WASHINGTON - January 16 - PBS ombud Michael Getler (1/11/07), responding to viewers who shared FAIR's concerns about the balance of a recent NewsHour discussion of Iraq policy (1/8/07; FAIR Action Alert, 1/10/07), wrote that "I'm with the viewers on this one."
The segment, which featured two U.S. senators advocating for George W. Bush's "surge" policy along with two legislators who offered lukewarm reservations, was criticized by FAIR and by viewers for its limited range of debate. "I believe that you did a great disservice to your viewers by limiting the scope of debate by your choice of senators, excluding any who would voice any serious criticism and slanting the panel in favor of those who support escalation," wrote Ian Brewer of Bloomington, Indiana in a letter printed in Getler's "Ombudsman's Mailbag" column.
Viewers also took issue with the NewsHour's inclusion of Joseph Lieberman, who was identified as an "Independent Democrat," giving the superficial impression of an even partisan balance on the panel. "Sen. Lieberman won re-election with Republican votes," wrote Roldo Bartimole of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. "He acts as a Republican and should not be offered as someone who has opinions other than Republican, particularly on Iraq."
Getler, whose observations (1/5/07) about the narrow range of debate on PBS were cited in FAIR's action alert, wrote that although in his view the partisan imbalance was not as egregious as it first seemed, since one of the two Republicans featured expressed reservations about the administration's Iraq policy, on the whole he concurred with such viewers' complaints:
"This was a poorly constructed panel, in my view, and its imbalance stood out dramatically...because it was a debate over a crucial subject on the eve of one of the president's most crucial and controversial decisions. For dedicated NewsHour viewers, it also seemed to betray the normal care they take with such discussions. For my money, it also turned out to be the kind of discussion that doesn't break through anything in terms of public understanding, or explore much other than the roughly centrist views that everyone knows about, or the well-telegraphed administration view."
For more of the viewers' complaints and Getler's response, see http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/2007/01/ombudsmans_mailbag_16.html