MediaWatch: July 1989

Vol. Three No. 7

PBS: Only Liberals Allowed

Frontline, the weekly PBS public affairs show, often serves as a mouthpiece for trendy liberal causes. Two Frontline shows last year highlighted the far left Christic Institute's conspiracy theories about CIA and Contra drug running in Central America. PBS regularly provides Bill Moyers with specials and series that serve as a platform for his liberal views. Programs with a non- liberal perspective, however, are not so readily accepted. Just take a look at two shows turned down recently.

French historian Jacques Rupnik offered Frontline a six-part series on Eastern Europe he produced. The Other Europe avoids the glasnost hype surrounding most coverage of Eastern Europe, offering a more realistic look at the changing situation in the Warsaw Pact. Originally broadcast in Britain, the series will soon be shown in 12 European countries, including Hungary. Americans may never see The Other Europe. After six months of inaction, Frontline's Executive Producer, David Fanning, rejected the series as out of date.

In a conversation with MediaWatch, Rupnik countered Fanning by citing Frontline's Summer 1988 re-broadcast of the "Comrades" series on life in the Soviet Union, complaining that the series was produced before Gorbachev had come to power and reflected a "Brezhnevite" view of Soviet agriculture. Rupnik agreed with New Republic Publisher Martin Peretz, whose June 5 story characterized Fanning as a "leftist ideologue" who "especially didn't like Rupnik's views, which are unfashionably disapproving of the Soviets."

Soviets at the Crossroads, a five-part documentary on the victims of Soviet expansionism produced by Stoneaway Productions and South Carolina Educational Television, met a similar fate. The Southern Education Communications Association made the series available to all PBS stations. Only seven PBS affiliates in the top 5 markets contacted by MediaWatch planned to carry the series. Among the stations not airing it: the major PBS affiliates in Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington. On the other hand, Days of Rage, a pro-Palestinian documentary, will be carried by all 15 stations.

As if not already liberal enough, PBS chose to dig up old Bill Moyers productions. Under the title, Bill Moyers: A Second Look, during May, June and early July PBS aired 13 old CBS and PBS programs by Moyers. On June 20 PBS broadcast "People Like Us," a 1982 CBS Reports piece on the "victims" of Reaganomics. This one- sided, anti-Reagan diatribe caused an uproar when first seen.

Following the re-broadcast, Moyers insisted: "The documentary has held up as both true and sadly prophetic. While Congress restored some of the cuts made in those first Reagan budgets, in the years since, the poor and the working poor have born the brunt of the cost of the Reagan Revolution. The hardest-hit programs have been welfare, housing and other anti-poverty measures. Even programs that were not cut have failed to keep up with inflation. Meanwhile, rich people got big tax breaks. And the middle class kept most of their subsidies intact. As a result, the Reagan years brought on a wider gap between rich and poor."

Shows like "People Like Us" have led PBS to give Moyers $2.2 million, the largest grant in the 1989-1991 budget, to produce five more documentaries. According to PBS Vice President Barry Chase, "Moyers and public television are a nice marriage, and we need to keep it going."