Liberals Upset That NR's Rich Lowry Was Allowed on PBS

The liberal-media establishment at the Poynter Institute delights in the supposedly scandalous appearances of conservatives in the media, as its Romenesko website featured liberal PBS complainers on Wednesday:

National Review editor Rich Lowry recently filled in for David Brooks on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" during the Friday week-in-review segment. Some viewer reactions:

"Please rethink having such a callous, offensive 'reporter' on PBS again."

"He gives journalism an ugly face not to mention the total disregard this young man has for democracy."

"The remarks of Rich Lowry were shameful and deeply disturbing."

The link was to the website of PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler. Romenesko could have just as easily focused on where Getler began: liberals howling that the Ken Burns miniseries "The War" is offensive to their pacifist sensibilities – even though Burns clearly displayed pacifist sensibilities on his media tour. Getler highlighted how one viewer now put PBS on the "far right."

Eugene Bercel of Naples, Florida wrote:

Until now I was always unhappy with low-brow stations such as the History Channel and FOX, for which history primarily means WWII, and their apparent purpose is the aggrandizement of war and the US military machine. I always saw those channels as some propaganda arm of the far-right in this country. Naturally, I am not at all happy to see PBS on the same bandwagon.

Getler was surprised that the anti-Lowry e-mail seemed to suggest he should not be allowed on the hallowed PBS airwaves. (The angry liberal e-mailers would probably prefer the usual PBS fare, where filmmakers don’t imply support for anything Bush has ever done. Instead, they no doubt prefer declarations like this one on Castro: "Fidel touched this young machine adjuster and the man enjoyed a mild ecstasy. I know the feeling.")

Here’s what Lowry said on the NewsHour that offended the liberals:

I think waterboarding -- look, reasonable people can conclude it's torture, but I sort of apply a commonsense standard here. Journalists are volunteering to be waterboarded to see what it's like. You would not do that with any infamous, obvious torture techniques. Journalists wouldn't volunteer, "Please, pull out my fingernail. I'm really curious how that feels."

And they're only volunteering because it's two minutes of panic. It's a horrifying procedure, but then you walk away. And we use it in our own training for the Army and the Navy, the training of survival and resistance. If it's torture, that training itself is illegal and wrong and shouldn't be happening.

So, look, obviously it's right up there, right to the line. I think it's a technique that should be used in reserve, that we should have in reserve, in extremely limited circumstances, in cases where you have very high-level al-Qaida officials who might have knowledge of ongoing plots. So you don't have time to deal with them over a period of months and you want to break them quickly, and that's exactly what happened with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed....

I don't think waterboarding, just to go back to that issue, I don't think it's torture. And the thing is you've had people like Chuck Schumer on the record, in a 2004 hearing, endorsing torture in a ticking time bomb sort of scenario. Bill Clinton has endorsed torture in a ticking time bomb. So has John McCain.

And the fact is: Torture is always wrong. You never should do it in these circumstances. But the closest you're going to get to a ticking time bomb-type scenario, you know, real life isn't like the TV show "24," is when you have a high-level al-Qaida operative with knowledge of things that might be happening.

And it doesn't shock my conscience, and I don't think most people, the American public, it shocks their conscience to subject someone like KSM to two minutes of panic to get his information.

Here are some snippets of the angry anti-Lowry letters:

I cannot understand why the NewsHour is providing airtime to non-journalists during the Friday (Nov. 2) segment. Rich Lowry was allowed to grandstand about his personal views on waterboarding, ignoring Ray Suarez's moderation to a new topic. How about some commentary rather than barking heads trying to win shouting matches. – Chicago, IL

I can't believe that you have Rich Lowry on the show actually talking in support of water-boarding. Lowry is a poor substitute for David Brooks. I am outraged that someone would condone torture as an OK thing, and that's a slippery slope. We are surely in moral trouble if he represents any kind of substantial constituency, and if he doesn't then he ought not to be on your show. – MB Markham, Arlington, VA

On Nov. 2, Ray Suarez was sitting in on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He was talking with Mark Shields and a young man named Rick, as David Brooks (no relation to me) was off. The young reporter with blithe arrogance condoned torture, insisted nothing was wrong with it "when needed" and said he'd be willing to volunteer for two minutes of waterboarding. Please rethink having such a callous, offensive "reporter" on PBS again. He gives journalism an ugly face not to mention the total disregard this young man has for democracy. Ray looked embarrassed. Mark Shields was obviously disgusted. Jim Lehrer's NewsHour is the most informed and dignified news we have in our country. Send this Rick over to Fox News and then he'll understand torture for himself. – Jacquelyn Brooks, Gloucester, MA

I STRONGLY object to Rich Lowry as the substitute commentator. He is either ignorant or a liar or both. In the discussion on waterboarding, he says that it is not torture. That is a lie, according to the Army manual, to the Geneva Conventions, to John McCain, to countless others. Are you pandering to the Bush Administration? If you don't have him as the substitute, will they cancel you? Give us an honest person. Where are your editorial standards? – Chapel Hill, NC

The idea that Lowry should not be allowed to speak on PBS was apparently the tone of many letters. Getler offered this response from NewsHour Executive Producer Linda Winslow: "A number of viewers wrote to complain about Rich Lowry's endorsement of waterboarding as an interrogation tactic on Friday. In most cases, the viewers wanted to know why he was allowed to express his opinion — which they vehemently disagreed with — on The NewsHour. Here's the answer to that question: Rich was filling in for our regular commentator, David Brooks, and participating in our regular Friday night analysis of the week's biggest developments. Like David, Rich leans toward Republican positions but, like Mark, he isn't expected to spout the "party line" on every event. He is encouraged to express his own opinions, which is what he did Friday. Although many prominent Republicans have denounced waterboarding, Rich is not the only person in Washington espousing the position he took. Some of them are members of the Bush administration. We think it is important that our viewers hear that argument, whether they agree with one side or the other.

For Getler, allowing Lowry to speak was a no-brainer: "This seems like an easy one. Lowry appeared on the weekly analysis and opinion portion of this program. Lowry gave his opinion. That's what this is supposed to be about. They opine, you decide."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis