Two New Developments at PBS
by L. Brent Bozell III
June 12, 1997
Two recent developments in public broadcasting deserve
1. Lawrence Grossman, a former president of PBS, has
proposed that public television stations air programs containing commercials
two nights a week. If that proposal weren't shocking enough, it's backed by
top executives at major public TV stations in Chicago, Philadelphia, St.
Louis, Miami, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Reporting this electric bit of news, New York Times reporter
Lawrie Mifflin added that eight public stations experimented with commercials
in the early 1980s. The experiment was discontinued - but not because it
failed. At WPBT in Miami, president George Dooley noted "Our membership
contributions, our audiences, and our programming underwriting support all
continued to grow. We wish it had been made permanent." Why wasn't it?
Liberals think there's nothing ghastlier than a commercial and killed the
Now they're at it again. Sharon Percy Rockefeller of
Washington behemoth WETA-TV, which throws millions around on new buildings in
the nation's capital, is appalled by the new proposal. "This solution
would change the philosophical basis of public broadcasting. Either we are a
noncommercial educational system or we're not." One wonders: How then
does Mrs. Rockefeller justify the chain of WETA Learningsmith stores in area
malls, selling PBS knick-knacks and program tie-ins? Shouldn't we shut those
Then there's outgoing FCC chairman Reed Hundt, who
predictably carries water for the far-left Naderite commercial-haters like the
Center for Media Education: "Any plans for the airing of commercials on
public television are bad plans." Any plans? Hundt added:
"'Commercial noncommercial television' is an oxymoron that shouldn't be
tolerated." Again: shouldn't that include the banning of Sesame Street
shops in malls? Shouldn't PBS demand that Time art critic (and PBS toady)
Robert Hughes stop selling the companion book to his "American
Visions" PBS series at $65 a pop?
These supposed anti-commercial purists ought to either ban
the nonprofiteering, or let the public pay for public TV voluntarily and not
through forced taxation. There is a solution, as Mifflin reported:
"Individual stations are free to run whatever programs they wish. They
could adopt Mr. Grossman's proposal on their own, if Congress authorized the
FCC to waive regulations governing nonprofit noncommercial broadcasting."
That waiver clearly ought to be granted, as a first step toward lightening the
tax burden of public broadcasting.
But guess what? Billy Tauzin, the Republican point man on
PBS in the House, opposes Grossman's proposal.
2. In the meantime, the PBS series "Frontline" did
something remarkable last month, airing its very first hour-long documentary
on a Clinton scandal. New Yorker writer Peter Boyer told the tale of Eugene
and Nora Lum. The Lums were major Democratic fundraisers among Asian Americans
during the 1992 campaign, and came to know party chairman Ron Brown.
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, utility regulators with the state Corporation
Commission were uncovering a regular pattern of bribery and corruption in
awarding natural gas contracts. One of those patterns included bribery by
Arkla Gas -- led by Mack McLarty, soon to become White House chief of staff.
One gas supplier sued to bring the corruption out into the
open. In came the Lums, offering to buy out the supplier -- if they'd drop the
lawsuit. Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony told Boyer the Lums had
"no experience, no reserves, and they end up getting a contract to sell
enormous volumes of natural gas over a 10-year period of time, and their
biggest claim to fame seems to be their political connections....This was
damage control...Mac McLarty had a motive and an interest in seeing that these
lawsuits and the discovery and the public disclosure go away."
Once they became gas millionaires, the Lums cut Ron Brown's
son Michael into the new company, Dynamic Energy Resources, and the mother of
Commerce Department official Melinda Yee.
Believe it or not, Boyer is the first network correspondent
to shed any light on these scandals. Where are the commercial networks with their
investigative pieces? Even the Lums' indictment by the Justice Department
triggered only a 60-second story on the networks.
Unlike liberals, conservatives do not care to make PBS their
ideological sandbox. We'd settle for a little dose of journalistic balance,
which Frontline is beginning to provide (albeit five years late).
Conservatives also want voluntary funding - commercial or otherwise - for PBS,
and the Grossman proposal is the correct policy prescription.
Voice Your Opinion!
Write to Brent Bozell
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe