes which may not be suitable for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised,” many… More »

January 9, 2014

Over the Air or Off the Air?

The powers that be at PBS were dancing in the aisles earlier this week (I didn’t really see this but it was undoubtedly in the minimum-physical-contact, please; we’re British style) when it was reported that the season four debut of… More »

December 2013

December 19, 2013

Different Strokes From Different Folks

It is still sort of holiday-quiet in the ombudsman’s mailbox, but one critical letter from a viewer in Miami raises an editorial issue that I seldom get asked about — a comparison between NPR (radio) and PBS (television) coverage of… More »

December 13, 2013

The Mailbag: The Holiday Spirit Is on Hold

The leader of North Korea had his uncle executed and a mentally-unbalanced sign-language fraud managed to stand next to President Obama in South Africa, but it’s been relatively quiet these past two weeks for the ombudsman; no big controversies and… More »

November 2013

November 21, 2013

The Mailbag: Bye-Bye Bobbleheads and Lots of Other Stuff

The ombudsman’s mailbag has become quite stuffed in the past week or two, and in the past few days in particular, because of lots of email from people upset about a short video offering from PBS Digital Studios that was… More »

November 19, 2013

'It's (Not) Okay to be (Not) Smart'

The headline above is my edited version of the title of a PBS Digital Studios production of “A Very Special Thanksgiving Special/It’s Okay to be Smart.” The idea, its webpage states, is to “be thankful for everything science has given… More »

November 8, 2013

More Words About 'War of the Worlds'

Last week’s column dealt with a documentary aired on Oct. 29 as part of the PBS “American Experience” series. The hour-long program marked the 75th anniversary of the famous 1938 CBS radio broadcast of the Orson Welles dramatization of a… More »

October 2013

October 31, 2013

War of the Words

Sometimes, when journalists talk among themselves about stories they have read, the phrase “burying the lead” comes into the discussion. What is meant by that is a story that has important information way down inside the text, rather than at… More »

October 29, 2013

Muhammad on PBS: Was It Good for the Jews?

The question in the headline on this column is not meant to be frivolous. For Jews and their families in America in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s — and even to some extent today — events from time to time… More »

October 23, 2013

The Mailbag: Some Viewers Want to Give PBS a 'Pop'

The ombudsman’s mailbox continues to receive a modest but steady stream of complaints from viewers about those small but obvious promotional blurbs that “pop up” on your TV screen every once in a while during a favorite program to remind… More »

October 10, 2013

Necessary Roughness: Frontline Sacks NFL

Frontline, PBS’s flagship investigative series, gave the National Football League a pretty good pop Tuesday night in a widely-anticipated and widely-publicized two-hour special, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.” It started, as do all Frontline programs, with that unmistakable… More »

September 2013

September 20, 2013

The Mailbag: A Mixed Bag

The ombudsman’s inbox gets a small but steady stream of mail throughout the year from viewers who are upset in one way or another about what they call “advertisements” — and what PBS calls “underwriters” or “sponsorships” — on a… More »

September 11, 2013

Another Opening, Another Show . . .

I used the headline above, lifted from the 1949 Broadway hit “Kiss Me Kate,” just over three years ago to signal the arrival of what was then the new PBS public affairs program “Need to Know.” Alas, that program, which… More »

September 4, 2013

More on a (Palestinian) 'Point of View'

For the past 40 years or so, I have been dealing, one way or another — as a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and ombudsman — with the Arab-Israeli conflict. I hope that I’m wrong, but my sense is that five,… More »

August 2013

August 27, 2013

PBS Gives ESPN a Headache, and Viewers Mull Muhammad

What follows is a pre-Labor Day wrap-up of two events involving PBS that attracted most of the attention in the past week or so. One involves the relationship between the huge sports network ESPN and Frontline, the flagship investigative series… More »

August 21, 2013

A Documentary That Ends With a Bang

There is one sure cure for a summertime drop-off in mail to the ombudsman: broadcast a documentary that examines the laws, and their judicial history, that Israel has put in place since the 1967 War to administer its military occupation… More »

August 8, 2013

The News Business Makes News

For news junkies — indeed for anyone who values being engaged with and informed about regional, national and world affairs — this has been a heck of a week. Unless you were vacationing in some remote location with no web… More »

August 2, 2013

'If Your Mother Says She Loves You, Check It Out'

The headline above is an old journalistic cliché warning reporters that things are not always as they seem. As applied to a new investigative documentary, produced by Frontline in partnership with ProPublica, and titled “Life and Death in Assisted Living,”… More »

July 2013

July 31, 2013

A Note to Readers and Responders

Due to technical problems here at PBS headquarters, the Ombudsman’s page on the PBS website was temporarily disrupted — including the disappearance of all recent columns and almost the entire archive — from the early morning hours of Monday, July… More »

July 25, 2013

Turkey: A Tough Place for a Tough Ombudsman

This posting has nothing to do with PBS or with mail to the ombudsman. Rather, it is simply to report on the situation surrounding one member of the small band of brothers and sisters around the world who serve as… More »

July 19, 2013

The Mailbag: Tavis Smiley, President Obama and Race

It’s been hot outside and quiet inside the Ombudsman’s inbox these past few weeks. But that quiet ended in the aftermath of the July 15th edition of the Tavis Smiley late-night talk show. Smiley introduced the program this way: “Once… More »

July 8, 2013

The Mailbag: The July 4th Concert, July 6th Crash and Other Things

Like lots of folks, I was away over the July 4th holiday break. So I missed the live PBS telecast from the West Lawn in front of the Capitol building of the annual “A Capitol Fourth” concert and fireworks display…. More »

June 2013

June 6, 2013

The Mailbag: Read All About It: Koch, Man-Slam, BP, the Concert, Circumcision, Cooker Bombs . . . Knitting

The ombudsman’s mailbag was, literally, stuffed this past week. Much of it continued to deal with a situation that began to unfold two weeks ago when the New Yorker magazine published an article by investigative reporter Jane Mayer headlined: “A… More »

May 2013

May 29, 2013

Stanley, Haynes, Print and PBS

I’m going to take advantage of this space to take note, briefly, of something that has nothing to do with the normal business of an ombudsman. Rather, it is to devote just a few words to record the recent passing… More »

May 25, 2013

David Koch and PBS: The Odd Couple

I was away this week — at the annual international gathering of news ombudsmen, held this year in Los Angeles — and so am a bit late in catching up with the saga that unfolded in the pages of the… More »

May 17, 2013

Keeping Frontline on the Firing Line

Like a lot of folks of a certain age, I’ve watched programs on PBS for many, many years, long before I signed on as ombudsman. Mostly I watched documentaries and public affairs programs. Many of the iconic figures and faces… More »

April 2013

April 23, 2013

Sliding Down Journalism's Slippery Slope

Every course for beginners in journalism starts out with something called “The Five Ws.” They stand for: Who, What, When, Where and Why. They are at the root of factual, investigative pursuits — not just in journalism. The formulation dates… More »

April 17, 2013

Taking Note, and Not Taking Note

The first part of the headline on this brief column, “Taking Note,” is the title of a widely-read blog by veteran PBS NewsHour and Frontline education correspondent John Merrow. In January, I wrote about a Frontline program featuring Merrow’s reporting… More »

April 10, 2013

'Speak No Ill of the Dead'

Yesterday, I posted a brief column taking note of how informative the PBS NewsHour can be, and usually is, even when there are no big headlines, as was the case last Friday. The headline on the column read: “Above Average… More »

April 9, 2013

Above Average on an Average Day

Over the course of any year, the hour-long, five-nights-a-week PBS NewsHour probably gets more than its share of the mail that comes to the ombudsman. That’s not surprising. It’s PBS’s only daily news program and those who watch are people… More »

April 4, 2013

Firing Blanks?

At the bottom of an ombudsman’s mailbag posted on March 7, were two letters from viewers who challenged the accuracy of a statement by former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir on the recent PBS documentary “After Newtown: Guns… More »

March 2013

March 22, 2013

Cancer Is 'Serious Business.' Is the 'Documentary'?

When PBS viewers talk about “March Madness,” some of them are referring not to basketball but rather to pledge drives and special programming aired by local stations to attract new members and contributions. I’ve written about this several times over… More »

March 7, 2013

The Mailbag: Hey! It's NBR but Not PBS

The ombudsman’s mailbag was filled this week with complaints — mostly about two programs that have (almost) nothing to do with PBS. That’s not unusual. As has happened many times in my years here as ombudsman, many viewers assume that… More »

February 2013

February 19, 2013

The Mailbag: More on Downton's 'Gay Kiss,' and Matthew's Demise

Last week’s mailbag dealt with viewers who objected to a scene in the Feb. 10 episode of Downton Abbey in which a gay man attempts to kiss another man who he has been led to believe is also gay (he… More »

February 13, 2013

The Mailbag: No (Gay) Sex Please, We're American

The headline on this mailbag is a play on a play — a successful British comedy of the early 1970s titled “No Sex Please, We’re British” that flopped when it was exported to Broadway. Actually, this is a triple-play because… More »

January 2013

January 31, 2013

Drones Are Real. So Are Perceptions.

PBS’s long-running and award-winning science series, NOVA, aired an hour-long documentary last week on the rapid increase in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly called drones. It was titled, appropriately, “Rise of the Drones.” If you… More »

January 25, 2013

The Mailbag: Ask Not What Larry Can Do For You . . .

It has ever been so that non-commercial public broadcasting has had a problem at times with seeming, well, at least a little bit, commercial. The vast majority of funding comes from voluntary contributions to stations from viewers like you, member-station… More »

January 23, 2013

'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… More »

January 17, 2013

The Mailbag: Did You Need to Know This About Taxes?

As tax time and the debt ceiling bear down on Americans, PBS’s weekly public affairs program Need to Know aired a timely episode last Friday on the debate about “whether the tax laws themselves are fair. Why, for instance,” program… More »

January 11, 2013

Michelle Rhee: Reformer, Zealot, Both or Something Else?

This past Tuesday evening, Jan. 8, PBS’s top-rated documentary series Frontline, focused its cameras and its veteran education correspondent, John Merrow, on a now 43-year-old Korean-American woman named Michelle Rhee. She was the chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public school… More »

December 2012

December 14, 2012

The Mailbag: Grover, Sonia, the Cliff and the Download

The mailbag has been a little light lately, but here are some emails that arrived in the past week or so that suggest that viewer grumpiness — the lifeblood of ombudsmen — is still alive and still tuned in to… More »

November 2012

November 27, 2012

The NewsHour Wins Some, Loses One

* A correction was added to this column, at the bottom, on Nov. 30. This started out to be one of those “nobody asked me, but …” columns in which I comment on some things that no one… More »

November 21, 2012

Documentaries and Connections

Two — what I thought were — very powerful documentaries aired on PBS stations in the past week or so. One was Ken Burns’ gripping chronicle of “The Dust Bowl,” a decade-long environmental catastrophe that, literally, “nearly swept away the… More »

November 14, 2012

The Mailbag: Forgetting, Again, the 'Forgotten War'

* This mailbag was amended on Nov. 16 to include a statement from the producer. Here’s a brief ombudsman’s mailbag about an old wound that seems to keep opening. Among the most popular programs that PBS presents every year, for… More »

November 5, 2012

The Mailbag: A Climate Change Exchange

This “ombudsman’s mailbag” could more properly be described as a post office. It goes on for many pages. It contains lengthy and detailed questions from critics of the recent Frontline production “Climate of Doubt” and equally lengthy and detailed responses… More »

October 2012

October 26, 2012

Complaints Welcomed, but So Are the Programs

Normally, this column is filled with observations from viewers, and from me, that are for the most part critical of one thing or another that has appeared on PBS. As I’ve noted many times, people generally write to an ombudsman… More »

October 22, 2012

On 'Acts,' 'Race' and 'Choice'

As you can imagine, the ombudsman’s mailbox has been filled of late with comments about politics from people who may be viewers and some who may simply not like PBS or want to see that portion of its revenue that… More »

October 11, 2012

Big Bird: Fair or Fowl Play?

* Ombudsman’s Note: This posting was updated on Friday, Oct. 12, to include a response to this column from Linda Winslow, executive producer of the PBS NewsHour, and Boisfeuillet “Bo” Jones, president and CEO of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. Two icons of… More »

September 2012

September 26, 2012

The Mailbag: Climate and 9/11 'Truth'; Two Tough Crowds

My last two columns dealt with subjects that produce a lot of heat: a PBS NewsHour segment on climate change and a pledge-drive program on Colorado Public Television (CPT12) featuring a new film by “Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth.”… More »

September 21, 2012

Climate Change Creates a Storm

It was not the PBS NewsHour’s finest 10 minutes. In my view, and that of hundreds, even thousands of others, the program stumbled badly. On the other hand, it was not the end of the world, so to speak. A… More »

September 17, 2012

The Disaster That Keeps on Giving

Three years ago I wrote a column headlined “PBS, Yes and No.” It dealt with controversial episodes in which the public had reason to believe PBS was associated in some fashion with a certain television program yet PBS, as a… More »

September 11, 2012

The Mailbag: The Good, the Bad but Not the Ugly

The headline above is the slightly reworded title of a truly wild western back in 1966 produced by Europeans and starring, coincidentally, Clint Eastwood. Since Eastwood was featured at the recent Republican National Convention, I thought I’d borrow the title… More »

September 6, 2012

The Mailbag: The Ombudsman and The NewsHour Take Some Hits

The email and telephone calls to the ombudsman continued to be heavy and hot during this political convention period. Much of it continued to be critical, some aimed at me but most aimed at the PBS NewsHour coverage. As I’ve… More »

August 2012

August 31, 2012

The Urge to Talk and Tweet

The mail piled up fast this week in the ombudsman’s email queue. Each day of the Republican National Convention brought scores of mostly angry emails from people who claimed the PBS NewsHour coverage was staffed by Republican-hating liberal correspondents whose… More »

August 23, 2012

The Mailbag: What Ever Happened to Tote Bags?

Here’s a brief mailbag about some new takes on old subjects. As you know, if you contribute to your local PBS member station, you are likely to get a small thank you gift. In recent years, free subscriptions to Newsweek… More »

August 16, 2012

Have We Learned Anything?

“Clearly two very different perspectives, but we have learned something from listening to both of you. And we appreciate it.” That was the way Senior Correspondent Judy Woodruff signed off a segment of the PBS NewsHour on Aug. 9 dealing… More »

August 8, 2012

Fish Stories and Fishy Stories

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out” is a cautionary principle that journalists have always been taught but sometimes forget and sometimes, for what seem to be good reasons at the time, see no obvious need to… More »

August 3, 2012

The Mailbag: Chicken and the First Amendment

As I was saying a few days ago, most of the mail that accumulated while I was away for a couple of weeks in July had to do with comedian-actor Fred Willard who was arrested on suspicion of a lewd… More »

August 1, 2012

Fred Willard: On Not Listening to Your Wife

The big news about PBS while I was away these past couple of weeks unfolded, of all places, in an adult movie theater on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood on Wednesday evening, July 18. It was there, inside the Tiki… More »

July 2012

July 12, 2012

The Ombudsman Is Away Until the End of July.
Below Is His Most Recent Column.

A Tale of Two Titles “A Nation of Immigrants” is a phrase that has been used many times to describe America’s history; most notably, perhaps, as the title of a book by then Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1958. We… More »

June 2012

June 26, 2012

A Tale of Two Titles

“A Nation of Immigrants” is a phrase that has been used many times to describe America’s history; most notably, perhaps, as the title of a book by then Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1958. We are, indeed, a nation of… More »

June 20, 2012

The Mailbag: Letters From and About Viewers

Here’s a brief catch-all, catch-up mailbag about a couple of programs that seem to linger in the minds of some viewers. As frequently happens, some of the mail is about the views of viewers who responded to earlier ombudsman postings…. More »

June 12, 2012

The Mailbag: Did Frontline Smudge Its Fingerprint?

On April 17, PBS’s top investigative series, Frontline, took an hour-long look at other investigative series; not the fictional ones on television but rather the real ones that go on in courtrooms. The program was called “The Real CSI” and… More »

June 7, 2012

The Mailbag: Ferguson's Back, With 'Killer' Apps

Niall Ferguson is a Scottish-born, Oxford-educated, professor of history at Harvard University. He is not your grandfather’s history professor. He is, or at least seems to be, young, energetic, telegenic, very outgoing and high-profile, and very much in tune with… More »

May 2012

May 4, 2012

The Mailbag: Viewers Revealed to Be Not Pleased

Here’s a sampling of viewer commentary that landed in the ombudsman’s mailbag in the past week or so. The observations cover lots of ground and several programs but the fire is most concentrated, again, on the recent “America Revealed” series… More »

April 2012

April 27, 2012

Flunking the Perception Test

One of the most important editorial standards that PBS has, as I see it, is not actually included in their “Editorial Standards and Policies” document. Those editorial standards and policies are meant to “serve as the foundation for editorial decision-making… More »

April 20, 2012

Busting the News?

This is a tale of two phrases. One accompanies the conservative online media-watch site known as NewsBusters, declaring itself devoted to “exposing & combatting liberal media bias.” The other is of uncertain origin but holds that “no good deed will… More »

April 19, 2012

The Mailbag: On Martin-Zimmerman Portrayals, and 'Roots'

In last week’s mailbag, I mentioned that there had also been mail about the beginnings of a new 10-part series called “Finding Your Roots,” presented by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., and that we would present them in the next… More »

April 12, 2012

The Mailbag: White? Hispanic? White and Hispanic? Or. . .?

The mailbag this week was filled mostly with reactions to two events: a segment on the PBS NewsHour April 9 about the shooting death in Florida of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer, and last week’s ombudsman’s column… More »

April 5, 2012

Wayne Dyer: a 'Religious Point of View'?

The name Dr. Wayne Dyer has appeared many times in ombudsman’s columns and mailbags since this position was launched late in 2005. The first time was in a column six years ago and the most recent was in a mailbag… More »

March 2012

March 30, 2012

The Mailbag: Anybody Here Against War and Speak English?

The headline on this brief ombudsman’s mailbag is a paraphrasing of one of the more famous, irreverent but eminently practical questions ever asked by a war reporter, as Jonathan Randal pointed out in an obituary some years ago of legendary,… More »

March 22, 2012

Independent Lens Brings a Focus on PBS

This comes under the heading of “nobody asked me, but …” Viewers have not written to me about recent scheduling changes that affect two major, long-running PBS series of independent documentary films — Independent Lens and POV, which… More »

March 14, 2012

The Mailbag: 'Wishes Fulfilled' and Unfulfilled

This week’s mailbag was filled mostly by reminders of old issues that never really fade away. One deals with a new pledge drive program titled “Dr. Wayne Dyer: Wishes Fulfilled,” hence the first part of the headline above. The other… More »

March 9, 2012

Columnist and Strategist: Not a Good Pairing

The PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff introduced a segment on the program last night dealing with an important and timely issue by saying, “We turn to U.S. politics, as both parties have been working to win over female voters amid a… More »

March 7, 2012

What If Having 'Israel's Back' Means Another War for the U.S.?

In the televised portion of his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 5, among the things that President Obama said was that “the United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security.” Really?… More »

February 2012

February 29, 2012

'The Comeback Kid' Came Back

I was away last week but President Clinton came back for a two-night, four-hour reunion with PBS viewers as part of American Experience’s series of presidential biographies. The “Clinton” documentary takes us from the turbulent childhood in Arkansas through the… More »

February 17, 2012

Anthony Shadid, Reporter

It seems, these days, that we hear more about tweets than about foreign correspondence. But yesterday, American journalism, and citizens who value being informed with incisive, in-depth and courageous reporting, suffered a tragic loss with the death, on assignment in… More »

February 8, 2012

The Mailbag: Blowing off Steam; Reactive and Radioactive

I usually do not get involved in the Friday night segment of the PBS NewsHour in which columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks provide their analysis and opinions about the week’s news events. I don’t do opinion, and I’m not… More »

January 2012

January 27, 2012

The Mailbag: Fact-Checking and Checking the Fact Checker

I’m a big fan of fact-checking, especially during political campaigns when so much is at stake and examples can be found on all sides of claims that are either false or not quite accurate. In today’s high-speed, information-overload environment —… More »

January 24, 2012

The Daily Downton

This brief column doesn’t have much to do with editorial matters, but the subject is breaking news that is just too good not to share. The British press, not so good at some things but very good at other stuff,… More »

January 18, 2012

The Mailbag: The NewsHour Responds

Last week’s ombudsman’s column and a mailbag the week before contained a representative dose of commentary from viewers who were complaining about what they saw as an overdose of coverage recently about the Republican presidential campaigns. And I stuck my… More »

January 13, 2012

Is It Republicans 24/7, or Does It Just Feel That Way?

It is not surprising that a heavy flow of mail these past few weeks is from viewers who, for the most part, are fed up with the extent that coverage of the Republican presidential campaign is dominating television news. They… More »

January 12, 2012

A FAIR Catch But UnFAIR Conclusion

Ombudsmen sometimes are the recipients of email campaigns driven by various interest or self-styled media-watch groups. So it was this week when some 2,000 emails landed in my inbox within a 24-hour period. As far as I can tell, they… More »

January 5, 2012

The Mailbag: 'Why Is There Such a Stunning Diversity...?'

The quote above is from the opening line of an episode of NOVA, the popular and long-running science series on PBS. The complete quote asks about the diversity of life and leads in to a NOVA program called “What Darwin… More »

December 2011

December 28, 2011

The Mailbag: Year-End Odds and Ends

Here’s a brief, final ombudsman’s mailbag for 2011. Most of the mail is about various NewsHour segments, which has been the case now for quite a while since not much else on PBS seems to be stirring up controversy. But,… More »

December 21, 2011

A Heads-Up to Producers from a Viewer

The following is definitely not a proper, pre-Christmas offering. But, as is frequently the case, a single viewer raises an interesting, critical observation that is worth addressing even if seasonally untimely. At issue here is an episode of the popular,… More »

December 16, 2011

The Mailbag: Self-Inflicted Wounds

A brief but strong gust of criticism blew into the ombudsman’s inbox Wednesday evening. It was over almost as quickly as it began, but it sticks in my head as one more case of serious news organizations that occasionally shoot… More »

December 14, 2011

The Mailbag: Making Sen$e of 'Clean-Cut' and 'Scruffy'

I was away last week and the mail and phone traffic was fairly light. But what messages did arrive seemed to reinforce a couple of observations made in earlier columns. The headline above, for example, refers to a caller’s critical… More »

November 2011

November 21, 2011

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… More »

November 15, 2011

For Some, a Mystery About Masterpiece

On Sunday evening, Nov. 6, many PBS member stations around the country aired a new feature-length espionage drama titled “Page Eight.” It is part of what is called the “Masterpiece Contemporary” series and, not surprisingly, it is very, very British…. More »

November 10, 2011

When a Guest Puts You on the Spot

The PBS NewsHour actually made some news in its Friday, Oct. 31, broadcast when, during an interview with correspondent Judy Woodruff, Republican presidential contender Herman Cain committed a foreign policy blunder. “Do you view China as a potential military threat… More »

November 3, 2011

Is There a 'Good Side' to U.S. Economic Inequality?

Paul Solman, the guy in the hat, is the PBS NewsHour’s economics correspondent. He is one of the more memorable and identifiable correspondents on television. Solman is smart, provocative at times, interviews interesting people, asks challenging questions and the trademarked… More »

October 2011

October 28, 2011

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… More »

October 20, 2011

Frontline: Pushing the Hot Buttons

I write a lot about Frontline, PBS’s venerable and, in my view, indispensible, weekly investigative and documentary series. It is, as its name suggests, almost always on the frontline of issues confronting many Americans in their daily lives. But when… More »

October 14, 2011

Catholicism: A Religion, but NOT a 'PBS' Series

It was a dark and stormy Friday here at PBS headquarters, and I was thinking about maybe going home early. But at midday, messages started pouring into the ombudsman’s mailbox. “Dear Brother Getler,” wrote Linda Rosa from Colorado, “Damnation, who… More »

October 13, 2011

The Mailbag: Promo Still No-Go; Fall Edition

I’ve written several times in the past few months about PBS’s new on-air and online “experiments” that involve using a lot more on-screen promotion of programs and brief paid commercial sponsorships during broadcasts, rather than just at the beginning and… More »

October 6, 2011

The Mailbag: Curious About George

The PBS program Curious George is among the top-rated television shows in the country for pre-school age children. Based on a classic series of children’s books that dates back to the 1940s, it has been a favorite on PBS since… More »

October 4, 2011

'Occupying Wall Street,' but Not the NewsHour

I’ve mentioned this before: News that breaks on the weekend, which is fairly often, won’t be on PBS until the following Monday evening. That’s because the venerable, hour-long, flagship national news program—the PBS NewsHour—is a weekday-evening-only affair. That’s not the… More »

September 2011

September 29, 2011

Were Activists, or Viewers, Entrapped?

The headline above relates to a 90-minute documentary film titled, “Better This World,” that was honored earlier this year at film festivals in San Francisco and Sarasota and that debuted on the long-running PBS series POV on Sept. 6. The… More »

September 22, 2011

The Mailbag: Smiley, Cheney and Many (others)

The ombudsman’s mailbag was filled in the past week with lots of messages on lots of subjects. Some viewers took issue with comments made by PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, even though they were made on MSNBC and NBC…. More »

September 16, 2011

Where Do Those Profits Go?

One of the enduring facts of life for PBS over the decades has been the need to supplement funds from member stations, viewers, grants, foundations and Congress with what are called “sponsorships” from corporations. These are usually tasteful, goodwill messages… More »

September 13, 2011

The Perils of Posting: Transcript vs. Text

A brief tempest blew through the blogosphere and then through PBS headquarters, the NewsHour’s home base at WETA, and my inbox on Saturday. Although it blew itself out by the end of the weekend, it provided a reminder, as if… More »

August 2011

August 29, 2011

The Mailbag: The Faces That Are On and Off PBS

Here’s a follow-up to last week’s mailbag with some additional viewer commentary that arrived while I was away earlier this month. It includes a striking observation and challenge from a viewer in Minnesota, and some not surprising observations from fans… More »

August 24, 2011

The Mailbag: On Puppets and Pols

While I was away for the past two weeks, two subjects got most of the incoming mail. One dealt with fictional characters, one with real people. Both attracted a fair amount of press coverage for a few days. The fictional… More »

July 2011

July 29, 2011

On PBS, the Arts Are Important, but a Big Story Is Oddly Absent

On Oct. 14, PBS will kick off its first ever Arts Fall Festival, a string of full-length, Friday night performances that will run through December. According to the PBS announcement back in May, the festival will feature broadcasts of classic… More »

July 22, 2011

From the NewsHour, News That Is Not Routine

Yesterday, Thursday, July 21, 2011, was what one might describe as a day of mostly incremental news: the latest update on the continuing struggle over the debt ceiling and deficit, the Murdoch press scandal in Britain, protests in Syria, and… More »

July 19, 2011

Editing Abe: Did Some of His Words Die in Vain?

One of the first things that news ombudsmen learn is that any mistake in a newspaper or on television will get caught; some reader or viewer somewhere out there will spot it. As a reporter and then editor, I always… More »

July 14, 2011

The Mailbag: NTK on DSK Accuser, Good Question but No Answer

A viewer in Williamsburg, Va., wrote this week to offer some criticism about a segment on the weekly public affairs program Need to Know. It was a relatively brief, six-minute portion within the hour-long program. It dealt with the aftermath… More »

July 8, 2011

For-Profit Schools, the Feds and Frontline

When presidents (Clinton), would-be presidents (Dominique Strauss-Kahn), car companies (Toyota) or institutions (for-profit colleges and universities that cater to non-traditional college students) get into trouble, it is usually because they really did do something wrong. But that also makes them… More »

June 2011

June 29, 2011

The Mailbag, Part II: More on Those 'Sponsorships' and Other Things

As I was saying, in last week’s mailbag, there was too much mail to post in a single column at the time and so a follow-up and catch-up posting would come in the next few days. Here it is. Once… More »

June 24, 2011

The Mailbag: Once Again, PBS Is the Wrong Address, Sort of

* This mailbag was updated on June 29 to include a response to a viewer from the producer of “Under Our Skin.” This week’s mail was filled with observations, complaints, and even some compliments, about lots of different things; too… More »

June 16, 2011

New Warning from Boston: The Ads Are Coming, the Ads Are Coming!

For the second time in the past two weeks, a top executive from PBS’s flagship investigative series Frontline has publicly questioned the direction of public broadcasting. Late last month, Lou Wiley, who served for 30 years at WGBH in Boston… More »

June 10, 2011

The Mailbag: A Limited Edition

As readers of this column are probably aware, the regular ombudsman’s site at PBS.org was among those affected by the hacker attack against PBS during the Memorial Day weekend. We managed to post a mailbag on June 2 using a… More »

June 2, 2011

The Mailbag: Hacking the Omb, Dramatizing a 'Concert,' Interrupting the Interruption, and More on WikiLeaks vs. WikiSecrets

A lot has been going on this past week or so, which means the ombudsman’s mailbag is pretty full and that, in turn, means that this is a pretty long posting with lots of explanations and viewer letters. Here’s a… More »

May 2011

May 26, 2011

The Mailbag: More on Pfc. Manning and WikiLeaks

Frontline, PBS’s flagship investigative series, aired a one-hour program on Tuesday evening, May 24, called “WikiSecrets.” It focused on what Frontline has properly described as “the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history — the leaking of more than a half-million… More »

May 12, 2011

When the Facts of PBS Life Collide Online

There are several enduring aspects of public television. One is that it is always pressed for money. Another is that it presents programs without commercial interruption. These two facts of life — one a necessity to stay alive, the other… More »

May 3, 2011

The Mailbag: NOVA on Nukes Stirs Some Critics

Here’s a catch-up on mail, all of it critical, that arrived last month after the April 20 broadcast on NOVA, PBS’ long-running and highly-regarded science series. That hour-long program, called “Power Surge,” dealt with this question, posed by NOVA: “Can… More »

April 2011

April 29, 2011

The Mailbag: Talk About Race and You Will Be Talked About

PBS personalities and programs touching on race figure most prominently in the ombudsman’s mailbag this week. All of the mail on this subject was critical and there was a fair amount of anger in many of the e-mails, several of… More »

April 28, 2011

A Note About That Series on Autism

Robert MacNeil, the venerable former co-anchor of what was, for many years, the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, returned to PBS earlier this month as host, narrator and chief questioner of a six-part series called “Autism Now” that aired on the PBS NewsHour…. More »

April 21, 2011

The Mailbag: Covering Private Manning

* This mailbag was amended shortly after being posted to record an objection by Frontline to a characterization I used. Maybe the Obama administration at least ought to count to 10 before pushing some high-profile people out the door. I… More »

April 8, 2011

The Mailbag: It Would Have Been More Fun at NBC

Not much mail this past week or so but, as always, PBS viewers find interesting points to challenge. And, not surprisingly, almost all the mail focused on one segment or another of the weekday night PBS NewsHour. It’s probably because… More »

April 1, 2011

Bombs Away: FAIR Attacks NewsHour Again

The U.S. is once again involved in a controversial military action — this time using air power in support of a UN-approved no-fly zone over Libya and to neutralize Libyan ground forces endangering civilian population centers — and the “progressive”… More »

March 2011

March 24, 2011

On PBS's Coverage of NPR's Problems

In today’s faster-than-a-speeding-bullet media environment, news gets old very fast. Yet many stories still demand follow-up accounts if consumers are to have a fuller understanding of things they think they already know. One such story involves the now widely publicized,… More »

March 11, 2011

Challenging Congress: Lobbying Violation or Free Speech?

This has been a winter of considerable discontent for public broadcasting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has already voted, on Feb. 19, to strip all of the $430 million in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget for the Corporation for Public… More »

March 4, 2011

The Mailbag: Health Care She Said/He Said/She Said

The PBS NewsHour, to its credit, continues to devote considerable time to reporting on, and discussions of, President Obama’s health care reform law as it moves toward implementation and as it faces continuing challenges. Because opinion about this particular legislation… More »

February 2011

February 25, 2011

Is PBS Too Conservative?

OK. You don’t have to write to me about the headline. I can imagine all the e-mails already that will ask, ‘Are you kidding?’ Well, actually, I am kidding but not as much as you might think. I don’t like… More »

February 17, 2011

Should PBS and Frontline Have a 'Tehran Bureau?'

The dramatic and historic popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that have ousted leaders of repressive regimes have begun to invigorate protest movements in other countries in the region. In the most important country, the Islamic Republic of Iran, tens… More »

February 11, 2011

The Mailbag: Are Hosts Having Too Much Fun?

The mail was a little light this week but here’s a sampling of comments from viewers who were stirred by an assortment of performances and programs. There is also a detailed challenge from a reader of a posting on the… More »

February 4, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Football, and Nancy?

This is Super Bowl Sunday. But as a long-suffering New York Jets fan, I don’t care much who wins and I wasn’t paying much attention. That is until Wednesday, Feb. 2, when, scrolling through Jim Romenesko’s daily bible of media… More »

January 2011

January 25, 2011

The Mailbag: More on Guns, Kissing and Other Stuff

Here are some additional viewer comments about programs dealt with in ombudsman postings earlier this month, including a Need To Know commentary on gun control, a kissing scene in Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey series and the absence of weekend news on… More »

January 21, 2011

The Mailbag: Guns and Rose

* This Mailbag was updated on Jan. 25 to include a response to a viewer from Frontline. If you talk about guns on television, you are going to get mail. Usually, it contains some pretty strong sentiments. That happened this… More »

January 13, 2011

No News, Please; It's the Weekend

It has always been so, and I guess it will always be so, but it is annoying nevertheless. I’m referring to the lack of any nation-wide coverage of news on PBS television during the weekend. So, if you are a… More »

January 7, 2011

The Mailbag: Holiday Hot-Buttons — Cuba and the Lee Legacy

Two PBS offerings during the holiday season produced most of the mail in the Ombudsman’s inbox. Each dealt with a subject that is certain to stir historical and/or ideological juices among some people. I say “people” rather than PBS viewers… More »

December 2010

December 22, 2010

The Mailbag: A Year-End Grab Bag

First, holiday greetings and a happy New Year. Let’s hope 2011 is a better year for all of us, even those who don’t watch PBS or write to the ombudsman. It has been relatively quiet these past few weeks, no… More »

December 2, 2010

Burma and the Bomb: What Do You 'Need To Know'?

Is Myanmar, formerly and still widely known as Burma, secretly working on producing a nuclear weapon? That’s what a defector from the Burmese army, armed with a lot of photographs of equipment, said back in June. And his claims were… More »

November 2010

November 18, 2010

Would Mark Twain Have Edited Tina Fey?

I’ll take the liberty of answering the question in the headline: “I doubt it.” But that’s what the producers of the annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor did to the show that was aired nationally on PBS last Sunday…. More »

November 11, 2010

The Longoria Affair, an Old Wound That Still Festers

What follows is not one of my usual offerings. It is neither an ombudsman’s column nor a mailbag. Rather, it is simply an effort to record opposing views about a historical event and documentary that probably will never satisfactorily be… More »

November 2, 2010

Frontline on BP: Helping the Viewer or Violating a Fundamental?

Every reporter and editor knows that you should not take the answer to one question and make it appear as though it is the answer to another question. That’s just fundamental journalistic ethics. Yet that’s what one of the best… More »

October 2010

October 26, 2010

The Mailbag: No, Virginia, PBS Is Not NPR

There was quite a bit of mail this week from viewers responding to the report by the media watchdog group FAIR on PBS public affairs programming that I wrote about last week. A sampling of that mail is included below…. More »

October 21, 2010

FAIR vs PBS, Again

Four years ago this month, the media watch organization group known as FAIR, for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, and self-described as “progressive,” released a lengthy and critical study of what was then called the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” Now… More »

October 15, 2010

The Mailbag: On Covering Heaven and Earth

Two PBS television experiences dominated the mail this week — coverage by the NewsHour of the extraordinary rescue of those 33 Chilean miners trapped nearly half-a-mile below the surface for 69 days, and a six-hour series on “God in America”… More »

October 8, 2010

The Mailbag: What to Include and Who to Leave Out?

The mail was a little light this week but, as usual, viewers raised some interesting points and challenges. Here’s a sampling: Re the Ft. Hood suicides this week: I find it unbelievable that PBS NewsHour devoted ten minutes of air… More »

October 1, 2010

Messing With the Media

Here are some additional thoughts on the great Katy Perry-Elmo caper that will never be seen on Sesame Street but which has been seen by millions of people on YouTube and countless online links, and which has been reported on… More »

September 2010

September 28, 2010

The Mailbag: A Cleavage Among Viewers

Maybe because the rest of the news these days is so grim, it became a very big deal all over the media last week, including even the ombudsman’s column, when it became known that Sesame Street had cancelled a planned… More »

September 24, 2010

Was This Show a Must or a Bust(ier)?

Did the producers of PBS’s famed Sesame Street children’s program do the right thing, or did they get weak-kneed and wobbly and engage in self-censorship after the first round of criticism? Or, are they the best PR people in the… More »

September 17, 2010

The Mailbag: Serving Viewers of the Tea Party

The mail was pretty light this week, but complaints from just a few people about how interviews were carried out on the PBS NewsHour dealing with the Tea Party struck me as making a valuable and broader point about news… More »

September 13, 2010

Trust but Verify

* Ombudsman’s Note: This posting was updated on Sept. 17 to include a reaction to this ombudsman’s column by Margaret Drain, vice president for national programming at the WGBH (Boston) Educational Foundation. Ronald Reagan liked to use that slogan —… More »

September 2, 2010

The Mailbag

What follows is a sampling of the mail that accumulated while I was away for two weeks in August and during my first week back. For the most part, the letters are variations on themes that arise fairly steadily in… More »

August 2010

August 13, 2010

The Mailbag

This was one of those weeks where I, too, felt like that airline cabin attendant who grabbed a beer and hit the escape chute. Actually, there wasn’t much going on. What follows is a brief mailbag before I set out… More »

July 2010

July 28, 2010

LOL Funny?

PBS says it is lots of things. But, with the exception of some pledge-drive humor specials, funny isn’t usually one of them. Yet in recent days, humor, or attempts at humor, figured in a lot of the mail coming my… More »

July 23, 2010

The Mailbag

This was another of those weeks in the rapidly changing face of American “journalism” that struck me as worth marking. Two months ago, I noted that on a weekend in May, two iconic PBS public affairs programs—Bill Moyers Journal and… More »

July 16, 2010

Turmoil Over 'Turmoil'

The e-mails, several hundred of them, began pouring into my mailbox early Monday evening. They began very soon after the media watch group known as FAIR — for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting and which describes itself as “progressive” in… More »

July 9, 2010

The Mailbag

Here’s another quick ombudsman’s mailbag focused mostly on Thursday evening’s (July 8th) edition of the PBS NewsHour. It features some viewer response, especially, to Jim Lehrer’s featured interview with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. In these early letters,… More »

July 7, 2010

The Mailbag

What follows is a catch-up with mail that arrived just before and during the long July 4th holiday weekend. The letters focus, mainly, on two programs — the annual “A Capitol Fourth” concert and fireworks display from the nation’s capital,… More »

June 2010

June 18, 2010

Keeping Their Heads Down

One of the most minor and least visible effects of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is that two oil companies not connected to the explosion and sinking of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform have minimized their… More »

June 10, 2010

The Mailbag

The inbox this week was filled with still more viewer commentary about two recent broadcasts on PBS that sparked a good deal of controversy. One involved the May 25 edition of the Tavis Smiley Show in which the host made… More »

June 1, 2010

Loose Talk on a Talk Show?

I hope you all had a good Memorial Day holiday, one that combines a day that is supposed to be reflective about the sacrifices of our fellow citizens in the armed services, with a long, relaxing spring weekend away from… More »

May 2010

May 21, 2010

The Mailbag

Here’s a sampling of the mail that landed in the ombudsman’s inbox while I was away last week. The messages still deal heavily with the new, weekly “Need to Know” public affairs program that made its debut on May 7…. More »

May 10, 2010

Another Opening, Another Show . . .

The new PBS weekly public affairs program “Need to Know” made its much-awaited debut Friday evening and the first comments by those who wrote to the ombudsman aren’t what you’d call four-star reviews. In fact, they are almost all pretty… More »

May 5, 2010

Journalism's Passing Parade

Three events this past weekend that have nothing much to do with ombudsmanship nevertheless struck me as markers in today’s media world that were worthy of note. Two of those events unfolded — folded-up might be a better way to… More »

April 2010

April 29, 2010

The Mailbag

* (Ombudsman’s Note: This mailbag has been updated to include additional information from the producers of “The Vaccine War” that arrived late on Thursday, after this column had been posted.) Frontline has become a firing line lately, as hundreds of… More »

April 23, 2010

Single-Minded About Single-Payer

PBS’s venerable public affairs and investigative series Frontline is, I confess, a favorite of mine, and has been for as long as I can remember watching public television. For me, Frontline, along with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” is the best of… More »

April 15, 2010

An Enduring Battle about an Old War

This posting comes with two warnings: 1) It is very long. 2) It is all about one subject, the extensive World War II American aerial bombing campaign against Nazi Germany from 1942 until the German surrender in 1945. It is… More »

April 8, 2010

The Mailbag

Lots of mail this past week, a good deal of it in response to last week’s brief column about viewer, and ombudsman, reaction to “Sharpe’s Challenge,” the first of a two-part Masterpiece Classic presentation based on the novels of British… More »

April 2, 2010

Not So Sharpe Challenge

The brief collection of letters that follow doesn’t have much to do with the usual fodder for an ombudsman; no journalistic standards at stake here or issues of accuracy or perceived bias or unfairness. Rather, these are letters from viewers… More »

March 2010

March 25, 2010

The Mailbag

The viewers and the ombudsman have written a lot more than PBS has in the past few months about the forthcoming end of the road for two of the most well-known weekly programs in public broadcasting — the hour-long “Bill… More »

March 18, 2010

All You 'Need To Know,' for Now

This is a pretty long edition of the ombudsman’s mailbag, but it is still only a shadow of the real thing. During the past week, my office has received about 3,000 e-mails from people, most of whom seemed to be… More »

March 5, 2010

A Painful, Powerful Program

Once again, PBS’s Frontline is truly on the frontline. Last Tuesday evening, March 2, the documentary series presented “The Suicide Tourist,” an extraordinary, intimate portrait of 59-year-old Craig Ewert, an American originally from Chicago, and his journey from being diagnosed… More »

February 2010

February 25, 2010

The Mailbag

I mentioned in a Mailbag a few weeks ago that viewers, at least those who write to me, haven’t seemed very stirred-up in recent months about many PBS offerings, and that leaves the PBS NewsHour as the program that is… More »

February 19, 2010

What Is Influencing DUI Charges in California?

An eight-and-a-half-minute segment on the PBS NewsHour last Monday evening about the use of sobriety checkpoints on California highways produced a small, brief but critical flurry of e-mail from viewers who felt that the presentation was too sympathetic to undocumented,… More »

February 12, 2010

The Snowbag

Like a lot of other people and places, the ombudsman and his office were snowed in for much of the past week. E-mail, however, is pretty much weather-proof so the correspondence has continued and here is a sampling of what… More »

February 4, 2010

The Mailbag

The volume of mail landing in the ombudsman’s mailbox seems to have slowed in the last several months. Maybe that’s good news for PBS and means that viewers are finding less to complain about. Or maybe it’s just the winter… More »

January 2010

January 21, 2010

Scanning the Source

On the PBS NewsHour Wednesday evening, correspondent Ray Suarez presented an informative segment on the latest in efforts to improve the safety of air travel, focusing especially on new body-scan screening machines at airports to guard against terrorist attacks such… More »

December 2009

December 29, 2009

The Mailbag

Here’s the last ombudsman’s mailbag of 2009, along with my very best wishes for a happy New Year and, let’s go for it, a happy new decade, for all. Despite the holiday season, the mail has remained steady, with viewers… More »

December 17, 2009

The Mailbag

The mail this week was focused mainly on comments from viewers about aspects of the new PBS NewsHour that made its debut Dec. 7 and was the subject of last week’s ombudsman’s column. A sampling of the letters is posted… More »

December 11, 2009

Lehrer's Rules

Last Friday evening, Dec. 4, was the final broadcast of what has been known for many years as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. The following Monday, Dec. 7, the new-look version of the venerable, one-hour, weekday nights, news broadcast made… More »

December 4, 2009

The Mailbag

More, and Less, About NOW Viewers irritated over the forthcoming cancellation of the weekly newsmagazine series NOW on PBS continued to vent their objections in a heavy flow of e-mails that dominated the Ombudsman’s Mailbag for the second week in… More »

November 2009

November 23, 2009

The Mailbag

Farewell to Moyers and NOW Last Friday evening, Nov. 20, the New York Times posted a brief news item on its Web site reporting that Bill Moyers would end his public affairs program, “Bill Moyers Journal,” on April 30. It… More »

November 20, 2009

What's Not on the Air

There was a little jewel on PBS last week, an hour-plus documentary called “The Way We Get By,” part of the long-running POV, or point of view, series. It was broadcast on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, and was about the… More »

November 9, 2009

Sesame Street Responds

In last week’s Ombudsman’s Column, I posted e-mails from some viewers who were upset with an episode of the venerable children’s program Sesame Street that had aired on Oct. 29 and dealt with one of the program’s colorful creations, the… More »

November 4, 2009

Pox or Fox? We Report. You Decide.

One of the most interesting aspects of this peculiar job is that you hear from viewers about lots of things that surprise you. I expect to hear regularly about The NewsHour, Frontline, Bill Moyers Journal, NOW, Tavis Smiley or Washington… More »

October 2009

October 30, 2009

The Mailbag

This week’s mailbag produced half-a-dozen or so letters from viewers who were angry at what they saw as PBS promotion of children being vaccinated against the flu virus, and in some cases, the H1N1 strain of that virus. Their ire… More »

October 22, 2009

Unearthing 'the Hidden History'

Most of the e-mails to the ombudsman this week came in reaction to last week’s column dealing with Frontline’s Oct. 13 documentary about Afghanistan with the controversial title, “Obama’s War,” and with the controversial use of footage of a fatally… More »

October 14, 2009

A Tough but Proper Decision

The long-running PBS documentary series Frontline aired its new season premiere this week, an hour-long look at the now eight-year-old war in Afghanistan that carried the controversial title, “Obama’s War.” I’ll come back to that title a little further down… More »

October 7, 2009

The Mailbag

As I was saying, we would wait until the completion of the six-part, 12-hour Ken Burns series on “The National Parks” before pulling together a representative sampling of viewer observations sent to the ombudsman’s inbox. Not surprisingly, this makes for… More »

October 2, 2009

The Mailbag

Not About ‘The Parks’ The sweeping, six-part, 12-hour documentary series by Ken Burns, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” is still running at the time of this posting, so I’m going to save some of this week’s mail commenting on… More »

September 2009

September 25, 2009

PBS, Yes and No

What follows is more of a grab bag rather than an ombudsman’s mailbag. Included are a couple of unusual but not widely known episodes that unfolded last week that I thought might be of interest more broadly to PBS viewers…. More »

September 18, 2009

The Mailbag

Most of the mail that accumulated while I was away focused on two segments of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. One aired on Tuesday, Sept. 15, and dealt with a new and strongly-worded report from the United Nations about the… More »

September 14, 2009

Away from the Office

I’ll be away from the office until Sept. 18, but will be checking in electronically from time-to-time and my assistant, Marcia Apperson, will be here to handle your inquiries. You can continue to contact us at ombudsman@pbs.org or 703-739-5290…. More »

September 3, 2009

End of the Rainbow

Last Friday, Aug. 28, was the last broadcast of “Reading Rainbow,” among the most venerable and durable children’s weekday series within PBS’s long history of high-quality programming for young people. It has had an extraordinary run — 26 years and… More »

August 2009

August 21, 2009

The Mailbag

‘The Moderator, Not the Judge’ The headline on this column is from an answer I got from Linda Winslow, the executive producer of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. In the mailbag this week, not surprisingly, were a number of e-mails… More »

August 12, 2009

The Mailbag

What follows is a sampling of the mail that landed here while I was away last week. There are lots of subjects covered so this gets pretty long. First come some follow-ups to the July 29 column that dealt with… More »

July 2009

July 29, 2009

Beauty and the Beasts

(Ombudsman’s Note: I’ll be away from the office until Aug. 10 but my assistant, Marcia Apperson, will be here and you can continue to contact us at ombudsman@pbs.org or by phone at 703-739-5290.) Two PBS programs in recent days struck… More »

July 23, 2009

The Mailbag

This week’s mailbag found viewers taking some pretty clear stands on three recent programs or segments. Last week’s column featured an assault on the host of the weekly Bill Moyers Journal by conservative commentator Brent Bozell. It included some lengthy… More »

July 20, 2009

Journalistic Foundations

It was relatively quiet around the ombudsman’s office last week; not many e-mails from viewers. But if you listened closely you could hear the sound of one icon getting smashed, and another coming under attack. For example, Bill Moyers ended… More »

July 9, 2009

The Mailbag

I’m sure a lot of people liked the annual Capitol Fourth concert broadcast by PBS on July 4th from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. But you can’t tell that from this week’s Ombudsman’s Mailbag. Viewers who wrote to… More »

July 1, 2009

The Mailbag

Here’s a sampling of mail from viewers reacting to recent PBS programs and decisions that have been the subject of ombudsman’s columns in the past week dealing with broadcasts of NOW on PBS about anti-abortion actions, and about the PBS… More »

June 2009

June 26, 2009

NOW on the Frontlines

Among the other things that unfolded within or on PBS during the time I was away earlier this month were two provocative and hard-hitting reports on the weekly public affairs program NOW on PBS — one asking the question: “Are… More »

June 23, 2009

A Nonsectarian Decision, Mostly

While I was away last week, the PBS Board reached an important decision. It was both a compromise, yet also uncompromising in an important way. On June 16, the Board approved, as a requirement for station membership, a recommendation from… More »

June 11, 2009

Away from the Office

I’ll be away from the office until June 22, but will be checking in electronically from time-to-time and my assistant, Marcia Apperson, will be here to handle your inquiries. You can continue to contact us at ombudsman@pbs.org or 703-739-5290…. More »

June 5, 2009

The Mailbag

Some Not So Old Business What follows are some more letters and lengthier correspondence dealing with two recent programs that sparked both a good deal of interest and, unexpectedly, a fair amount of controversy. The first group consists of another… More »

June 1, 2009

More on that Concert

Last Wednesday, I posted a column dealing with viewer response to the Sunday night, May 24, nationally televised 20th annual National Memorial Day Concert from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The column focused, in particular, on a segment… More »

May 2009

May 27, 2009

Remembering Veterans . . . and Their Families

Last Sunday evening, May 24, the annual National Memorial Day Concert from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., was broadcast live to the nation on PBS. It was the 20th anniversary of this 90-minute musical, dramatic… More »

May 22, 2009

The Mailbag

This week’s Mailbag brings something old and something new. The new stuff involves lots of e-mails that amount to pre-emptive strikes by viewers on both sides of a tough and touchy decision that faces the PBS Board of Directors next… More »

May 20, 2009

Burying Some Questions at Wounded Knee

An ambitious and, I thought, powerful and illuminating five-part series on the relentlessly tragic yet often stirring history of the American Indian unfolded on PBS stations for 90 minutes on consecutive Monday evenings from April 13 through May 11. This… More »

April 2009

April 23, 2009

The Mailbag

This week’s mailbag centers on responses and reactions to the last two ombudsman’s columns. One of them was last week dealing with a report on FOX News about the use of material from the Al Jazeera English news network by… More »

April 16, 2009

The Al Jazeera Effect

A story on FOXNews.com last week, headlined “Al Jazeera’s Presence on PBS Alarms Some” by Eric Shawn, apparently did alarm some of those who saw the story. Although only four people wrote to me, and all of the e-mails appeared… More »

April 9, 2009

The Back Story at Frontline

Last week’s Ombudsman’s Mailbag included a segment on the March 31 broadcast of “Sick Around America” on PBS’s flagship documentary series, Frontline. The program dealt with health care in this country and the letters to me were uniformly critical of… More »

April 2, 2009

The Mailbag

Note: This column contains a correction posted on April 6. Viewer response to two programs dominated the mailbag this week. Most of the mail and certainly the strongest sentiments - all of them critical - focused on last Friday’s (March… More »

March 2009

March 20, 2009

More Pledge Madness

March Madness means basketball for most Americans but it also means madness over Pledge Drive programming for some PBS watchers. I’ve written about this issue several times over the past three years and one of the viewers who wrote to… More »

March 6, 2009

The Mailbag

Here’s a brief collection of observations from viewers that landed in our inbox this past week or so. The mail focused on two main issues: 1) further commentary on the two-part series broadcast on Masterpiece Classic in February of the… More »

February 2009

February 27, 2009

Figuring Out Fagin

A two-part, three-hour, miniseries production of the Charles Dickens classic “Oliver Twist” that appeared on PBS’s “Masterpiece Classic” on Feb. 15 and 22 produced some sharply critical comments from several viewers. Not surprisingly, they are focused on the character known… More »

February 20, 2009

The Mailbag

Welcome to another collection of viewer commentaries and observations that landed in the ombudsman’s mailbag during the past week or so. This one is a double feature, and that makes it rather long. First comes a sampling of reaction to… More »

February 12, 2009

Rapping About 'Genocide'

In Wednesday’s New York Times, a headline on page A5 read: “To Some Sri Lankan Ears, Dissonant Undertones in an Acclaimed Rapper’s Music.” The story, from the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo by correspondent Thomas Fuller, began: “To many Americans,… More »

February 6, 2009

The Mailbag

This week’s Mailbag includes commentaries from viewers on a range of PBS offerings from NOVA’s “The Spy Factory” to the Mark Twain Prize posthumously honoring comedian George Carlin — who remained bleeped on PBS even though he is no longer… More »

January 2009

January 23, 2009

The Mailbag

Welcome to another — very long — Mailbag filled with a sampling of viewer commentaries on lots of programs and presentations. Aside from the letters below, there were several hundred more letters from viewers sharply critical of the Bill Moyers… More »

January 16, 2009

Moyers Reflects, Viewers React

At the close of the weekly Bill Moyers Journal last Friday evening (Jan. 9), the host of that usually stimulating and frequently provocative program reflected on the continuing violence in Gaza between the forces of Israel and Hamas. He did… More »

January 9, 2009

Another Never-Ending War

Another round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings still more death and destruction to those caught in its path, still more gut-wrenching images on television, and always more letters from viewers who have strong feelings about how this long-playing human tragedy is… More »

December 2008

December 29, 2008

The Mailbag

Welcome to a quick, year-end mailbag; a sampling of reactions to some recent ombudsman’s columns and some letters from earlier in the month that I didn’t have a chance to post. Here are the letters: Regarding that NOW poll back… More »

December 22, 2008

Going to the Circus?

Last month, Jim Lehrer, the editor, part-owner, father and anchor of PBS’s flagship news offering, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, was honored by Oklahoma University’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications for another one of his accomplishments: a role model… More »

December 18, 2008

It's Back

What is broadly described as the “Armenian Genocide” — the epic saga of what many, but not all, historians and many, but not all, countries describe as the genocide against the Armenians carried out by the Young Turks of the… More »

December 10, 2008

Heeere's Hugo

While I was away during the Thanksgiving holiday, a couple of related things happened. Venezuela held important state and local elections around the country on Sunday, Nov. 23, and PBS’s Frontline series broadcast a 90-minute documentary about that country’s controversial… More »

November 2008

November 21, 2008

Some Timely, or Untimely, Ghosts?

Two programs on PBS last week revived some ghosts; memories of people and events of years past that might still have relevance these days. In one case, that possibility made a few viewers wonder whether airing such a documentary at… More »

November 12, 2008

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This one deals only with responses to the issue raised in last week’s column about the timing of PBS’s special election night coverage on Nov. 4. I’ll be away later this week so I’m posting… More »

November 7, 2008

Watching NOVA While Pennsylvania Closes

Last Tuesday was a historic night in lots of ways; for the United States, for Barack Obama, and for Americans who turned on their televisions for many hours to watch the returns roll in from an extraordinary election. The Associated… More »

October 2008

October 31, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another collection of mail from viewers about PBS programs. Actually, this isn’t much of a collection since most of the mail I received was about one program, a two-hour documentary called “Heat” from Frontline that aired on Oct…. More »

October 24, 2008

A Tortured Path

In last week’s mini-posting I mentioned, very briefly, a new 90-minute documentary film titled “Torturing Democracy” that had been offered to PBS but stirred some controversy before it had aired. The New York Times, on Oct. 16, had first reported… More »

October 17, 2008

Wait 'Til Next Year

* This posting was revised on Friday based on new information I’m away from the office until Oct. 21. So this isn’t a column, and that headline isn’t about baseball. Rather, it is about a new 90-minute documentary film (that… More »

October 10, 2008

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

As sometimes happens in the week-by-week life of an ombudsman, if you defend — or are perceived to be defending — someone who is under attack by critics, then the fire turns on you the following week. So a good… More »

October 2, 2008

The Doctrine of No Surprises

One of the most useful lessons I learned during many years as a reporter and editor at The Washington Post was what we sometimes called “the doctrine of no surprises.” At other times, it was described in harsher terms. The… More »

September 2008

September 26, 2008

Some Dubious Links for PBS.org

Maybe it’s just another sign of the new world of media, but two events on PBS.org — the online component of the Public Broadcasting Service — rather than on television, produced the proverbial ton of e-mail and online controversy for… More »

September 19, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Pledging, Polling and Palin Alaska Governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin was the focus of a lot of the messages in the Ombudsman’s Mailbag this week, but not because of anything she had said or done. Rather, it was… More »

September 12, 2008

Did Too, Did Not, Did Too, Did Not

As the 2008 election draws closer and closer, the ombudsman’s mailbag, not surprisingly, is filled more and more with messages from viewers who are upset over one thing or another about political coverage on PBS. And because the five-nights-a-week NewsHour… More »

September 5, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Last week’s long mailbag was centered on viewer reaction to PBS coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. There was a lot of mail, and much of it was complimentary to the coverage by Jim Lehrer and the staff… More »

August 2008

August 29, 2008

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Warning to Readers: This is a very long Mailbag. PBS’s The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer this week was the only broadcast network program to devote all its prime time hours to coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and… More »

August 21, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag, a regular sampling of viewer comments and observations about PBS programs, and of reactions to the ombudsman’s column. This week’s mail was dominated by a continuing and rather heavy flow of e-mail from viewers reacting… More »

August 13, 2008

The Edwards Confession: Unfit for NewsHour Viewers?

There is a legitimate debate underway within journalistic circles, and in that part of the online blogging world that keeps tabs on journalism, about whether the major news organizations in this country did the right thing, or the wrong thing,… More »

August 1, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Last week’s column about a segment on the NewsHour moderated by Margaret Warner with guests Max Boot and Lawrence Korb — informal campaign advisers, respectively, to Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama — included several letters that were sharply critical… More »

July 2008

July 28, 2008

This 'Boot' Is Made for 'Walkin' All Over You'

(Ombudsman’s Note: This column was scheduled to appear at its usual time last Friday, July 25, but posting was delayed until Monday, July 28, due to technical problems at pbs.org.) The headline of this column is lifted from a song… More »

July 18, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

The mail from viewers this week focused on the new, the old and the continuing. The majority of comments dealt with a new program. They had less to do with typical ombudsman’s issues of journalistic standards or editorial integrity. Rather,… More »

July 11, 2008

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another collection of viewer responses to what they saw and heard on PBS in recent days. This week, most of the mail, and certainly most of the heat, was generated by Part II of a three-part series titled… More »

July 3, 2008

'Out of the Closet' and Out of the Transcript

As so often happens when even small mistakes or missteps are made, the cover-up turns out to be worse than the crime. It can be even more perplexing when it is not clear that a crime actually was committed. This… More »

June 2008

June 27, 2008

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Last week’s Ombudsman’s Mailbag centered on a couple of letters from viewers about the June 13 edition of “Bill Moyers Journal” that focused on the theme of “inequality in America.” I thought two of the letters, especially, captured the on-going… More »

June 20, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag, a sampling of comments from viewers during the past week. The volume, as measured in numbers, was down a bit compared to our normal flow of incoming e-mail and calls. But the volume, as in… More »

June 10, 2008

Changing the Rules

Is this a great time to be an ombudsman, or what? Yes, it is a good time but a lot of the action was elsewhere last week, although several PBS viewers in certain parts of the country were upset —… More »

June 4, 2008

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

I was out of the office last week, attending the annual gathering of news ombudsmen. It was held this year, fittingly, in Stockholm, Sweden, home of the word, and the birthplace of this strange occupation. According to the Web site… More »

May 2008

May 23, 2008

'Nobody Asked Me, But . . .'

The headline above was made famous by Jimmy Cannon, a well-known and widely-read New York sportswriter and columnist in the 1940s and ’50s. Lots of people, including me, sort of grew up reading his column. But every once in a… More »

May 15, 2008

Caution: That Program May Not Be From PBS

Note: This column contains a correction posted on May 20. Each year, for the past several years, PBS puts out a press release that proclaims proudly that a new national poll by the respected Roper organization “shows that Americans consider… More »

May 8, 2008

Carried Away?

If you are a devoted viewer of PBS, it was hard to miss endless shots of Navy jets taking off and landing on the deck of the USS Nimitz last week, part of a highly-promoted and, indeed, tantalizing series called… More »

May 1, 2008

Too Much Reverence for the Reverend?

This was a busy week at the ombudsman’s desk. Things started to heat up last Friday night after the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. was the guest for the full hour of Bill Moyers Journal. In case there is anyone… More »

April 2008

April 24, 2008

About Those 'Retired' Military Officer/Analysts

Last Sunday, The New York Times published a very lengthy — even by Times’ standards — investigative article headlined, “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand.” The sub-headline read: “Courting Ex-Officers Tied to Military Contractors.” The 7,600-word article by reporter David… More »

April 18, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another collection of viewer responses to what they see and hear on PBS. Things were a little slow this past week; nothing that generated a great deal of mail. But what does arrive is always interesting. Here’s a… More »

April 11, 2008

'Let's Blame the Readers'

I’m not sure what this column has to do, precisely, with PBS, except perhaps in one way: to help, somehow, to engage more young people in the news of our time and in the duty of citizens in a democracy…. More »

April 4, 2008

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another posting of viewer comments about recent programs or ombudsman columns. Much of the mail this week continued to focus on the two-part, four-and-a-half hour Frontline series titled “Bush’s War” that aired on March 24 and 25. It… More »

March 2008

March 27, 2008

On the Frontline, Again

All of you TV watchers out there have surely seen, by now, that famous “red telephone” political advertisement run by Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. It seeks to convey the idea that when that crisis phone rings, you want the… More »

March 21, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Debating the War Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This one comes close on the heels of Tuesday’s mailbag, mostly because this extraordinary election campaign season continues to generate a relentless stream of issues, controversies and interest among viewers. And, since… More »

March 18, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

I was away last week but the Ombudsman’s Mailbag filled up with commentaries on many subjects, and the viewers who wrote to me seemed to be in a critical mood about lots of things. The one that attracted the most… More »

March 7, 2008

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Covering the Dems, the Economy and the Cost of the War Welcome to another edition of the Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This one deals mostly with viewer comments, and some of my own, on recent coverage of the Democratic primary campaign, followed… More »

February 2008

February 27, 2008

How Do We Love Thee? Let Us Count the Ways

With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the headline above just about sums up viewer attitudes about PBS that landed in the ombudsman’s inbox this week. The comments came in the aftermath of a controversy that had been stirred up by… More »

February 22, 2008

Is The New York Times Still Necessary?

There are, after all, other world-class newspapers like The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. And there are other papers that cover New York. But of course The New York Times is still necessary; more necessary… More »

February 14, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. Just as a reminder for those who may have only recently tuned into this space, these “mailbags” are primarily collections of viewer commentaries about recent PBS programs, usually with some brief commentary from me and… More »

February 8, 2008


On a night like Super Tuesday, even one mistake projecting a winner in any of the 22 Democratic primary races and 21 Republican contests is too much for some television viewers. And you can’t blame them. This is serious business…. More »

February 1, 2008

'American Idol,' It's Not

Well, it wasn’t what you’d call gripping, edge-of-your-chair television, and it didn’t attract many letters to the ombudsman. But when correspondents for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer fanned out to five different states this week to talk to small groups… More »

January 2008

January 25, 2008

Ombudsman's Mailbag

‘Horseracism’ Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This week the inbox was filled mostly with e-mail from viewers critical of, and tired of, the so-called “horse race” journalism that goes into reporting who is, or seems to be, ahead in the… More »

January 18, 2008

The Race is On

It probably was inevitable that, with Sen. Barack Obama as a leading contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, race was somehow going to surface during the hard-fought primaries. That’s what happened earlier this month and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim… More »

January 11, 2008

Another 'Shiner' for 'The Media'

The press, the pundits and the polls all got a big black eye this week after forecasting, with considerable certainty, a big victory for Sen. Barack Obama in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. Much has already been written and… More »

January 4, 2008

'The Group,' the Gripes and PBS

What happens, or should happen, when a guest on a popular TV opinion show goes beyond normally accepted criticism and launches into a harsh characterization of someone who is a revered prophet of a religion with about 12 million adherents,… More »

December 2007

December 20, 2007

Not a Mailbag, Not a Column

Not a Mailbag, not a Column Just a note, not too solemn, To thank you, dear readers, For letting me know What you thought about that show, And why, exactly, such a bomb Demanded the attention of the Omb. But… More »

December 14, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. Here, without comment, is a sampling of letters from viewers reacting to last week’s column about programs aired on Bill Moyers Journal and NOW. There are also letters from some of you who objected to… More »

December 7, 2007

One-Sided? Yes and No

Two of PBS’s flagship weekly public affairs programs — NOW with David Brancaccio and Bill Moyers Journal — air back-to-back on Friday evenings and last week’s offerings each drew a few complaints from viewers who felt they were “one-sided.” Only… More »

November 2007

November 30, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Here’s another Ombudsman’s Mailbag, this one recording observations from viewers about a variety of programs that aired since the last posting just before the Thanksgiving Day holiday break. Most of the mail, as has been the case in the last… More »

November 20, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Last week’s Ombudsman’s Column dealt with the presentation on PBS of “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” and included comments from viewers in the immediate aftermath of the Nov. 13 broadcast. The program generated a lot of reaction and mail,… More »

November 16, 2007

'Judgment Day,' Intelligently Designed

The e-mail from viewers was immediate and heavy, and the opinions intense. The subject was the two-hour documentary titled “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” that aired Tuesday night, Nov. 13, as part of the long-running and widely acclaimed PBS… More »

November 14, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

I was out of town for a couple of days last week, but wanted to keep in front of you comments, criticisms and compliments that landed in the ombudsman’s inbox in the past several days, and to offer a… More »

November 2, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. Here’s a representative sampling of the e-mail from viewers — commenting on several different programs — that landed in the inbox since late last week. Labeling Ladies On tonight’s (Oct. 26) Washington Week, a panelist-reporter,… More »

October 2007

October 26, 2007

Pumping the Heart

Being a senior citizen, as well as an ombudsman, I watched the just-concluded PBS three-hour, two-part series, “The Mysterious Human Heart,” with an extra dose of interest. Even if you are feeling pretty good, these things always seem scary, triggering… More »

October 19, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

On the Frontline, Again. Frontline, the outstanding (my opinion as well as that of many others) documentary series marked the beginning of its 25th season this week with another look into the often-closed world in which Vice-President Dick Cheney operates…. More »

October 12, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. The inbox this week, as was the case last week, was dominated by viewer response to the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick epic documentary series, “The War.” Viewers continued to comment on the series, on some of… More »

October 5, 2007

The War Is Over . . . Now, on to the Re-Runs

“The War” is over. The Allies won. And so did PBS viewers. The epic 15-hour documentary — produced by filmmaker-extraordinaire Ken Burns, co-producer Lynn Novick and writer Geoffrey C. Ward and presented in seven nightly episodes stretching over the past… More »

September 2007

September 28, 2007

'Estimated Gross' or Gross Estimate?

This was a big week for PBS. On Monday night, the Public Broadcasting Service won 10 “Emmy” Awards in the News and Documentary category, more than any broadcast or cable television network. And the night before, the highly-touted and much-publicized… More »

September 20, 2007

Debates Are On; Debaters Are Off

PBS seemed to be making news this week rather than just broadcasting it. The news revolves around two debates, officially called “forums,” for 2008 presidential candidates — one in Iowa for Democrats and one in Maryland for Republicans. Both were… More »

September 14, 2007

On the War: Questioning the Questioner

The appearance in Washington this week of the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, four-star Army Gen. David Petraeus, and his diplomatic sidekick, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, was among the most high-profile visits to the nation’s capital in… More »

September 7, 2007

All Stirred Up: Viewers React to a Program and a Panel

The Ombudsman’s Mailbag this week was filled with e-mails focusing on one or the other of two PBS offerings. One was an hour-long program on Sept. 3 called “Inside America’s Empire,” in which journalist-author Robert D. Kaplan travels to smaller… More »

August 2007

August 30, 2007

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Last week’s ombudsman’s column about the closing segment of a Bill Moyers Journal and Moyers’ “closing thoughts” on the departure of top political strategist Karl Rove from the White House drew quite a bit of mail. Unlike last week, however,… More »

August 24, 2007

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Over the last many years, reporters have grown fond of the once-secret tape recordings of White House conversations made by former President Richard Nixon. They are sometimes jokingly referred to as “the gift that keeps on giving,” not just because… More »

August 10, 2007

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Here’s a sampling of letters from viewers that arrived while I was away last week. They focused on three offerings: the latest appearance on PBS of self-help guru Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., and on a couple of segments on the NewsHour… More »

August 1, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Here’s some more mail about recent Bill Moyers Journal programs and the exchange between Moyers and me over the question of balance. If you can’t get enough of this, here’s a link to the original July 13 Moyers program dealing… More »

July 2007

July 26, 2007

On Balance: Bill Moyers Responds

Last week’s posting was a combined ombudsman’s column and viewer mailbag that dealt primarily with the July 13th edition of “Bill Moyers Journal, which was headlined, “Tough Talk About Impeachment; Should Congress Start Proceedings?” There was a fair amount of… More »

July 20, 2007

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. Actually, this is as much a column as it is a mailbag, as you will see. And if you read all the letters, it’s also quite long. This week, the inbox was loaded with viewer… More »

July 13, 2007

Detecting More Than History?

“We interrupt this program to bring you … a political message.” That line wasn’t actually broadcast on PBS this week, but that’s what several viewers thought happened while they were watching the July 9 airing of the “History… More »

July 6, 2007

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag, this time with a representative sampling of mail from viewers during the last week in June and this holiday week in July. It includes reactions to the big, annual “Capitol Fourth” telecast on PBS of… More »

June 2007

June 29, 2007

'Ombudsman or Spinmeister?'

The Ombudsman’s Column on June 1, titled “At PBS, the Pressure Is On Before the TV Goes On,” dealt with two decisions that had just unfolded publicly in which editorial judgments by the Public Broadcasting Service on two future offerings… More »

June 22, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Two recent PBS “documentaries,” both of which have been the subject of previous Ombudsman’s Columns, continue to draw a good deal of mail — some of it about the films and some of it about my columns. I put the… More »

June 15, 2007

Is That Church-State Wall Just a Metaphor?

When I was in elementary school back in the 1940s during World War II, we used to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. We faced the classroom flag and said: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United… More »

June 8, 2007

Versions of a War

One of the good things about being an ombudsman is that you learn, at least I do, new things all the time. Last week’s lesson in how television and PBS work came to me in the form of e-mails and… More »

June 1, 2007

At PBS, the Pressure Is On Before the TV Goes On

Normally, the Ombudsman’s column deals with viewer observations about programs that have aired on PBS affiliated-stations around the country. On one or two occasions in the past 18 months, it has also dealt with controversies that have arisen publicly about… More »

May 2007

May 17, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This one is very long, so here’s a guide to what’s in it so you can pick, choose, skim, scan or devour the whole thing. The length is mostly because there were hundreds of e-mails… More »

May 9, 2007

Old Business

The ombudsman’s inbox has been really busy lately — the saga of Ken Burns’ “The War” and Latino unhappiness about the film continues; 12 hours of “America at the Crossroads” has been aired; Bill Moyers came roaring back to PBS… More »

May 4, 2007

On 'Buying the War'

Like a lot of people who have followed the war in Iraq closely, and like a lot of journalists who understand that the press, with few exceptions, failed in its obligation to challenge tenaciously the administration’s case for war before… More »

April 2007

April 26, 2007

PBS at a Crossroads

It certainly qualifies as a TV epic and as among the more memorable and expensive events in the recent history of public television; PBS’s “America at a Crossroads,” a 12-hour, 11-part series that “explores the challenges confronting the post-9/11 world.”… More »

April 18, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag — Black and White and Read All Over

Race and ethnicity were on the air and in the air last week. Although the main event was the sudden banishment of Don Imus from his CBS radio and MSNBC television talk show platforms for his ugly racial and sexual… More »

April 10, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

I was away last week and a good deal of mail piled up in my inbox; so here is a catch-up column of viewer commentary. A lot of the correspondence was about the continuing controversy surrounding the forthcoming seven-night, 14½… More »

March 2007

March 29, 2007

A Relatively Disappointing Finish

The four-part PBS Frontline series “News War” wrapped up on Tuesday night with a segment titled “War of Ideas.” In it, producer/reporter/narrator Greg Barker “travels to the Middle East to examine the rise of Arab satellite TV channels and their… More »

March 23, 2007

Madness Again. It Must Be March.

To millions of people, March Madness means the final throws and throes of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. To millions of PBS viewers, it also means Pledge Month. I’m sure that many of those viewers understand that PBS… More »

March 16, 2007

Pre-War Combat

“The War” doesn’t even start for another six months, but the skirmishes around its flanks have been underway for some time now and they escalated in the past week or two. “The War,” of course, is not the one we… More »

March 7, 2007

On Not Knowing What You Are Missing

For those of you out there who care about journalism and have been following what is happening to the news media in recent years, the litany of woes has become very familiar. Newspaper circulation and advertising revenues continue in a… More »

March 2, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Like all good Marines, when attacked, they launch a strong counter-offensive. Last week’s ombudsman’s column was about a 90-minute documentary titled “The Marines” that aired in mid-February. Most of the mail from viewers at the time — and most of… More »

February 2007

February 22, 2007

USMC and PBS, Semper Fi

Most of the mail this week focused on a 90-minute documentary that aired Wednesday evening and was simply titled “The Marines.” The United States Marine Corps is one of the oldest and most widely revered American institutions. No matter what… More »

February 16, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

The biggest news on PBS last week was the first installment of a four-part, 4 ½-hour “Frontline” investigative series on the future of news. “News War: Secrets, Sources & Spin” premiered on Feb. 13 and will continue on Feb. 20… More »

February 9, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Maybe it’s just the February blahs, but there was less than the average amount of viewer mail this past week, and no dominant themes emerged. There was what looked like a relatively small e-mail write-in campaign from critics questioning the… More »

January 2007

January 31, 2007

The "Hand of God," (Very) Late Edition

This started out as an Ombudsman’s Mailbag, a collection of viewer comments on a fairly wide range of programs that had aired recently. There was little or no comment from me because there were no dominant or especially controversial themes… More »

January 18, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Two PBS offerings this week, both of them on Tuesday evening, Jan. 16 — a 90-minute Frontline documentary provocatively titled “Hand of God,” and a 30-minute interview with President Bush by Jim Lehrer on the nightly NewsHour — produced a… More »

January 11, 2007

Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This one is rather long. In fact, it is extremely long. You could even call it a “surge,” to use the word of the moment. This mailbag surge is mostly because there’s been a burst… More »

January 5, 2007

Be More, um, Aggressive?

That little black-and-white PBS logo that you see on your TV screen — the one with the three facial silhouettes — is accompanied by the PBS motto, which is “Be more.” The idea, if you read the fine print, is… More »

December 2006

December 21, 2006

Ombudsman's Mailbag

For those of you hardcore readers of the ombudsman’s column who aren’t yet on your holiday break and are still tuned in, here are a few letters that arrived over the last couple of days. The first batch involves a… More »

December 15, 2006

Einstein's Wife: The Relative Motion of 'Facts'

*This column was amended on Dec. 26 and Dec. 27, 2006. See Ombudsman’s Note at end. In October 2003, a one-hour documentary film titled “Einstein’s Wife,” about the renowned physicist’s first wife, Mileva Maric, along with a companion Web site… More »

December 8, 2006

For Brewers Like You

In the midst of a really big news week for all Americans, including the release and reaction to the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report, came one of the weirder bits of news involving PBS. On Dec. 6, it was announced… More »

November 2006

November 30, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

The Jimmy and Judy Show On Tuesday evening, Nov. 28, former President Jimmy Carter was interviewed on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” by special correspondent Judy Woodruff. The subject was Carter’s latest book, the 21st he has authored, titled: “Palestine:… More »

November 16, 2006

On Covering One's Self

On Nov. 10, Jim Lehrer, the host of PBS’s nightly “NewsHour,” was a featured speaker at the dedication of the new National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va. Also present was President Bush, who also spoke, the Marine… More »

November 10, 2006

A Tale of Two Actresses

For those of you who want a little diversion from politics, here’s one of those stories that journalists sometimes describe, jokingly, as “too good to check,” or “you couldn’t make this one up.” These are usually stories rich with irony… More »

November 3, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This has been a relatively quiet week for the inbox. Maybe people are so fed up with what has seemed like an endless political campaign accompanied by endless and ugly political advertising that they just… More »

October 2006

October 23, 2006

'Silly' or Serious?

Sometimes issues that come to the attention of an ombudsman are clear cut: they do or do not violate an organization’s guidelines, or something important has been left out, or something is inaccurate or unfair. At other times, things are… More »

October 13, 2006

Politics, the Press and the People

Michelle Walsh, a PBS viewer in Portland, Ore., e-mailed me last week with the following observation: “While listening to ‘Washington Week in Review,’ I was returned again and again to the politics of a current event (in this case, scandal… More »

October 6, 2006

A FAIR Analysis?

While news organizations were focused heavily last week on the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), my inbox was filled with e-mails that were mainly about two other topics. One involves a new, critical study of the PBS’s nightly “NewsHour… More »

October 3, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Fear of Fining The effect of confusion over the Federal Communication Commission’s controversial rulings on indecency issues — and concern over the recently enacted Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act that allows the FCC to impose fines of $325,000 on broadcasters who… More »

September 2006

September 22, 2006

Katie, Jim and the Mailbag

Like some eight million or so other Americans, I’ve been tuning in to watch the new “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” whenever I could these last few weeks, mostly to try to get a sense of how she was… More »

September 8, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another sampling of viewer and online reader comments that have landed in the Ombudsman’s Mailbag in the past week or two. The first batch deals with reaction to the last column, on Sept. 1, about the movement of… More »

September 1, 2006

The Advertising Issue Moves Online

The ombudsman’s column of Aug. 11 dealt with what has been a relatively small but steady number of complaints I get from viewers who are upset at what they see as a steady growth of “commercials,” corporate “advertisements” and “sponsorships,”… More »

August 2006

August 23, 2006

Ombudsman's Mailbag — Contrary Views

In my Aug. 16 column, I wrote about a situation, first disclosed two days earlier by Washington Post columnist Al Kamen, who writes the popular “In The Loop” feature. This one involved PBS’s long-running, all-women, weekly current affairs panel show… More »

August 16, 2006

"Conservative Commentator" Unmasked, Anonymously

My friend and former colleague at The Washington Post, Al Kamen, revealed last Monday, Aug. 14, in his popular “In The Loop” column that an anonymous inquiry from one of his readers asked: “Please explain to your readers how a… More »

August 11, 2006

"Underwriters," "Corporate Funders" & "Noncommercial" Public Television

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, one of the big stories of the day was the shutting down, by oil giant British Petroleum, of production at the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska because of badly corroded pipelines that had not been… More »

August 3, 2006

More About Melanie

Readers of this column could argue that, as a journalist, I missed the lead on my own column last week. If you read it, you would know that I started out, or led with, the situation in the Middle East…. More »

July 2006

July 26, 2006

A Deadly Summer, and It Isn't Over Yet

An online reader of the Ombudsman’s Column from Powder Springs, GA., dropped me a line on July 20 to note that, “The last comments published (on the ombudsman’s Web page) were on the Fourth of July celebration. The real fireworks… More »

July 7, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Fireworks Set Off Fireworks As usual, there was a glorious fireworks display on the evening of July Fourth next to the National Mall in the nation’s capital. And, as usual, it was broadcast live by PBS as part of the… More »

July 3, 2006

Patriotism and the Press

What better time to talk about patriotism than the Fourth of July. I am a total sucker for this holiday, and for Memorial Day as well. Like many Americans, I really do pause to think about this day and what… More »

June 2006

June 14, 2006

'There's Something About Mary'

“Welcome to the broadcast. I’m Mary Matalin, former White House counselor, sitting in tonight for Charlie Rose.” That’s how the May 31 broadcast of “The Charlie Rose Show” began. For the roughly three million people a week who watch Mr…. More »

June 2, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Striking a Chord It probably should not have been surprising that a great many viewers wrote this past week about the annual National Memorial Day Concert performed last Sunday, May 28, from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The… More »

May 2006

May 26, 2006

He's Back: Moyers, not Tomlinson

I spent most of last week in Orlando at PBS’s third annual “Showcase” gathering, a coming together of several hundred people — station managers, producers, programmers and executives — from PBS-affiliated stations around the country and from headquarters in Arlington,… More »

May 15, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Ranch for Sale, Needs Work Welcome to another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This is one that I did not expect to be posting, but two weeks after that eight-part, eight-hour, four-night “Texas Ranch House — 1867” series ran from May 1 through… More »

May 8, 2006

Cowboys 49, Ranchers 0

The mail this past week was dominated by viewer reaction to an eight-part, eight-hour series called “Texas Ranch House.” Set in 1867, each segment starts by explaining that, “This is the true story of 15 brave men and women who… More »

April 2006

April 28, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Another Opening, Another Show Welcome to another edition of the Ombudsman’s Mailbag. As is frequently the case, the issues that drew the most viewer mail and complaints to me last week are what one might fairly describe as downers; serious… More »

April 21, 2006

Documenting and Debating a 'Genocide'

The year 2015 will mark the 100th anniversary of what many, but not all, historians and many, but not all, countries describe as the genocide against the Armenians carried out by the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire during World… More »

April 14, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Here’s another Ombudsman’s Mailbag. This one includes a sampling of viewer and online reader response to the last three ombudsman’s columns and the issues they dealt with. The column posted on April 6 dealt with the Federal Communications Commission’s intention,… More »

April 6, 2006

A Lone Ranger Rides Again

Back on Jan. 30, I wrote a column headlined “The Lone Rangers.” The headline referred to the fact that although PBS has tens of millions of viewers every week, it is, as the first sentence of that earlier column explained,… More »

March 2006

March 24, 2006

Pledging Allegiance, or March Madness?

PBS, the public television service where I now work as the ombudsman, and The Washington Post newspaper, where I formerly did the same kind of work, have some important things in common. Both have informed, engaged audiences who care about… More »

March 17, 2006

Coming Soon to Viewers Like You: "The Armenian Genocide"

On Monday evening, April 17, many PBS-affiliated television stations across the country — including nine of the top 10 TV markets — will air an hour-long documentary on “The Armenian Genocide” produced by the independent, New York-based filmmaker Andrew Goldberg…. More »

March 3, 2006

Ombudsman Warming

Last Friday, Feb. 24, I appeared as a guest on the PBS weekly television news magazine program “NOW with David Brancaccio.” It was a short segment at the end of the program. The first part of that segment was basically… More »

February 2006

February 17, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to another ombudsman’s mailbag. What follows is a sampling of e-mails from viewers and online readers in response to Monday’s column about the Feb. 7 interview with Vice President Dick Cheney on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” and also… More »

February 13, 2006

Cartoons as News; Are Words Enough?

Once again, the press is in the middle of the news. This time it is the publication in Denmark’s largest daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, of a series of cartoons depicting Islam’s holiest figure, the prophet Muhammad. One of those depicts Muhammad… More »

February 6, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to the Ombudsman’s mailbag, an occasional collection and sampling of emails from viewers and online readers responding to previous columns and other issues. This is the third mailbag since my first column appeared on Dec. 2, 2005. The previous… More »

January 2006

January 30, 2006

The Lone Rangers

It is often the case that a single viewer raises a question or challenge to PBS procedures that helps surface answers and explanations about how the complex organism that is PBS works, or doesn’t work. There were two examples of… More »

January 23, 2006

On Politics, Religion, PBS YOU and NOW

One thing that readers of this column need to keep in mind is that, for the most part, people write or call an ombudsman to complain rather than to compliment. I mention that because it is always on my mind… More »

January 13, 2006

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome, once again, to the Ombudsman’s mailbag, an occasional feature offering a sampling of letters in which PBS viewers and online readers comment on what the Ombudsman has had to say in previous columns. There was a fair amount of… More »

January 6, 2006

"Here, In Silence, Are Eight More."

There was a slight, but noteworthy, change in the nightly NewsHour with Jim Lehrer last Wednesday night, Jan 4. The change relates to the recording of American military deaths in the war in Afghanistan, and it unfolded in two parts… More »

December 2005

December 30, 2005

Roger Shoots Rudolph; Viewers Shoot Back

Many of the e-mails and telephone calls that I get each week deal with programs that I had not seen when they first aired. That’s natural because one can’t see everything live and because not all PBS programs air in… More »

December 21, 2005

The Ombudsman's Mailbag

Welcome to the Ombudsman’s mailbag. What follows is a sampling of the letters I have received from viewers in response to the first two columns I have written. This is something that I will try to continue with some regularity,… More »

December 16, 2005

What Did NOW Know?

On Friday evening, Nov. 18, one of PBS’s flagship public affairs programs, the weekly news magazine NOW with David Brancaccio, devoted a segment to a report on reconstruction efforts in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of… More »

December 9, 2005

Las Vegas: Did PBS Load the Dice?

One of the best and most respected programs offered by PBS — the continuing series of documentaries known as the “American Experience” — came in for some challenge in recent weeks from a small number of viewers and reviewers; really… More »

December 2, 2005

A Little About Me, A Lot About "Breaking the Silence"

Greetings, and welcome to my maiden voyage as the first ombudsman in the 36-year history of the Public Broadcasting Service. To find out more about me and my mission you can click on two links: biography, and mission & approach…. More »
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