Column on the Infinite Dullnes of PBS TV News

The Infinite Dullness of PBS TV News

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last few months I have had my TiVo record the News Hour with Jim
Lehrer, the famed PBS TV program deemed very highfalutin by my liberal
colleagues and pals. It’s not so much that I lack news sources but more a
matter of my own limited amateur investigative journalism. I am curious
how a substantially government-funded news program deals with the current
national and international economic fiasco.

By now I have watched over three months of this program and just as I
suspected, it is so terribly biased, so uninterested in balanced reportage
that it has become very boring to watch it evening after evening.

First of all, the two commentators, David Brooks (a slightly conservative
or more accurately moderate Republican who writes a column of The New York
Times) and Mark Shields (a moderate but reliably liberal pundit and
perpetual TV commentator) are the dullest people one will encounter on TV,
with virtually predictable right/left observations, "criticisms" and not
an idea that hasn’t been sanitized by the Washington press corps. All is
just so terribly "respectable" and snooty that one may wonder how many
viewers use their input as sleeping aids.

Then there are Jim Lehrer’s minions, Judy Woodruff and Co., all of whom
report the news as if it went through the editorial scrutiny of The New
York Times and The Washington Post. Anytime these sterling journalist are
given the task of gathering some educated opinions about various elements
of the news, they manage, dutifully, to collect the very few usual
suspects. There are all the apologists for President Obama’s
recommendations and policy proposals, of course, most of them members of
the administration, and a few dissidents from the Republican opposition in
Congress. When experts are called upon, the most frequent sort are the
likes of Paul Krugman or Thomas L. Friedman, both, as you probably have
guessed by now, from the Op Ed page of The New York Times. James Galbraith
of the University of Texas at Austin shows up, with his predictable cheers
for neo-Keynesian ideas and praise for anything that came out of the New
Deal. (The idolatry toward FDR on The News Hour is truly embarrassing!)

I have been following the academic debate over President Obama’s economic
proposals and policies and none of it shows up anywhere on The News Hour.
It is as if all the country’s professional economists had to offer was
more or less fierce Keynesian stuff. Not a dissenting voice! You would
think that just as a matter of being differentiated from, say, Fox TV
News, The News Hour would invite Professor Gary Becker of the University
of Chicago or Professor James Buchanan of George Mason University outside
Washington, DC, or perhaps some of their highly credentialed students of
political economy but nothing. It’s just neo-Keynesianism over and over
again, with an undisguised glee, given how Keynes is (quite mistakenly, by
the way) taken to be an unqualified supporter of huge government
intervention in the market economy and how much this team of
pseudo-journalists find the current fiasco a major excuse for bolstering
the big government ideology that keeps PBS TV itself in business. (In the
field of journalistic ethics it is clearly a case of unethical
self-dealing for The News Hour to be so blatantly biased in favor of big
government!)

Perhaps I am being naive to even bring up the idea that The News Hour
ought to pay attention to the ethics of journalism by broadening its
coverage of educated economic opinion. Maybe these folks are so
unabashedly partisan, so bent on propaganda instead of
journalism–reminiscent of Pravda and Izvestia of the old Soviet
Union–that speaking up about it makes me appear to be a country bumpkin.
But, dammit, The News Hour is taking money from the whole gamut of
American taxpayers and has a professional duty to make room for a wide
variety of political-economic opinion even if those producing and
regularly appearing on the program find it unpalatable to do so.

Alas, however much one chides these people, they know who is in power now
and will not budge a millimeter in the direction of presenting their
viewers with a decent debate on public policy. Instead they are, well,
propagandists, albeit of a somewhat nuanced variety–with that tone of
snobbish voice so familiar from another of these public broadcast
services, National Public Radio (which broadcasts at nearly every
university radio station across the country).

It’s a wonder most of us do not just throw in the towel, what with the
dogmatic refusal of these people to show any interest in a national debate
on vital public policy matters.

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