Saturday, April 12, 2008

PBS's Historic Gannett Connection--Part 2

(The following (slightly updated) article originally appeared in the May 8, 1991 issue of the Lower East Side alternative newsweekly, Downtown).

In addition to receiving funds from the Gannett Company media conglomerate in the 1980s to establish the private, commercial MacNeil-Lehrer Productions joint-venture, MacNeil and Lehrer’s commercial venture also received public funds from PBS as payment for producing and hosting programs like the 1986 My Heart, Your Heart one-hour special on heart disease and a 12-part series on life in China, The Heart of the Dragon, as well as for the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour show. And in its Oct. 6, 1989 issue, the New York Times reported that the Entertainment Division of the commercial NBC network had “commissioned five hour-long health specials from MacNeil/Lehrer Productions which” were “to feature Dr. C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States.”

According to the 1990-1991 NYNEX Business to Business Yellow Pages, the commercial offices of “MacNeil Lehrer Gannett Productions” were located at 1775 Broadway, on the corner of 57th St. in Suite 612—just around the corner from the publicly-funded, “nonprofit” Channel 13 studio offices of PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour show. The 1990-1991 Business to Business Yellow Pages also then listed 560-3169 as the MacNeil-Lehrer-Gannett Productions telephone number.

In the spring of 1991, Downtown telephoned this phone number, which was listed in the 1990-1991 directory under a bold-faced “MacNeil-Lehrer-Gannett Productions” listing, and was greeted by an answering machine. Downtown then telephoned the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour office at WNET-Channel 13 and asked what was then the nature of the Gannett Company’s relationship to MacNeil-Lehrer-Gannett Productions and/or the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.

According to the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and MacNeil-Lehrer Productions’ then-spokesperson, Christoopher Ramsey, MacNeil-Lehrer’s partnership with the Gannett Company had been terminated in 1987. Downtown then asked Ramsey why MacNeil-Lehrer-Gannett Productions was still listed in the 1990-1991 telephone Business-to-Business Yellow Pages if MacNeil-Lehrer Productions’ relationship to Gannett had ended in 1987?

“That’s a mistake made by the phone company. I’ll have to notify them,” Ramsey then answered.

But a customer service representative at Donnelly Directory, which published the 1990-1991 Business-to-Business Yellow Pages told Downtown that “within a year” after a business notifies the phone company that its phone number listing is to be changed, the listing is changed in the Business-to-Business Yellow Pages; and, if the listing is in bold face in the Business-to-Business directory, this fact is noted on the current monthly billing statement that the business customer receives each month.

By the mid-1990s, however, the NewsHour’s historic partnership with the Gannett Company media conglomerate had finally ended, after a controlling interest in MacNeil-Lehrer Productions was sold to AT & T, one of the NewsHour’s then-major donors. A 67 percent controlling-interest of MacNeil-Lehrer Productions was, subsequently, purchased by Liberty Media, another media conglomerate. Until 2006, the Liberty Media conglomerate that owns MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, was also the owner of a large chunk of stock of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation/Fox News global media conglomerate.

Today, the Liberty Media conglomerate (which also now owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team and television stations in Wisconsin) still controls 67 percent of the production company that produces PBS’s evening television news show. But one of the NewsHour’s correspondents (who was the wife of Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Albert Hunt in the early 1990s), Judy Woodruff, sits on the Freedom Forum foundation that used to operate under the name of the Gannett Foundation. (During the 1990s, Woodruff apparently also sat next to Bush Administration Secretary of State Condi Rice on the board of the Carnegie Corporation of New York foundation).

(Downtown 5/8/91)

And the current president of the PBS evening news show’s New York City outlet, WNET/Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Channel 13 President & CEO Neal Shapiro, also sits on the Gannett Company board of directors as a member of the Gannett media conglomerate board’s “Nominating” and “Public Responsibility” committees.

Next: The Gannett Media Conglomerate’s Hidden History--Part 1

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