Inspector General Kenneth A. Konz found fault with much of former Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson’s balance crusade, but his report did validate the creation of CPB’s ombudsmen, the corporation’s stated tool for dealing with audience concerns about program balance and objectivity. While Konz criticized the unilateral manner in which Tomlinson selected veteran journalists Ken Bode and William Schulz, he concluded that “by expanding the public’s ability to have issues of objectivity and balance addressed,” the addition of ombudsmen was “consistent with” CPB’s responsibilities. “The legislative statute requires that public broadcasting be objective and balanced,” Chair Cheryl Halpern told reporters in September. “The ombudsmen were put in place to [help] CPB function within the constraints of the legislation.” But more than six months after CPB engaged Bode and Schulz to assess program balance and objectivity and handle complaints, they have seldom written on these issues in general terms and not once have they responded to audience concerns about the balance and objectivity of specific programs.
When CPB set the ombudsmen to work, Tomlinson told Current they would review news content, but many of their reports have focused on cultural documentaries that aren’t particularly journalistic, such as No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, Richard Rodgers: The Sweetest of Sounds, and The Appalachians. Of the nine reports filed by the part-time monitors since April 26, three praised public TV docs, two were on NPR news reports from Iraq (Bode did note that the reports “gave a nuanced and balanced view”), one lauded Mississippi PTV for covering a high-profile trial, and one was an “ombudsman operating manual.”
The remaining two mentioned audience concerns about balance issues but only one — Bode’s Sept.
Ed Asner takes the role of Bryan, not Darrow, in LATW’s drama based on the Scopes transcript. John de Lancie, at right, plays Darrow. Susan Loewenberg chose a radio play about the Scopes trial for L.A. Theatre Works’ 2005 national tour because it’s the one that teachers request most from the company’s catalog of more than 200 recorded plays. The teachers seemed to be saying the evolution/creation fight is an enduring topic in our national life and not just a quirky little philosophical eruption that excuses a quick revival of The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial. Indeed, as Ed Asner started off the tour last week as William Jennings Bryan, defender of creation, in Arcata, Calif., a new evolution trial was under way in court in Dover, Pa.
Margaret Spellings, secretary of education in George W. Bush’s administration, complained to PBS in 2005 about an episode of the animated Postcards from Buster children’s series with funding from her department. In the episode, Buster visits a Vermont family that has two moms. See also Current story. January 25, 2005
Ms. Pat Mitchell
President and Chief Executive Officer
Public Broadcasting Service
1320 Braddock Place
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Dear Ms. Mitchell:
The Department of Education has strong and very serious concerns about a specific Ready-To-Learn television episode, yet to be aired, that has been developed under a cooperative agreement between the Department and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The episode — “Sugartime!” — is part of the “Postcards from Buster” series, and would feature throughout the show families headed by gay couples. As you know, the cooperative agreement that PBS is using to support these programs is designed to prepare preschool and elementary age children for school.
… at the bluest of TV channels, public broadcasting’s WNET, in the bluest of cities, New York, you know this country has entered a new cultural twilight zone,” writes New York Times columnist Frank Rich. WNET’s decision to kill a spot on the feature film, Kinsey, is a harbinger of the battles ahead as “politicians and the media alike pander to that supposed 22 percent of ‘moral values’ voters.”
International stardom has not been easy for Tinky Winky, the Teletubby recently “outed” by the Rev. Jerry Falwell as a gay role-model for children. First there was a big flap in England, shortly after the show’s 1997 debut, over the dismissal of the actor playing Tinky Winky. Producers said he had been too rambunctious on the set. But the actor apparently endeared himself to viewers by flamboyantly waving the now-notorious red handbag, and did not go quietly. The Sun, Britain’s largest tabloid, launched a campaign to reinstate the actor, but to no avail.