Where's PBS's Gavel-to-Gavel Coverage?
by L. Brent Bozell III
July 24, 1997
"If PBS won't do it, who will?" The words from a
$2 million advertising campaign echoed endlessly across 300 PBS affiliates in
the wake of Newt Gingrich's unfulfilled pledge to privatize public
broadcasting in 1995. (This probably doesn't mean anything in this corrupt
city, but it was illegal for PBS to use taxpayer funds for that.) Two years
later, the slogan has been exposed as a cruel hoax. Where on earth is PBS
gavel-to-gavel coverage as the Senate investigates definite illegal
fundraising, probable espionage, and possible treason in the belly of the
No major broadcast network has been inspired to air the
hearings as a public service, leaving the field to feisty fledgling cable
operations like Fox News Channel and National Empowerment Television, who have
a fraction of the reach of PBS. Oh, how this mighty empire has forgotten its
historical legacy -- or has it? Do they serve the American people -- or the
liberal power elite that put them in place?
Laurence Jarvik notes in his book "PBS: Behind the
Screen" how PBS used live coverage of the Watergate hearings -- complete
with repeats in prime time -- to build PBS's reputation in the early years,
and stick it to their enemies. Jim Lehrer wrote: "As programming, the
Watergate broadcasts were a terrific hit with the audience and the stations
and established once and for all that real public affairs programming has a
permanent place on public broadcasting." Lehrer added vengefully:
"As justice, it was pure delicious. We were being bailed out by the sins
of a president who was trying to do us in. He and his minions were so
distracted by the crumbling of his presidency that the plan to crumble us was
abandoned and forgotten."
PBS also cleared the decks to air much of the Iran-Contra
hearings, and the NPR-prodded kangaroo court known as the Hill-Thomas
hearings. Washington station WETA even provided a live feed of confirmation
hearings for Clinton Surgeon General nominee Henry Foster.
So why the blackout now? The public broadcasting newspaper
Current reported: "PBS's traditional method of covering major hearings --
gavel to gavel -- appeared 'unmanageable' earlier this year when Sen. Fred
Thompson? predicted that the hearings would run for a year, said [PBS
"Democracy Project" boss Ellen] Hume. Stations' daytime schedles are
largely devoted to children's programs -- so much so that only 4-6 percent of
stations carried the 1995 Whitewater and Waco hearings." And WETA cut off
its coverage of those hearings right in the middle, despite its press-release
claims of a "history of live, uninterrupted coverage of Congressional
hearings." WETA spokesman Pat Lute wouldn't explain why, simply repeating
the mantra: "We made an editorial decision."
As a fig leaf to cover its failure to add historical balance
to its Republican President-bashing marathons, Hume quickly green-lighted a
24-part series titled "Follow the Money," dragged on the air so
quickly it's not aired in many major markets, or buried in dreary weekend time
slots. Executive Producer Andrew Walworth told Current: "We've got to get
people into the tent, we've got to engage them in a story that I think is
bigger than just the hearings."
Translation: we plan to campaign for government-funded
elections, and claim the problem emerging from the hearings is the system, not
the Democrats who did an illegal end run around it. That's precisely what I
was told by an attendee of a recent PBS programmers' meeting in Dallas, where
Hume unveiled the "Follow the Money" mission.
And that's exactly what they're doing. In the second
episode, Time reporter Viveca Novak (who came from the liberal lobby Common
Cause's magazine) previewed with anticipation former RNC Chairman Haley
Barbour's testimony: It will lay out there the fact that both parties have
this problem. Perhaps what we'll end up with is a very good case that both
parties were scrambling for money, both of them went overseas, and the system
lends itself to these kind of abuses, and maybe it really does need to be
Defiance is PBS's modus operandi these days. It skips out on
fundraising scandal hearings, replacing it with propaganda advancing a liberal
legislative agenda. It refuses to participate in a television ratings system,
family-friendliness and the will of the taxpaying public be damned. They do it
because they have absolutely no fear of the principle-challenged GOP.
In 1995, with an insincerity matching PBS's claims to serve
the public interest, Rep. John Edward Porter promised PBS privatization
advocates he would put the Corporation for Public Broadcasting on a
"glide path" to zero - not a typical liberal glide upward with no
questions asked. Now the hopelessly squishy Porter has announced House
appropriators will grant an increase in the CPB's annual budget, from $250
million to $300 million, a clear betrayal of the Republicans' promise to bring
this runaway, cash-rich dinosaur under control.
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