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May 27th 2005

PBS: Why does it still exist?

Why we should get rid of PBS.

My discussion with Andrew at American Idle regarding PBS.

[Link removed, as American Idle is not active anymore]

19 Responses to “PBS: Why does it still exist?”

  1. Andrew

    Doug, please try to find some impartial, non-partisan reporting on PBS instead of relying on the clearly arch-conservative Scaife funded AIM. Then people who are seriously interested in this topic can take you seriously.

    I’ll ask you question again. Why is it that Jim Laher is asked to moderate presidential debates and Brit Hume is not? When you search for the answer, you’ll find the reason why PBS is still relevant, even more relevant in these days of increasing media polarization when major networks, controlled by corporations interested only in ratings, have been cutting the budget for news coverage for years.

  2. doug

    Here is the programming from the local PBS affiliate in Washington, DC (WETA) yesterday and today:

    Friday – May 27, 2005
    6:00am BBC World News
    6:30am Between the Lions TVY, CC, DVS
    7:00am Arthur TVY, CC, DVS
    7:30am Maya & Miguel TVY, CC, DVS
    8:00am The Berenstain Bears TVY, CC, DVS
    8:30am Clifford the Big Red Dog TVY, CC, DVS
    9:00am Dragon Tales TVY, CC, DVS
    9:30am George Shrinks TVY, CC, DVS
    10:00am Barney & Friends TVY, CC, DVS
    10:30am Sesame Street TVY, CC, DVS
    11:30am Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TVY, CC, DVS
    12:00pm Boohbah TVY, CC, DVS
    12:30pm Clifford the Big Red Dog TVY, CC, DVS
    1:00pm Arthur TVY, CC, DVS
    1:30pm Caillou TVY, CC, DVS
    2:00pm The Berenstain Bears TVY, CC, DVS
    2:30pm George Shrinks TVY, CC, DVS
    3:00pm Clifford the Big Red Dog TVY, CC, DVS
    3:30pm Postcards From Buster TVY, CC
    4:00pm Dragon Tales TVY, CC, DVS
    4:30pm Maya & Miguel TVY, CC, DVS
    5:00pm Cyberchase TVY, CC, DVS
    5:30pm Arthur TVY, CC, DVS
    6:00pm BBC World News
    6:30pm Nightly Business Report CC
    7:00pm The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer CC
    8:00pm Washington Week CC
    8:30pm NOW CC
    9:00pm Mystery! CC, DVS
    10:00pm Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered CC
    10:30pm The Journal Editorial Report CC
    11:00pm Charlie Rose CC
    12:00am Tavis Smiley CC
    12:30am Nightly Business Report CC
    1:00am St. Helens: Out of the Ash
    2:00am SIGN OFF

    Saturday – May 28, 2005
    6:00am Thomas & Friends CC, DVS
    6:30am Bob the Builder CC, DVS
    7:00am Rick Steves’ Europe CC
    7:30am Smart Travels: Europe With R…. CC
    8:00am New Yankee Workshop CC
    8:30am Ask This Old House CC
    9:00am The New This Old House Hour CC
    10:00am Antiques Roadshow CC
    11:00am Antiques Roadshow TVG, CC
    12:00pm Wild America CC
    12:30pm EastEnders
    1:00pm EastEnders
    1:30pm EastEnders
    2:00pm All Creatures Great & Small
    3:00pm Everyday Food CC
    3:30pm Jacques Pépin: Fast F…. CC
    4:00pm Lidia’s Family Table CC
    4:30pm America’s Test Kitchen From …. CC
    5:00pm America’s Test Kitchen From …. CC
    5:30pm Wall $treet Week With FORTUNE CC
    6:00pm Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered CC
    6:30pm Washington Week CC
    7:00pm Are You Being Served?
    7:30pm As Time Goes By CC
    8:00pm As Time Goes By CC
    8:30pm Keeping Up Appearances CC
    9:00pm Keeping Up Appearances CC
    9:30pm Are You Being Served?
    10:00pm Are You Being Served?
    10:30pm Waiting for God CC
    11:00pm The Defiant Ones (1958) **** (NR)
    1:00am The New This Old House Hour CC
    2:00am SIGN OFF

    Now, what is being offered on PBS that isn’t offered elsewhere? Would the removal of our tax dollars cut off beloved re-runs of British comedy? Is children’s programming not available elsewhere?

    I am completely against the government underwriting any type of media, I think it is a bad principle. But I understand that reasonable people can disagree on whether PBS should have been started at all, when the choices of programming were quite limited. But today? In the age of 100+ channel cable and the internet? There is no reason for the government to be subsidizing broadcasting.

    If PBS is such a hit with the consumer, which is what you’ve explicitly argued, then they should fend just fine on their own. Just as FoxNews rocketed to cable news dominance by responding to market demand, a newly formed network of private stations dedicated to “public broadcasting-esque” programming should have no problem selling limited ad space and becoming a commercial behemoth, available to all.

  3. LaurenceB

    I agree with Andrew that AIM is a poor source for PBS criticism. When Kincaid strayed off subject to suggest that Bush had volunteered to serve in Vietnam, I involuntarily rolled my eyes.

    I agree with Doug that PBS is biased, although I suspect we disagree on both the degree of bias and the degree of harm.

    I disagree with Doug that there is nothing on PBS that cannot be found elsewhere. Although Tucker Carlson certainly can.

  4. doug

    I disagree with Doug that there is nothing on PBS that cannot be found elsewhere. Although Tucker Carlson certainly can.

    Could you provide some examples? Thanks much.

  5. LaurenceB

    Could you provide some examples? Thanks much.

    Sure. Off the top of my head, there are two that come to mind:

    1. Here in Tampa there is a local news roundtable that shows each weekend that discusses local news and issues. Its excellent.

    2. The Lehrer NewsHour. In my opinion, the biggest problem with Fox News is not that it is biased (which it is). The biggest problem with Fox News is that it leads the current trend towards “dumming down” of news broadcasts to make them more marketable. I suspect you know what I mean – flashy graphics, attractive newscasters, extremely short segments, shouting matches, and especially the appalling lack of depth. The best counterbalance I have found to this is Lehrer NewsHour, and I suspect the reason they are so refreshingly different is precisely because they are not selling a product. In this case, I think that is a good thing.

  6. doug

    1. Here in Tampa there is a local news roundtable that shows each weekend that discusses local news and issues. Its excellent.

    Does public access cable not exist in Tampa? Aren’t there local newspapers? Web sites? Radio stations?

    I can’t imagine that a taxpayer funded TV program is requisite for a discussion of local news and issues.

    Of course, maybe there isn’t a program that you enjoy as much.

    2. The Lehrer NewsHour.

    If it is as good as you say certainly it could find a home somewhere else.

    Unless it is for the fact that there are only a few people like you who enjoy the program and would hate to see it go.

    I think this goes to the heart of the argument (or at least, one of the disagreements).

    No one can assert that local issues are only discussed on PBS, just as it would be silly to claim that you can’t find news elsewhere. But what you (Laurence) don’t want to see happen is the elimination of the programs that you enjoy.

    This is certainly a natural reaction. I was upset when I learned that Dennis Miller’s show on CNBC was getting cancelled. I found him funny, a straight shooter, and very likable. But so goes the market. Not enough people had that same taste.

    Just because you or I enjoy certain programming doesn’t mean that we should force our neighbors to pay for it through tax revenues.

  7. Andrew

    Doug, one of the reasons the NewHour is so good is because it is not beholden to any corporation. Jim Laher, Gwen Ifil and the rest could find jobs elsewhere, certainly, but NewsHour could not exist on any other network. And that’s just one show of many including Frontline, Charlie Rose, Nova, Scientific Frontiers and on and on. Each of the shows on PBS is free from corporate demands on prgramming that their network or cable counterparts are tethered too. The next time you see an in-depth expose about GE on NBC or about media accumulation on CBS or Fox, please let me know.

  8. LaurenceB

    Doug,

    I’m not sure if you missed me point, or if you just disagree with it, so I’ll re-state it.

    My point is:

    The news market is currently catering to a “dumbing down” trend. By all indications, this appears to be what the buying public wants. Given that unfortunate fact, there is no doubt in my mind that Lehrer NewsHour (which has no Michael Jackson news!) would be an utter failure. Yet it is the most informative news program on television – head and shoulders above the others. Therefore, I believe that the government provides a valuable public service by supporting Lehrer NewsHour.

  9. Andrew

    Pat Mitchell, president of PBS is speaking right now (taped) on C-Span about just this issue. If you can’t catch the broadcast, you can find the text of her speech here:

    http://www.pbs.org/aboutpbs/news/20050524_pressclubspeech.html

  10. al

    I saw part of her speech. During one portion, at the beginning, she described what was being shown by The Learning Channel, History Channel, Fox and two another that I can’t remember. She mentioned “Dog the Bounter Hunter,” “The History if Hogs (motorcycle),” and of course “American Idol.” She said that this is what the young people we being subjected to on other stations, I think in attempt to make an argument that PBS is needed to combat those types of programs. She mentioned how they were independent. Independent from what? From people who make decisions of which show will be aired and which will not? Independent from government? Wait, the government funds it. So really, how independent and objective can it truly be? I have to agree with Doug that if there were no PBS the shows that people like and watch would end up on another station somewhere. Somewhere where I don’t have to pay for it.
    Another thing that I thought interesting about her speech. She talked about big they were, saying the reach 70% of American households and capablilities of reaching 99% of Americans. Okay, so they may be able to reach it, but are people tuning in? It sounds like some do, because you guys seem to have watched some shows on it, but how many Americans are really tuning in? I don’t know who they are polling for this information, but not many people I know watch PBS. Besides, don’t they have fund raising drives and telethons? If it is so popular, being in 70% of households, why aren’t all those people helping the progaming they love so much. It seems to me if they don’t want to help it, they don’t want it that bad.
    Bottom line: I don’t watch it. I don’t want to pay for it. They say they want to educate kids and such, well put all that money into schools, pay for more teachers, pay for better teachers, and do the whole ‘educating kids’ thing right the first time…in schools!

  11. LaurenceB

    Al,

    You said:

    I have to agree with Doug that if there were no PBS the shows that people like and watch would end up on another station somewhere. Somewhere where I don’t have to pay for it.

    Well, I also agree with Doug. There is no contention on that point. At one time I think Doug was arguing that there was nothing on PBS that was unique, but now I sense he has ceded that there may be, and our new point of disagreement is whether or not there is a place for government funding of educational programming that would not normally be offered through normal market channels.

    (Speculation alert!) It may be that the real difference between Doug’s position and mine, is that he has a more optimistic outlook of the level of sophistication of the buying public than I do. In my defense, I would ask that you look at the product coming out of Hollywood every day (which is almost entirely market driven). It’s not pretty.

    Finally, It’s easy for me to empathize with the sentiment both you and Doug have displayed: “I don’t watch it. I don’t want to pay for it”. This makes sense. I agree with it. But I think the need to offer this service to the educated public trumps that argument in this instance (if only barely).

    In the end, this is nothing more than a judgement call and I could be wrong.

  12. Andrew

    Al says:

    Bottom line: I don’t watch it. I don’t want to pay for it.

    Al, that’s a fascinating argument for why we should kill PBS. With that logic we’d have to run everything in the federal budget by you and make sure you find it useful. We’d have to have 100% unimous agreement on the value of all government spending, because if everyone doesn’t watch it, or find it personally usefull in some way, it’s not worth our time. Give me a break, amigo.

    She mentioned how they were independent. Independent from what? From people who make decisions of which show will be aired and which will not? Independent from government? Wait, the government funds it. So really, how independent and objective can it truly be?

    She answers that question for you:

    “The business model of commercial media demands programs like these that get ratings and make profits.

    PBS is not a business.

    We are a media service, a public/private partnership, unique in this country’s media landscape. Supported in large part by the volunteer contributions of citizens writing checks.

    The value for them is, at least in part, is their dependence on our independence.

    The trust and credibility comes from being accountable to them, the public, and not to a marketplace or a corporation by any name.”

    Clearly laid out.

  13. doug

    The trust and credibility comes from being accountable to them, the public, and not to a marketplace or a corporation by any name.

    Which begs the question, if the marketplace isn’t the public, what on earth is it?

  14. al

    Good question Doug.

    Andrew,
    I couldn’t agree more! I should have more say in the way things run! I have a lot of ideas of ways to cut the budget and cut down the size of government. And as the supreme decision maker, and killer of public television, I will allow for you to choose one show, one show only, that you may keep and we will put in on another station for you to watch. We can put it on the fishing channel or maybe put a break from all the earth shots in the NASA channel for it.

    I still don’t think that she completely answered the question. She said they were indendent from corporations and marketplaces. As Doug points out, the public, whom they are serving through their separation from marketplaces, makes up the marketplace. So they are independent from everyone and everything. Very impressive.

  15. Andrew

    PBS is hardly independent from “the public”. It serves “the public” and is dependent on “the public”, AKA members or “Viewers Like You” (well, not you, Al or Doug, but you know what I mean), for half it’s operating budget. It’s not simply a top down monolithic organization that makes decisions at the upper echelon (like an Al presidency would obviously be. Rather it is like an amorphous connection of stations that derives programming from a number of sources, but most notably it’s 300+ stations which are directly accountable to it members.

    I’m not an economist, and I’m sure you find someone who explain to you the difference between what you call “the marketplace” and what I have been calling “the public”. What I call “the public” is often underserver by “the marketplace”, hence, the need for Public Television, Public Libraries, Public Parks, Public Golf Courses and on and on. There are some true believers who are under the impression that we should live in a purely market based economy. That’s a fine position to take. I happen to disagree because “the marketplace” can do a tremendous disservice to culture. Culture is such an important part of any given society. The erosion of culture, which often is not even noticed until it’s too far gone, is often a direct result of “the marketplace.” Some places this can be helped and some places it cannot. In the case of Public Television where the costs of serving the public good despite the marketplace is relatively cheap price to pay for the benefit.

    I would suggest to Al and Doug that rather than try to tear PBS down, you should watch it. Tivo Charlie Rose and tell me that what he produces on nightly basis isn’t good for the country–especailly compared the crap that spills over the airways on Larry King or any other marketplace driven talk show. That’s just one example of many. I’m not saying become a member. Just watch it for a while, a few weeks, and tell me if you don’t think it’s worthwhile to keep it around.

  16. Benjamin J. Ditzel

    Actually, no where else on broadcast TV can you get All Creatures Great and Small, Masterpiece Theatre, and other English programmes. I have searched already. Not everyone can afford cable TV and unless you get it free (with $550 rent/ month in Blaine, Washington like I do) it’s not really worth it. PBS is usually the only station on broadcast TV worth watching ever.
    Benjamin Ditzel
    Blaine, WA U.S.A. 23/06/05

  17. doug

    Not everyone can afford cable TV and unless you get it free it’s not really worth it.

    But this is exactly what you seem to be saying about PBS: If it wasn’t free, no one would pay for it, so keep it free.

  18. Will

    PBS is one of the few broadcasters that show progamming perfect for children growing up, unlike the trash on many networks shown today. Another plus to this is because it is free to those who decide not to donate money to PBS.
    I can’t believe you want to take good programming off the air, it’s absolutely ridiculous. And don’t try to spin this off as some political affair. Unless you have some valid information backing your windbagged statements in your article, then shut up.

  19. doug

    I can’t believe you want to take good programming off the air, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

    “Good” is a very subjective term, Will. You may not believe that I don’t love all of PBS’ programming.

    I can’t believe that there are people who want to force others to pay for their TV programming. If you enjoy PBS, pay for it yourself. Why force others to foot the bill?

    Like I said re: Dennis Miller. I really enjoyed his CNBC show last year, but it was cancelled. So goes the marketplace. In my view it would be immoral for me to demand that others, through government taxation, pay for programming that I enjoy.