PBS responds to critical essay in latest Harper’s Magazine

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A 12-page essay titled “PBS Self-Destructs: And What It Means for Viewers Like You” in the October issue of Harpers Magazine has prompted PBS to reply to the magazine and provide stations with talking points in anticipation of viewers’ responses.

In the piece, writer Eugenia Williamson traces the history of the network with special attention to conservative interests that have buffeted PBS over the years.

“[I]t doesn’t matter that the Republicans couldn’t defund PBS — they really didn’t need to. Twenty years on, the liberal bias they bemoaned has evaporated, if it ever existed to begin with,” Williamson writes. “Today, the only special-interest group the network clearly favors is the aging upper class: their tastes, their pet agendas, their centrist politics. . . . [T]he present state of PBS is almost an inevitability, the result of structural deficiencies and ideological conflicts built in from the very start.”

PBS responded with a list of talking points for station managers who may get feedback from members about the piece. The talking points note that the essay “is filled with many basic errors and omissions.” The document highlights no particular errors but notes that “the American people named PBS and local PBS stations the most trusted public national organization 11 consecutive times.”

A letter to the editor of Harper’s from Beth Hoppe, PBS’s chief programmer, draws on the talking points and adds that the essay “bears little resemblance to the enterprise I am proud to serve as Chief Programing Executive.” She notes one specific error, that John Wilson has not been the head of programming for two years.

The essay is online but available only to Harper’s subscribers.