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In his July 13 column, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler discusses a recent episode of History Detectives that some viewers felt strayed unnecessarily into political waters. The episode investigated the history of a post-Civil War photograph that showed white soldiers and black soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder. “As the program pointed out,” says Getler, “in Reconstruction-era America, such associations were frequently taboo.” The investigation was followed by a commentary from another “detective” about the historical struggle for veterans’ benefits. This discussion turned to John Kerry’s activism against the Vietnam War and, eventually, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group the commentator described as “funded by a wealthy Republican campaign donor [and that] smeared Kerry’s military record and possibly cost him the election.” Viewers were irked by the infusion of what one letter writer called political “pontificating.” Getler shares his opinion–that the comment simply seemed to come out of nowhere. Producers of the program also respond, contending that the statement in question is based on “a great deal of objective reporting.”

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