It's been a rough few days for PBS. Viewers are noticing some of PBS's bias and they're not liking it. Last week the network's ombudsman had to explain actor Mike Farrell's cheap shot against Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin during a PBS fundraising program.
At the same time, he defended a poll on NOW on PBS's home page. NewsBuster Jacob S. Lybbert noted the poll was comprised of a single question: "Do you think Sarah Palin is qualified to serve as Vice President of the United States?" Some viewers thought the question inherently unfair; after all, PBS never ran a poll asking if Barack Obama or Joe Biden are qualified for the positions they're seeking.
The ombudsman concluded the poll was fair. Part of his reasoning:
As for Obama, he announced his candidacy in February 2007, received more than 17 million votes during the primary campaign, won 18 states in those primaries and 13 others where there were caucuses, and has been in scores of candidate debates and press interviews. So a large number of people have already stated that they think he is qualified. . .
Actually, it was a large number of Democrats - not the public at large - who voted for Obama. Their support for him didn't necessarily mean they believe him to be qualified, only that they preferred him to the other names on the ballot.
The Palin poll, obviously, could not be limited to Republicans. As it turns out, that wasn't the only problem with it. John Siceloff, executive producer of NOW on PBS, has issued a statement. Titled "The Sarah Palin Poll: New and Improved - One User, One Vote," he notes that, as of September 23, a user can only vote once per computer. It wasn't originally arranged that way because "we at NOW had serious concerns about user privacy." Which means, naturally, that the poll is "absolutely not" scientific, a proviso that people learning of poll results may not be aware of.
PBS staffers apparently want to put the matter behind them:
The Palin poll is no longer in our home page rotation. We've moved on to other polls; each week you'll find one in the bottom right corner of our home page. The current poll asks, "Who do you trust more to fix the nation's economic mess—Barack Obama or John McCain?" It has already attracted a lot of interest.
As Election Day nears, Americans are increasingly sensitive to mainstream media bias. A network receiving tax dollars as well as viewer contributions should exercise caution. But, based on past performance, it probably won't. They'll just keep having to explain.