A Skeptical Take on "Self-Interested Promotion" by PBS

A Skeptical Take on "Self-Interested Promotion" by PBS

Kudos to the Times' Lorne Manly for his front-page story for Thursday's Arts section, "Public Broadcasters' Tightrope Over Funds," a skeptical take on how public broadcasters can report on their budget battles in a fair and balanced manner. It's a refreshing change, coming after a barrage of pro-PBS-slanted reporting in the news pages from Stephen Labaton.

Manly finds another angle, as shown by the report's text box: "When journalism and self-interested promotion collide."

Manly listens in on a public radio broadcast from New York City: "'The Brian Lehrer Show' decided to tackle a topic this week that could hardly be knottier for its radio station, devoting about an hour on Monday to the battle over a possible cut in federal funds for public broadcasters like its own station, WNYC. About a quarter of the way through the program's coverage, Mr. Lehrer went to a break. On came a promotional spot with Laura Walker, the WNYC president and chief executive, explaining how a bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee could severely cut into the station's annual operating revenue and programming. When he returned to the show, Mr. Lehrer seemed a bit surprised by the spot that had been broadcast. Chuckling a little, he told listeners, 'It's just a coincidence it came up now, actually.' Then he turned to the first of two station presidents to discuss how the financing cut could affect their operations - Ms. Walker of WNYC."

He points out: "That jarring juxtaposition of news programming and self-interested promotion exemplifies the fine line that public broadcasters are walking as they mobilize to combat threats to their financing. It is always a delicate task for a news organization to cover itself. But when the organization in question is financed in part by the government, when the news centers on the prospects for that money and when a station floods its airwaves with spots urging viewers or listeners to contact their Congressional representatives, the undertaking becomes much more challenging."

Manly quotes a critic of the PBS lobbying: "More than 100 of the 145 member stations of the Association of Public Television Stations, public television's lobbying arm, have undertaken similar efforts, and a majority of the 780 public radio stations that are members of National Public Radio have done the same. But the lobbying effort has been criticized. 'What bothers me is they're using my tax dollars to lobby the Congress to get more of my tax dollars,' said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research organization, and a guest on [Brian] Lehrer's program on Monday."

Near the end he writes: "Placing these spots near news segments about the controversy can raise journalistic questions about blurring the line between news and promotion." It certainly can.

For the full Manly on PBS, click here:

New NYT Film Critic Finds Bill O'Reilly "Despicable"

Wednesday's Arts page features a review by Jeannette Catsoulis of the documentary "Waging a Living," headlined "Tales of the Poor, Working to Survive in America." Under the auspices of a film critic, Catsoulis forwards liberal talking points.

She sets the scene: "Filmed over a three-year period in the Northeast and California, 'Waging a Living' tracks four ethnically diverse, low-wage workers as they struggle to bridge the gap between paycheck and expenses."

Then she unloads liberal talking points: "We have all heard the appalling statistics. More than 30 million Americans work low-wage jobs, and more than half the people who began the last decade in poverty are still there. Many are single mothers, battling a system intent on getting people off welfare without lifting them out of poverty. The documentary reveals a country rife with income inequality, short-term political thinking and ineffective tracking of deadbeat dads, a country in which filling a simple prescription for a child's asthma medication can put a family in the street."

She compares the film approvingly to a left-wing book: "Neither hectoring nor sanctimonious, the film plays like an illustrated version of Barbara Ehrenreich's recent best-seller 'Nickel and Dimed,' and has an editing style that's brisk and unexploitative."

Catsoulis joined the Times only recently but she's a longtime critic in other venues. Last August she praised the left-wing documentary anti-Fox News documentary "Outfoxed," writing for the Las VegasMercury, calling it "a blithely unsubtle pounding on Murdoch's Fox News Network and its blatant propagation of Republican rhetoric.'Outfoxed' releases a barrage of damning accusations - and plenty of evidence - against the network'Outfoxed' snaps us back to attention with the despicable Bill ('Shut up!') O'Reilly and his shockingly toxic interview with Jeremy Glick, the son of a 9/11 victim and an eloquent critic of the Bush administration. As an incensed O'Reilly threatens Glick with physical violence, you can almost see our expletive-happy vice president smile approvingly - now that's the Republican way to end a discussion."

She also enjoyed "Fahrenheit 9/11," writing: "That politicians can disregard the most fundamental imperatives of justice and humanity to protect their most generous contributors may be no surprise, but 'Fahrenheit 9/11' is driven by a more sinister thesis: The wholesale hijacking of our civil liberties. Every event in the movie - from the half-hearted feint at Afghanistan to the largesse of Iraq reconstruction contracts to the climate of terror induced by incessant alerts on our nightly news - leads inexorably to the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act, which Moore sees as little more than an Orwellian excuse for Trent Lott and John Ashcroft to spy on American citizens."

For Catsoulis' full review, click here: