PBS: There You Go Again
by L. Brent Bozell III
October 24, 1996
There you go again, PBS.
In September, you gave us Hedrick Smith's "The People
and The Power Game," in which Smith argued the press thrived on
"scandal over substance," then produced flimsy example after flimsy
example to document an allegedly anti-Clinton bias in the press.
In October, you gave us the "Frontline"
documentary "Why America Hates the Press," which argued that
Washington reporters are wealthy inside players too cozy with the powers that
be. But whose thesis is this? Bob Woodward answered the question during the
show: "Clinton makes that point in my book, that he believes that the
Washington press corps is so out of touch that is absolutely inconceivable
that reporters will understand the issues that people are really dealing with
in their lives, and Clinton feels a profound alienation from the Washington
culture here, and I happen to agree with him."
This "Frontline," co-produced with the far-left
filmmakers at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), is bizarre and
nonsensical, for a variety of reasons.
1. Where were the conservatives? One thing that makes many
Americans, and tens of millions of conservatives, hate the press is its
left-wing slant. Incredibly, it went absolutely unmentioned. With the
exception of Fred Barnes (who wasn't asked about liberal bias), not a single
conservative appeared on the show. Instead, PBS presented a left-wing stable
of media scolds, first and foremost James Fallows, the new editor of U.S. News
& World Report; followed by Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz
and reporter/columnist David Broder; even far-lefties Christopher Hitchens and
Mark Hertsgaard, author of the awful book "On Bended Knee: The Press and
the Reagan Presidency."
2. Where was the evidence? The program's correspondent,
Stephen Talbot, decried the influences on reporters who buckrake from
corporations, but never provided a single example of content altered by
speaking fees. As Fred Barnes suggested unrefuted, "I haven't ever had
anybody point out to me where that's happened." So what's the
complaint then? (Better question: why do the show at all?) Fallows complained
that corporations and trade associations expect a "subtle
immunization," that before "doing you in," a reporter will say:
"Oh, gee, I know old Joe from the tobacco lobby, maybe I should call him,
see what he has to say." Earth to Fallows: isn't it the job of
any decent reporter include the business side of a dispute?
3. And what about advocacy nonprofits? Talbot touted ABC's
July 1994 decision to ban reporters speaking to corporate groups -- but the
rule doesn't apply to advocacy nonprofits. For example, in May 1994, ABC's
Carole Simpson hosted a fundraiser for the liberal NAACP Legal Defense and
Education Fund. Why is it a conflict of interest to speak to the tobacco lobby
but not to raise money for liberal lobbies like the NAACP? ABC told us its
policy covered "groups with a political purpose," which apparently
didn't include the NAACP.
4. If the evidence clearly pointed one way, why avoid it?
Talbot decries the revolving door between journalism and politics, focusing on
famous revolvers like Tim Russert and David Gergen. But he fails to mention
what the revolving door proves. Over the past ten years, the Media Research
Center had documented how almost four times as many liberals and Democrats
have revolved into the media as have conservatives or Republicans. That points
directly to a liberal bias, but "Frontline" refused to acknoweledge
liberal bias even when it discovered it.
5. Just how hypocritical can you get? First, the pompous
liberal critics: How can Fallows, Broder, and Kurtz keep a straight face
denouncing speaking for money and television punditry when they've done both?
Fallows insisted he despises buckraking revolving-door journalism, but keeps
David Gergen at U.S. News. Broder deplored reporters as "policy
advocates" but for many years has been a crusading columnist. Kurtz
proclaimed reporters sympathize with politicians rather than the public, yet
regularly defends against Bill Clinton's supposed maltreatment by reporters.
More importantly, how can PBS show us buckrakers like Cokie
Roberts (of NPR), Steve Roberts (a PBS "Washington Week in Review"
regular), and David Gergen (of the "NewsHour"), and not acknowledge
PBS is a breeding ground for this? What better examples of merchandising
whoredom can be found than PBS's Children's Television Workshop, or Bill
Moyers? Of course, Talbot and CIR cannot attack Moyers: he saved their bacon
in the early 1990s when he got the Schumann Foundation to fund them as they
were preparing to disband. Now they get lucrative co-production deals with
"Frontline." How tidy.
The worse hypocrisy of all belongs to "Frontline"
istelf. It deplores reporters being too close to power, but hasn't done a
single investigative program on the Clintons for four years. Instead, we got
"Hillary's Class," that lovingly explored the life journeys of
Hillary and her Wellesley classmates. And all of this was funded by you, the
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