Monday, March 02, 2009

The Infinite Dullness of PBS TV

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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