March 07, 2005

If Public TV doesn't do it, will George Will? 

First I must apologise for the last couple of weeks of bloglessness. I've been working on a bunch of streaming video projects, which I'll share with you soon under the dubious theory that they're of interest to WILLblog readers. But today we have George Will exhibiting his mean streak. I have been expecting someone from the conservative pundit establishment to call for the end of public broadcasting, given all the other trends in our recent political, ahem, discourse. But in attacking the relevance of public television, I didn't really expect someone like George Will to defend commercial television on the basis of high standards. Read for yourself: http://www.cincypost.com/2005/03/07/will030705.html Since we're all about balance here on WILLblog (even if it comes with a side order of twisted humor), here's a reply from PBS President Pat Mitchell:
Pat Mitchell’s Response to George Will Column – March 3, 2005 To the Editor: In a recent column in your pages, George Will once again cites a familiar litany of cable channels to recycle the argument that public television has been replicated and is no longer necessary. A random check of his own local listings on the very day his column appeared would quickly suggest there are serious holes in that theory. On the night that his column ran, Mr. Will could have tuned into his local PBS station for a special report on evolving technologies and treatments for cancer, the most serious health crisis in America. If he thought he could get more intelligent, in-depth programming on one of the cable channel options he listed, his choices would have included the following: On A&E, he could have watched “Presumed Dead,” the true story of a woman’s body hidden in a refrigerator. The Discovery Channel offered “Human Cannonballs,” revealing that the most common cause of death for human cannonballs is landing outside the net. Bravo would have given him “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” while The History Channel offered the history of “Engineering Disasters.” All of this was in addition to the networks’ offerings of “Extreme Makeover” and yet another version of “Survivor.” Beyond his premise, which is undermined by the actual comparison of programming between PBS and cable channels on any day or night, Mr. Will relies on several inaccuracies to argue against the federal funding that makes up about one-fifth of public television's budgets. The first is about the size of our audience- PBS' is larger than any cable channel on any night, making PBS the only broadcaster whose ratings are actually rising, not falling. Next, our children’s programs are the number one choice of parents anywhere, and are, most importantly, the only free children’s programs outside of the few that are still offered on Saturday mornings. And those programs are offered commercial free, with many targeting the underserved audience of younger children. While Mr. Will rightly notes that 62% of poor households have cable, that statistic begs the question of the remaining almost 40%. Many of those homes have children at a crucial developmental stage when educational, literacy-based television like PBS can make significant improvements in school readiness. Finally, Mr. Will dramatically implies that the public may no longer value PBS. A Roper poll conducted just last month tells us emphatically that they do. Americans cited PBS as the most trusted national institution in the country, and ranked public television as the second best value for their tax dollars, behind only military activities. Of course we don't always disagree with Mr. Will. A few years ago, he wrote of Ken Burns’ landmark documentary Civil War which appeared on PBS, “If better use has ever been made of television, I have not seen it.” Spend more time with us, George. There's more where that came from, every day of the week. Sincerely, Pat Mitchell

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