PBS: Why I Watch, But Don’t Contribute

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

On September 16, 1962 Edward R. Murrow, who was the greatest TV Journalist and a particular hero of mine http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=murrowedwar, premiered the opening of Public Television on Channel 13 in New York City. You can watch that very short broadcast in this link so you can understand the mission of this station at its beginnings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gr-QxU1Sz0

At the age of 17, I watched Mr. Murrow enthralled as he laid out the defined purpose of this station, which was to provide educational, non-commercial television, that would innovate new programming to educate/inform and amuse its’ listeners. This opening occurred two weeks after the death of my mother. My father (who would die a year later) and I watched this show together, bonded by the sorrow we shared and by the fact that Ed Murrow had been someone whose news shows we three had watched together for a decade. Given that he was a ninth grade dropout, my father was a man of intellectual depth who read Camus, Sartre and was a devotee of avante garde cinema. He passed his tastes on to me. So for us, this was a momentous event, given the inanity that characterized much of commercial TV with its’ intellectual paucity. This beginning initiated an emotional link with me to the concept of public TV that has lasted ever since.

In the years that followed Channel 13 would become an anchoring member of the Public Broadcasting System. I was a dedicated viewer and modest financial contributor via yearly membership. I could go into a litany of the presentations that informed me, moved me and entertained me through the years, but that is not my purpose here. Somewhere along the way from the beginning of non-commercial television until today, I became skeptical about contributing to it, while still availing myself of it’s’ services. I write about why this skepticism developed and why it remains.

One of the investigator/journalists that I most respect is Russ Baker and his blog: http://whowhatwhy.com/ . Recently, I did a guest blog based upon a book Mr. Baker had written: http://jonathanturley.org/2012/03/17/a-real-history-of-the-last-sixty-two-years/#more-46802 . This week I read an article by him titled Will Political Ads Destroy Public Broadcasting’s “Uniqueness”? . Baker states:

“On Thursday, a divided federal appeals court overturned a previous ban on public broadcasting stations running political ads. Well-meaning public-interest outfits such as Free Press quickly condemned the action, and urged the public to bring pressure on those broadcasters not to run the spots.”

 “But here’s the sad truth: With a few notable exceptions, big public broadcasting (let us distinguish the national PBS/NPR from community-based entities) is a lot less educational than it would like us to believe. True, it contains “thought-provoking” material delivered by dulcet-toned broadcasters and a charming, southern-inflected host with lightly tousled hair, and people seemingly disagreeing in the politest of manners. But the content of these broadcasters is just about as influenced by commercial interests and dominant cliques as the more “vulgar” commercial broadcasters.”

Russ Baker was writing about something that I had felt for years, but never discussed with people, because criticizing PBS in many educated circles would seem to be heresy. Wasn’t it those Right Wing Authoritarians who kept shouting that PBS was too liberal? To be critical of PBS, in light of the Right Wing attacks, seems to someone of my political perspective, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Yet I had privately felt for years that much of PBS was little more than an outlet controlled by those interests who would re-make our country into a Corporatocracy. As I watched at the beginning of many a program funded by Corporate sponsorship, or that of foundations like the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Ford Foundation and Charles G. Koch Foundation I felt queasy. The corporations are allowed to display tasteful, low key commercials, which befit the status and intellectual level of the general PBS audience. The various foundations get their names mentioned in hushed, stentorian tones, befitting institutions to be viewed as icons. At the end of this article I’ve provided links about the four foundations mentioned. If you check them out I’m sure you will see that they were funded by some of America’s premier capitalists. Their purposes are to promote the idea of a Capitalist (Corporate) America prevailing, as long as it adheres to the principles of free market and small government. Russ Baker continues:

“Public broadcasting, which largely targets an affluent, well-educated audience of liberal and progressive bent, is a powerful tool for shaping perceptions and convincing people to continue working within the system rather than fully appraising the corruption that undergirds that system. A brutally candid investigation of our country’s institutions and political/cultural leaders as they actually function would make affluent liberals much more uncomfortable. They’d have to examine the corporate, legal and academic networks of which they are a contented part. And they’d be forced to see that when liberals get into power, all too many end up serving corporate interests in ways that differ from conservatives more in style and tone than in profound shifts of policy and governance.

Public broadcasting regularly pulls its punches—and has gotten steadily worse in recent years. You can blame attacks from the Right, which periodically threaten to eliminate government support of PBS and NPR. But, in fact, public broadcasting has always been, to some extent, an arm of the establishment.

By creating an aura of thoughtfulness, it has essentially lulled the public into complacency. By its very existence, it has convinced us that dissent is not only welcomed but has a vigorous presence in the American conversation. By having hard-core corporate operatives gently debate tepid reformers, it has given us the facade of open discussion and probing inquiries. Which is why those oil companies, banks, and foundations set up by the very rich are so happy to underwrite all that good taste”.

Baker’s words resonate with me. They encapsulate all I’ve been thinking and feeling for many years regarding PBS programming. While the opening credits on every PBS show throw in the words “and from people like you” after each long announcement about the Corporations and Rich people’s foundations contributing to producing it, those wealthy contributors certainly have more influence on content, than all of the subscriptions paid for by us common folk combined.

PBS even has a website dedicated to Corporate Sponsorship: Corporate Sponsorship Web Site where you can see a list of corporate sponsorship http://www.sgptv.org/sponsors/browse. Among those sponsors are corporations well-known for their “public interest”: ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, Pfizer, Siemen’s, BP, Chubb, Merrill Lynch/Bank of America, Ameriquest, McDonald’s and so on. Here is a quote from the press release announcing the initiation of this website in 2004:

“About the Sponsorship Group for Public Television (SGPTV):
The Sponsorship Group for Public Television is a full-service sales, marketing and client services team that secures national corporate sponsors for signature PBS programs. The team represents many of the highest-rated and best-known series on PBS, including American Experience, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Masterpiece Theatre, and Nova. In addition to representing the largest portfolio of prime-time series on public television, SGPTV represents popular PBS children’s shows, such as Arthur, Zoom and Between the Lions, and well-known cooking and do-it-yourself programs such as New Yankee Workshop” and “Victory Garden.”

This in effect is a marketing department for Public Broadcasting. I included the Murrow clip in the beginning, because he said and believed that Educational TV was to be a “non-commercial venture”, with the implication that it wouldn’t be tainted by the sponsor’s interference which pervades commercial television programming. When these commercials began appearing prior to PBS shows marks where my skepticism about PBS began. Afterwards I started watching each show more critically and evaluating what was being presented. William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” aired on PBS in 1971 with the auspices of South Carolina Educational Television http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firing_Line , I felt it was fair at the time since it was balanced by shows like David Susskind’s “Open End” and Dick Cavett off and on. “Firing Line persisted though for enough years to become PBS’ longest running talk show. Buckley used his prodigious vocabulary and patrician manners to dazzle his viewer’s, but often his use of little used verbiage was a cover for the fact that his logic was deficient. His manner was that of a genteel, yet smiling bully. It was the marquee talk show on PBS and it was decidedly a propaganda machine for conservative politics, which dazzled even many liberals in the affluent PBS audience base. I’ve previously written about William F. Buckley, Jr. in this blog post below.  http://jonathanturley.org/2011/12/04/william_f__buckley_jr__1985/#more-42375

The anchor news program on PBS is of course “The PBS NewsHour” which in my opinion is very “centrist” in the sense of using the current news methodology of giving equivalency to opposing political arguments. The best example of “equivalency” would be treating a debate between scientists who believe in evolution, with believers in “Intelligent Design” as a debate between equally valid arguments. Currently 65% of “The PBS NewsHour” is owned by Liberty Media which is owned by a man known for his right wing viewpoint.

“In October 2006, the progressive media criticism group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) accused the NewsHour of lacking balance, diversity, and viewpoints of the general public, in favor of Republican Party and corporate viewpoints. FAIR found that the NewsHour‘s guest list from October 2005 to March 2006 had Republicans outnumbering Democrats 2:1, and people of color accounting for 15% of U.S.-based sources.[19] FAIR also protested in 1995 when Liberty Media purchased a majority of the program, citing Liberty’s majority owner, John Malone, for his “Machiavellian business tactics” and right-wing sentiments.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PBS_NewsHour

The Corporate Sponsorship of “NewsHour” is: ATT, Citibank and BSNF Railways. Its’ foundation sponsor roll is replete with right wing stalwarts like the Bechtel Foundation (mid-East Oil). Here is a full list of sponsor’s from the NewsHour’s website: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/aboutus/funders.html . Other critiques of the NewsHour:

Noam Chomsky criticizes the short span of time that he was allotted when interviewed on the NewsHour in September 1990. Chomsky complains that a short format allows only the repetition of conventional wisdom, not the exploration of ideas. In 1992, radio broadcaster David Barsamian called the NewsHour “stenographers to power.”

Media critic David Barsamian, mentioned above, wrote a book about PBS titled “The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting”. Among the points he mentioned in the book are:

“… virtually since its inception there has been constant political pressure to temper public broadcasting and to control its content. One method has been through “flak,” consistently pressuring public radio and television through the incessant canard that they have a left-wing bias. It started with Nixon in the 1970s. In the 1980s, NPR was accused of being “Radio Managua on the Potomac.”

 “In its pitch to potential advertisers, PBS encourages businesses to: Learn how PBS Sponsorship can help your corporate message stand out from the clutter of commercial advertising-and reach your target audience! Through sponsoring PBS programming such as Talking Money with Jean Chatzky, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Washington Week, you not only build your brand and enhance your marketing, you also become associated with the high public image of PBS.”

 “Corporate advertising poses one set of problems for public broadcasting. The ideological and political climate that informs the content of programs is yet another concern. A mandarin caste of milquetoasts at each station-only a handful of people, and sometimes just one individual-decides what gets on the air. They are acting as gatekeepers, deciding what we will see and hear. Let me give you some examples. In 1993, PBS aired “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power,” a series funded by Paine Webber, a company with petrochemical oil interests. The main analyst of the series was Daniel Merging, a consultant to major oil companies. Almost every expert featured was a defender of the oil industry. That same year, PBS aired a documentary called “James Reston: The Man Millions Read,” a rather flattering profile about the New York Times columnist. The film was funded by and produced in association with the New York Times, Reston‘s long-time employer. The director and producer of the film was Susan Dryfoos, a member of the Sulzburger family, which owns the New York Times, and the daughter of a former Times publisher. Conflict of interest? Fahggeddaboudit.”

“Certainly the issue is not a lack of quality programming. In 1995, an Academy Award-winning documentary short on domestic violence by Margaret Lazarus and Renner Wunderlich, “Defending Our Lives,” was rejected at PBS. “Defending Our Lives” was filmed in Framingham Prison for Women in Massachusetts and focused on eight women prisoners who had been battered and beaten by the husbands they eventually killed. One of the producers was a leader of a battered women’s support group, but PBS felt that this gave her “a direct vested interest in the subject matter of the program” -perhaps because she was against domestic violence. PBS added that “programming must be free from the control of parties with a direct self-interest in that content.”

PBS also declined to air a documentary called “The Money Lender$: The World Bank and IMF,” a film by Robert Richter. Why? PBS was concerned that “Even though the documentary may seem objective to some, there is a perception of bias in favor of poor people who claim to be adversely affected.” PBS also turned down “Out at Work,” an excellent film about gays in the workplace that was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. The film, produced and directed by Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold, was scheduled to be part of the series “Point of View” (“P.O.V.”) before PBS dropped it. One of the subjects of the film is a woman named Cheryl Summerville, who was fired as a cook from a Cracker Barrel restaurant outside Atlanta in 1991 for “failing to comply with normal heterosexual values.” Another subject in the film worked as an electrician at Chrysler.”

That was just some examples that Barsamian’s book discussed. He even included in it a quote from Bill Moyers who has been one of the most reasoned voices on the public airways for many decades: “What is emerging is not public television but government television shaped by politically conscious appointees whose desire to avoid controversy could turn CPB into the Corporation for Public Blindness.” In my opinion PBS, while still occasionally producing the highest quality of television programming, has become the voice of the American Corporate Establishment. It provides enough intellectual content to stimulate the minds of its viewers, who are in general (by PBS’ own assertion) wealthier and better educated than the average American. Then too we see that much of the best programming on PBS was actually created by the British Broadcasting System (BBC). I’ve expressed my belief here in many “guest blogs” and in many comments, that there is a struggle going on in America between those who would have us ruled by elite corporate interests and the other 99% of the American people.

There are some who would disparage the idea that PBS is Corporate tainted, because Conservatives have historically tried to kill it and its member stations, since the inception of educational TV. This is no dichotomy if you realize the value of one of these station licenses to potential private interests. The broadcast rights to WNET in New York, or WGBH in Boston would be worth a large fortune. The ideal situation for elite interests would be to destroy public television, but failing that, co-optation is also beneficial. I will not participate in supporting PBS as long as it remains putatively non-commercial, but realistically a tool of the corporate establishment, though I will continue to watch some of its programming for free with no sense of irony and/or guilt.

While it would be a nice wrap-up to end this piece with ideas on how to re-make PBS into the educational/cultural bastion that it was intended to be, I don’t believe that this is possible. The entire enterprise has become too intertwined with the aims of America’s corporate elite to reform. While it sometimes hits and exceeds the mark of great programming, often its stalwart shows like “The American Experience” take historic, painful moments in our history and overlay them with soothing messages to alleviate the sting that this is our history. Mass protests by viewers are unlikely since it would force many wealthy subscribers into admitting certain truths about our country that would be hard for them to bear, not the least of which is their own complicity. My personal protest, meager as it may be, is to watch those shows with value and refuse to be among the “people like you”. Anathematize me if you will.








Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

74 thoughts on “PBS: Why I Watch, But Don’t Contribute”

  1. Tony C.,

    Thanks for the comments. I think we agree on the importance of taking cognizance — i.e., becoming critically aware — of the psychosocial triggers inherent in words (which include sounds and tones) and images. Far from considering this awareness “evil,” I consider it vital. The evil comes about when we do not pay attention to the ways in which “the persuaders” seek to influence us without our knowledge or consent. In trying to develop this topic while staying relevant to Mike Spindell’s discussion of PBS, I’d like to offer something that Robert MacNeil (the co-founder of the original MacNeil/Lehrer Report wrote in his Introduction to the fifth edition of S. I. Hayakawa’s classic Language in Thought and Action:

    “I had been taught some grammar, and reading had given me a vocabulary. I could identify different poetic feet and knew the rhyme scheme of a sonnet, but I had never learned about the meaning of language as the principal tool of humanity. No one had encouraged me to think about the way other people used words to inform or persuade me, to sway me politically or manipulate my emotions, to prejudice me or make we want to buy something. No one had told me that I used language that way, without knowing it. In short, words that I loved for their poetic qualities played a complex role in human psychology and society, but all that was a mystery to me. The book that opened my eyes was an early edition of S. I. Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action.”

    I, too, had earlier (in junior high school) come upon a copy of Hayakawa’s original Language in Action, first published in 1939 as an outline for a university course in freshman English, and I made it my business to keep up with further editions and expansions of the book. Going through the bibliography led me to other pioneers in the study of linguistic meaning such as I. A. Richards and Alfred Korzybski who in turn pointed me to Charles Sanders Peirce, the American founder of semiotics and philosophical pragmatism. But Hayakawa started it all for me and his influence on the MacNeil/Lehrer Report seemed evident in the early years of the program. I rarely watch the program anymore, so I can’t say if the same influence applies today. I can say, though, that the vapid and unctuous David Brooks pretty much drove the last nail into the coffin for me, so to speak.

    In any event, it came as something of a shock to me to discover — here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, of all places — a copy of Frank Luntz’s book Words that Work: it’s not what you say, it’s what other people hear. I felt unclean in handling it. I hated contributing to his income by purchasing it. And I keep it on the lowest shelf of my bookcase where it will not defile really good books by sheer proximity. But since Dr. Luntz produces most of the noxious Orwellian Newspeak that Corporate Republicans spew at us endlessly, it pays to hear him boast (humbly) of his prowess — in his own words. But more on this in coming back later to Brooks and Broder: two gargling gargoyle gifts that keep on giving.

  2. @Michael: Science and knowledge are relatively neutral, they can be used for good or evil. The science that Luntz exploits is real, it is regularly exploited in advertising as well. Although I think Luntz is scum, and certain advertisers are scum, I also recognize that being cognizant of the psychosocial triggers certain words and sounds and tones evoke is not necessarily evil.

    On the good side, it can help a writer communicate more precisely what he wants to communicate, without accidentally communicating something he does not. That is important in ad-writing, fiction writing, and movie script writing.

    On the bad side, it helps sociopathic greedy haters like Luntz to communicate fraudulently, to evoke false equivalences, and to convince suckers on emotional cues and imagery that are contrary to fact and known truth.

  3. Mike,

    I advocate so poorly. I was trying to puzzle out the question of PBS. Was I being an unprincipled slug in advocating for their support or was your complaint full of baloney? I was the slug; I referred to your argument as possibly being baloney.

    And you did not call for PBS to be shut down. You will watch, you will not support because they get plenty of money from the 1% which interfers with the message. And apparently many others here won’t either. So PBS will grow ever more dependent on Koch and Mobil. And viewers will get more and more turned off and will not pledge. That strikes me as a death spiral.

    Nor did you argue about tax dollars going to them. I did, in the voice of my right wing brother. He does not want his dollars going to them. He sees them as too far left. You see them as too far right. Maybe that means they are managing to walk the tightrope as well as can be expected. Maybe that is what it means to be public broadcasting.

  4. I never watched any of his on television, but I continue reading and taking notes from the Internet-available transcript of PBS Frontline’s The Persuaders. I find it both fascinating and repellant — but necessary — to read Frank Luntz and other hired-gun image magicians expound on the effective use of subliminal lizard language in manipulating target demographics for their corporate and political clients.

    Know your enemy, for he apparently thinks he knows you better than you know yourself.

  5. Curious,

    Like you, I never begrudged American pseudo-conservatives their William F. Buckley, Jr. and David Brooks. Frankly, I wouldn’t want either of them on my side of a political or intellectual argument. Better to have them embarrassing and discrediting the Reactionary Panic, Mystic Dread, Abstract Angst, and just-plain Fear Itself that have typically characterized crony-corporate crypto-fascism in America.

    The noun phrase “conservative intellectual” has always seemed like an oxymoron to me. A true conservative simply fears that any action will have a consequence and that therefore no one should ever do anything for the first time. William F. Buckley, Jr proved himself the epitome of such an intellectually constipated caricature. He ran for Mayor of New York City in 1965 and after one of his typically fatuous campaign speeches, a reporter asked a lady in the audience what she thought of it. Said she: “Well, I didn’t understand a thing he said, but he certainly sounded intelligent.” Someone said something similar about Newt Gingrich recently, calling him “a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like” — a description that fit Buckley perfectly, as well.

    Yet the supposedly “liberal” side of things on PBS doesn’t come off very impressively either. Every time I hear Mark Shields of The Newshour call Newt Gingrich “the guy with the high SAT scores,” I think of Thomas Frank saying how depressed it made him feel to discover that some Americans actually consider Gingrich a “thinker.” But, anyway, the all-time put-down of conservative pseudo-intellectuals came at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention when Gore Vidal called Buckley a crypto-Nazi and Buckley totally lost it, threatening to “plaster” the grinning-and-hardly-intimidated Vidal, thus proving the latter’s point. Subsequently, Vidal called Buckley “something of a bird-brain” and Buckley responded by calling Vidal a “queer.” Buckley never could hold his own against someone of real intelligence and wit.

    As for self-styled “conservative” commentators and pundits regularly seen on PBS programs like The Newshour and Washington Week in Review, David Brooks and the late David Broder deserve further comment, but I need to develop that a little further before posting here.

  6. I gave the Swedish view on public service, an international conference subject BTW. We definitely aim at the common man, but do not have and should have effective local channels (money?) nor effective citizenship channel although one exists but is underfunded and an obviously uninspired and second rate personnel. Yóu know, the ones from good families, so can’t be canned for imcompetence. But too much attention to glamor and glitter afflicts here too.

    MikeS perception of the pointing at the influential liberals is on the button. Who cares what the public wants or needs? Why have an FCC at all to consider candidates?

    Tony C had much good to say, let me confine myself to that good people are attracted to meaningful jobs. So this mess won’t attract them.

    MikeS did you give a link to someone who has done a history on the distortion of its E R Murrow mission?
    I mean who paid for the destruction of the original intention?
    It may help in correcting this mess.

  7. Three cheers for the Free Speech Television channel.

    No corporate money whatsoever and progressive programming. Shows like Democracy Now, The Tom Hartmann Show, Al Jazeera news. They have continuing coverage of the Occupy effort around the country and world, etc. All by viewer donations.

  8. “Can you really say that Public Television or Public Radio is really intended for “the public?”

    That is a good quote that makes a point I might have put more emphasis on. Even in their advertising for corporate sponsors PBS refers to the socioeconomic status and educational status of their listeners. The whole operation is not geared to the general public, but to those in the upper middle class, or above. It is precisely this that grates with me, though at least educationally I fit the demographic.

    “Always loved hearing lines like “Nature was made possible by a grant from the Mobil corporation.””

    Both subliminally and overtly the corporate message given is soothing and smoothing away thoughts that many of these corporations are raping the environment and the country in general. PBS viewers consciences get salved and they are left with a feeling of well-being, eve if sometime the subject matter is about some people’s distress. It allows the audience to vicariously feel bad about some problems, which on some level being satisfied that the effects are remote from their personal lives.

  9. Always loved hearing lines like “Nature was made possible by a grant from the Mobil corporation.”

    Although a friend of mine, die hard PBS fan, did raise an interesting question once; Can you really say that Public Television or Public Radio is really intended for “the public?”

  10. “Your willingness to close it down strikes me as being as unreasonable as the teabaggers complaints that one of the Teletubbies was gay; just not as laughable.”

    Please explain where I even implied that PBS should be shut down? The point is that it has now become so commercial an enterprise that viewers contributions hardly matter and certainly don’t affect programming. As for ot wanting tax dollars to go to them, again, where did I state that? I’m not going to reiterate the points I made again, but I would suggest you re-read my article and in doing so view the links I provided. Doing that might give you a better understanding of what I was trying to say.

    “So which is it – sanctimonious baloney or unprincipled slug?”

    As I stated re-read it without any quick preconceptions and you might see it differently. Then again perhaps you’re in a mood where calling people names gives you satisfaction. Maybe I was dishing out the unprincipled baloney of a sanctimonious slug? You can’t please everyone and I rarely try.

  11. @Curious: I wrote that hastily, but I really believe it can be done. The main reason radio and television stations have no truly fixed pricing schedules is they want the flexibility to charge customers as much as they can get away with; while discounting for the major players making a big purchase. When you first call a radio or TV outlet, the quotes you get for time are outrageous; like three to four times what the savvy pay; I have even heard of quotes to first-time advertisers that were TEN times what other advertisers were paying for the same schedule.

    But, you may have noticed these no-haggle car dealerships springing up: They have a sticker price under the MSRP and about 15% over their cost; you pay that or you go home. You COULD go haggle and get about 5% more off that price, but the majority of people actually prefer the no-haggle approach: The vast majority of stores and services have been doing that for a century.

    PBS (and NPR) could lead the way in a similar effort for broadcast advertising. PBS could produce an evergreen segment (can be run anytime) of 22 minutes that details the steps of a simple 1-camera or 2-camera television commercial, including script guidelines, scene changes, blocking (how people move on stage), makeup, and so on. Simultaneously with the segment shooting, the host of this “Basics of Advertising on PBS” could shoot 30 second “tips” that promote the segment with informational nuggets or highlights. Run that “Basics of Advertising” segment about once a week, and the “tip” commercials can fly in all the unsold advertising slots and tell people to find it and record it.

    PBS can set a price-per-demographic viewer, and provide web resources to compute the cost of a commercial, the cost of shooting it, the cost of directing or script advice, the cost of voice-overs (narration) or even selling advice (half the commercials on TV have pathetic copy). All at about 15% over cost, and they can be honest about that too: It would be like open-source advertising.

    And they do NOT need to give up their directorial control. PBS could be a force for good, run by good people, supported by advertisers that are selling an honest product that pleases most of their customers.

    If I were to set rules for rejection, it would be to eliminate commercials that do not sell a product for a price. That would exclude the political ads, the ads by Exxon and friends spouting bullshit commitment to the environment or alternative energy, and various other advocacy ads trying to sway public opinion on political or social issues.

    I would also allow, by website, viewers to start a petition for their local PBS station to boycott an advertiser for some period (a year, perhaps); and if it crossed a certain threshold, actually obey it. Make PBS viewers the owners they are promised to be. I will also argue that this would build loyalty among viewers, and credibility for other advertisers, and thus the value of the advertising on PBS: If they are advertising on PBS, you can go check and see what your fellow viewers think of them, and you can better trust the advertiser because your fellow viewers aren’t trying to boycott them!

    It would be a community builder, and that brings me to weigh in on another topic: I like the communal production idea of “bigger” shows, like Nova, nature shows, or the various episodic or movie-length dramas and documentaries.

    However, I think PBS could also be well served by taking some of the skill competition shows (singing, music, dancing, target shooting, cooking, baking, stand up comedy, improv, building stuff, scavenger hunts, etc) LOCAL. Locals will compete for very small prizes. These “free content” shows are all the rage, there is no script, rehearsal, or retakes; you just have three talented camera operators to capture action. One advantage of going LOCAL is that the competitors tend to bring an audience with them, and they seem “more real” to viewers than some national figure. A cooking competition show (like “Chopped”) where one of the competitors works at a restaurant you frequent would be pretty compelling TV.

    The same thing goes for multiple episode competitions (Master Chef, Top Shot, The Voice, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, etc). Those national competitions are popular because we feel like the represent real people, and they would be MORE compelling if we reduced the degrees of separation: Real people that live and work in our city.

    I do not think the reduction in talent (due to a smaller candidate pool) would be a noticeable effect; competitions are judged relatively. In any case, the added drama of locality would make up for that; and just like football teams, the winners of the city competitions can move up to the state and national championships (PBS-wise).

    PBS (and NPR) can be fixed; the business model of advertiser-supported broadcast entertainment is well-established. It is working for The Weather Channel, for god’s sake. On the other hand, begging for donations doesn’t work, even televangelists end up selling over-priced crap, like figurines, Christmas decorations, medals and prayer books.

    PBS can be fixed, and can be an entertaining, independent, educational, non-profit advertiser supported venue for PUBLIC television, not corporatized television. They have all the infrastructure and skill in place to do it. They just have to get over the idea that they should be supported by charitable donations, or that regular people are going to donate $50 because PBS produced one good show.

    They need to adopt the only model with a long term record of success; sell advertising. Unlike corporate media, the profits of that advertising do not need to go into the pockets of billionaires; the profits can be reinvested for public service (like commercial free children’s programming), news reporting, better production values, and improved access and assistance for local businesses to broadcast advertising.

  12. Have any of you had to sit down and watch TV with your four year old grandchild? Now which shall it be? Scooby Doo or Sesame Street? Now put the kids to bed. What about Frontline? You’re making me crazy. Should I exhort you to come off the sanctimonious baloney, or am I an unprincipled slug? Your willingness to close it down strikes me as being as unreasonable as the teabaggers complaints that one of the Teletubbies was gay; just not as laughable.

    Maybe I can try this argument. I bet you do not approve of a lot of crap our government does. But you still pay your taxes, don’t you? Sure – the process is a pain in the ass, but you pay them because it is the right thing to do. There is some portion of fraud in Medicare – is the solution to kill the program? The post office employs some rude people, should we sell the whole thing to Fed Ex?
    I bet most of us here believe in global warming, but I also bet a fair number of us drive SUVs (or our kids do).

    I’ll give you no points for drawing the line at public broadcasting. And I certainly wouldn’t brag about continuing to watch programs on PBS (I guess they pass the purity test) but refuse to contribute to “right wing creep”. Can’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure Ken Burns has been funded at one time or another by the Koch brothers or similar people, and you never would have even heard of him if it had not been for PBS.

    So which is it – sanctimonious baloney or unprincipled slug?

  13. OT OT OT

    Sweden is odd. But it reveals what you already know. The left does not have the money to fund or sponsor a major channel type Fox News, in America. Think what that would accomplish. What scandals could be revealed there?!!! What skillfully spun facts could counter the eternal spin from the right?
    The right seems to have copyrights on all “apple pie” and “America’s Best” names for foundations and think tanks and gun manufacturers. They are so good that poisoners of the earth and our food chain get good public profiles. Yeegads. Have you eaten your dose of pink scum today?

    Here the state controls only the general budget, nothing more than the right of appointing the TV administrator. Thus when TV2 was created, the liberal board said we need a LEFT channel. It was up to the personnel to build an audience, but no mateiral may be viewed or censored even at the idea stage. And the rules of “decency, balance in coverage, etc” were known.

    It has helped ease Sweden’s passage from a formal one to a informal modern culture. The youth are free thinkers, those that are capable. The trash need is provided by commercial channels. And specialty bought material channels meet those needs: classical, nature, although childrens programs are in the public responsibility sphere.

    Would Buffet and the hungarian be willing to provide the monies? That is the choice: Pay for the killer ads in the current election, or do the long term fix—a left channel, which includes daytime series.

  14. eniobob1, April 29, 2012 at 9:13 am


    I feel you.
    long as you do it from a distance and keep your hands in your pockets we’ll be ok… 😉

  15. William F. Buckley. The name is uttered as an expletive, spotted from, by my mind. Too short an acquaintance? How long is necessary for smelling a manure pile doused with perfume and uttering exaggerated “southern culture” sounds. Only the lifted eyebrow is missing. The blazingly quick movements evading pointed replics is also familiar—–seen every day in the primaries.

    It was his clash (and overbeaing use of program leader’s privilege) with Chomsky on Youtube which caused my viewing him at all. Buckley had to use that privilege, as Chomsky had made rapidly clear that the facts were owned by Chomsky An example good as any of PBS manner of 50/50 programming of issues, common today in NYTimes. Here we give a charlatan, an oily mouth drawler of sound bites, before the phrase was known. Facts? Forget it. If this was typical of PBS, it must have had other charms to attract viewers of quality, seeking adult content—of the non-porno kind. Again a word which has been transformed: adult and public.

    PBS/NPR was never on the channels here in Sweden. Or must have missed it. The two first channels on public service tv were a running battle between right and left wingers (including the Palestina shawl bearers).

    Hasn’t the PBS “programs for the educated” idea been commercialized as suggested yet? Odd. I mean look at who was running ads on Limbaughs 3 hours far out in the booneys. Joe’s Garage” “We’re never flat”. So the same air time can be sold many times in a net with local branches.

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