PBS is offering a new late-night debate show – or will “debate” be like a Mark Shields and David Brooks NewsHour discussion: “we agree on the liberal consensus”? The title is Point Taken. The Boston Globe reports it begins airing on April 5. Let us list the bad signs:
1. It’s being produced out of PBS superstation WGBH in Boston and funded by the liberal Pew Charitable Trusts. It would be more promising if it was produced at some southern PBS backwater station and funded by a tobacco or gun company or a defense contractor.
2. “According to a WGBH spokesperson, shows will taped be in front of a live studio audience evenings ahead of the show at the WGBH studios in Brighton and will be open to the public to attend.” In other words, the audience is as diverse as Shields & Brooks.
3. After substituting a Boston audience for America, Point Taken will also emphasize audience participation through pre-show polling and voting online and in-studio. “According to WGBH’s announcement, the Marist Institute of Public Opinion will conduct a national survey before each week’s episode to ‘frame and inform’ the conversation.”
4. The host is former CNN commentator and MSNBC anchor Carlos Watson. Watson has a Democratic background: in high school and college, he worked for Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez and Sen. Bob Graham, then after graduating from Harvard in 1991, he worked as Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager for Florida state Representative Daryl Jones and managed Bill Clinton’s 1992 Election Day effort in Miami-Dade County. He had a weekend radio show on the leftist Air America network.
5. And then there’s the “inside voices” promotional lingo:
Enough shouting. Let’s use our inside voices. Each week, POINT TAKEN debates a topic Americans care about. We deliver smart, interesting guests who can disagree without being disagreeable. Come learn something you didn't know, and maybe laugh a little.
Here’s the problem. Watson has occasionally failed the “inside voices” test, and the “without being disagreeable” measurement. In 2009 on CNN, the late Noel Sheppard reported on NewsBusters that he compared using the word “socialist” to “the N-word” after come testy Obamacare town hall meetings:
WATSON: But what concerns me is when in some of those town hall meetings including the one that we saw in Missouri recently where there were jokes made about lynching, etc., you start to wonder whether in fact the word socialist is becoming a code word, whether or not socialist is becoming the new N-word for frankly for some angry upset birthers and others.
Worse yet, he then brought in PBS pseudoconservative David Brooks to back him up:
WATSON: I hope that's not the case, but it sure does say to you what David Brooks said the other day on TV which is that more credible conservatives have to stand up and say that there's a line that has to be drawn, that there's a line of responsibility that's important, and that extends to the words that we choose including how choose, even legitimate words like socialist.
In other words, don't use "socialist" next to "Obama," or it's racist.
Despite that failure, Watson promises on the official PBS show website “As the host of Point Taken, I promise to lead smart, civil debates about important issues. All the substance, without the abuse.” Exactly what they'd say about other tilted PBS commentary shows.
The only mildly hopeful sign is not every debate will be strictly political. Their website suggests the topics “Is College Worth the Price Tag?’’ “Is Technology Making Us Stupid?’’ and “Does the U.S. Still Rule the World?’’
We suggest “Is PBS taking our tax dollars and feeding us liberal opinion instead of fairness and balance?” But I doubt I could keep an “inside voice” about that, or if it would be seen as agreeable. Even when I appeared on NPR's Diane Rehm show in the year 2000 and used my inside voice the whole time about the 2000 presidential campaign coverage, Rehm scrambled out of the room in a huff when it was over.