PBS Ombudsman Notices Near-Total 'Absence of Balance' in Moyers Impeachment Hour

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler has to be getting uncomfortable for calling out unbalanced liberal programs on the taxpayer-funded network. After he agreed with critics last week that a pro-Kerry editorial was wildly out of place on the show "History Detectives," now he has noticed the incredibly one-sided Bill Moyers Journal hour on impeaching Bush and Cheney and mildly noted it could have used a smidgen of balance. Despite Nancy Pelosi’s promise to avoid impeachment hearings, he wrote, "I would argue that it is still a newsworthy topic. So, as a viewer, I'm grateful that it is being addressed....On the other hand, there was almost a complete absence of balance, as I watched it, in the way this program presented the case for impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney."

Getler praised Moyers and his guests for some educational television (and most of the letters he reproduces are rave reviews). He concluded: "This was an hour-long program and it was, in many ways, an education, listening to this view of the impeachment process being laid out, whether or not you agree with it. But the program, in my view, would have been not only less vulnerable to charges of political bias, but also even more educational to more people in terms of illuminating the public about impeachment, if it had contained at the very least a succinct summary of the likely legal challenges to each of the main charges raised by the pro-impeachment process guests."

It would have been a lot easier to do that by having more of a debate. But Getler failed to address several issues, such as the outrageous historical comparisons guest Bruce Fein used, comparing Bush to the Nazis and the Soviets, and he failed to consider that PBS had no such "educational" hour when the House considered impeaching President Clinton, displaying a bias when comparing past to present.

CPB Ombudsman Ken Bode did not comment on the Moyers impeachment show on his official blog, although he did strangely condemn the Moyers program that started his latest incarnation of the Journal show -- for not including any critique of PBS and its failure to prevent war in Iraq. However, Bode did write a sharp-elbowed piece in the Indianapolis Star about the Moyers show and impeachment. He listed "Bush administration crimes," and insisted Bush had a "monumental" amount of "monarchical arrogance." But he still thought the timing wasn't right for Pelosi to pounce:

Charges: Guantanamo. Abu Ghraib. Rendition. Indefinite detention. Starting a war of aggression in Iraq without cause. Hiding and torturing captives without due process. Illegal wiretapping. Some would add obstructing honest elections and gross negligence in failing to assist New Orleans after Katrina.

The list of Bush administration crimes is very real, but I have not paid much attention to the blogs, petitions and other efforts to promote impeachment, on the theory that they are diversionary to the more important efforts to end the war in Iraq. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "Impeachment is not on the table," which I thought was good politics. Then a friend urged me to look at last Friday's PBS broadcast of "Bill Moyers Journal," a program devoted to putting the case for impeachment in a more serious context....

Only through impeachment hearings is it possible to concentrate the mind of the public on the monarchical arrogance and sneering attitude of George W. Bush. "I am king," Fein says of Bush's view of executive powers....

The crimes are real and probably impeachable, and the monarchial arrogance of the Bush-Cheney administration is monumental. But the timing is wrong.

Once again, CPB only really wanted a partisan liberal ombudsman, or else they would have replaced conservative co-ombudsman William Schulz, which they never have. The PBS system is turning into Bush Hater Headquarters without even timid Republican majorities to discourage the natural leftist tendencies of public broadcasting.

PBS Government & Press History
Tim Graham's picture