Wednesday, April 30, 2008

F.A.I.R.'s 1990 Study Of The `NewsHour'--Part 2

After F.A.I.R. issued its critical report about the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in June 1990, F.A.I.R.’s then-executive director, Jeff Cohen, was invited to debate [the PBS evening news show’s then co-anchor Robert] MacNeil on Channel 13’s then-local New York City show, The 11th Hour. But within a year the show that had aired this debate, The 11th Hour, had “gone off the air,”observed Cohen.

Asked by Downtown in the Spring of 1991 whether MacNeil then seemed willing to invite a F.A.I.R. representative to debate him on his own show, Cohen replied:

“There was no willingness to have a F.A.I.R. representative on MacNeil’s show. Just as Nightline ended up cancelling a previously scheduled appearance by me on its show to discuss F.A.I.R.’s study of Nightline. It seems like F.A.I.R. may be `blacklisted’ from these shows.”

Asked to respond to a June 17, 1990 charge by then-New York Times TV critic Walter Goodman that F.A.I.R.’s report on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour was just an expression of its own political bias, Cohen said:

“The reaction to our report was, at first, very defensive. They said `F.A.I.R. is biased’ and that it `wants a MacNeil/Lehrer show composed of guests who are just critics.’ But what we want is a balanced show, where advocates for consumer groups, minorities, women and labor have an opportunity to appear on the show as well. That’s what public broadcasting should be all about.

MacNeil/Lehrer hails itself as `independent.’ But that’s not the case.”

Asked by Downtown whether the release of F.A.I.R.’s study in June 1990 had any effect on the show, Cohen said he felt it did, but that the “changes only lasted a few months.”

“One week they actually interviewed Noam Chomsky—alone. And the next night they interviewed [the now-deceased] Edward Said—alone. And for a few days there was a period in which it seemed like a balance of policy-makers and policy-critics appeared. But then it was business-as-usual after the war broke out. Lately, it’s like it was before the study was released.”

In 1991, F.A.I.R. then-shared a Friday morning radio show on Pacifica’s WBAI, with then-Undercurrents radio show producer Laura Flanders, which monitored the media. Downtown asked F.A.I.R.’s executive director in 1991 whether Channel 13’s management had ever approached him about having a media monitoring show televised on Channel 13?

“No. But I’m sure it’s been discussed.”

Asked if there were any other recent changes [in 1991] at WNET in response to F.A.I.R.’s study,” Cohen noted that the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour now “sometimes includes an editor of Progressive magazine on its panel of five journalists” who appear on the show from time to time.

“I think Channel 13 is feeling community pressure to reflect the community’s diversity. We put a lot of heat on it when it allowed The 11th Hour to die. But Big Business is still calling the shots. Our theory is that corporations weren’t interested in diversity. And so we did campaigning on The 11th Hour issue—but MacNeil/Lehrer has all the money. So they let The 11th Hour show die for some cheaper show—though the cheaper show has had some very decent community segments.”

Cohen noted that Channel 13’s new “cheaper” show—not the plush NewsHour was even planning in 1991 to let the F.A.I.R. spokesperson get on the TV screen the following night.

(Downtown 5/8/91)

Next: Discrimination At PBS Historically