For Immediate Release
Tel: 212-633-6700 x13
PBS Ombud Agrees With FAIR on Shultz Tribute
Says funding gives series a 'credibility problem'
WASHINGTON - In response to hundreds of letters from FAIR activists, PBS
ombud Michael Getler (7/16/10) agreed with FAIR's criticism
(Action Alert, 7/12/10) of the 3-hour PBS
documentary Turmoil and Triumph, a tribute to former Reagan-era
Secretary of State George Shultz funded in part by institutions and
individuals with close ties to Shultz.
Getler found Turmoil to be "over-the-top, in
my view, with praise, but with relatively little critical appraisal of
some of the more controversial actions of Shultz's tenure." He wrote:
as a viewer and an ombudsman, created at least the appearance of a
conflict of interest; a portrait so glowing that it overwhelms whatever
modestly critical elements are included, that does not easily fit the
designation one usually associates with a documentary, and that is
indeed funded in part by associates of the subject. It doesn't mean
that funders exerted any editorial influence, but it left me feeling
they didn't have to.
Getler concluded that he was left with
credibility problem, one that could have been fixed in the telling and
in a search for other sponsors. I felt it did not meet PBS's
own "perception test" ground rules when one combined the dominant tone
of sainthood, the length, the sense that a critical eye was missing,
the omissions about Iraq and those sponsorships that were immediately
eye-catching for anyone familiar with this period.
PBS disagreed with FAIR and Getler. The
official response to Getler stated that the show "fully meets our
standards for editorial integrity," citing the fact that the show had
13 funders, none of whom "accounted for more than 25 percent of the
budget." That one of these funders was the Bechtel family foundation
was not a problem, since the "subject matter of the program was
Shultz's role as Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, not
his role in the corporation." PBS also pointed to Bechtel's
support for "a wide range of projects and institutions," presumably as
evidence that its funding of a hagiography of its affiliated
corporation's former president and current board member was not
The problems with Turmoil and Triumph's
funding, however, go beyond Bechtel and Schwab, the two
corporate-affiliated major funders noted in FAIR's Action Alert. Seven
of the 13 funders have close ties to the
right-wing Hoover Institution--where Shultz is a distinguished fellow--either as major
donors or members of the board of overseers; five are listed as
"major funders" of the documentary (the Annenberg Foundation, Stephen
Bechtel Jr. Foundation, Charles Johnson, Thomas Stephenson and Cynthia
Major funder Donald Fisher was a fellow board member with Shultz at Charles
Schwab. Major funder Peter G. Peterson became good friends with Shultz
at the University of Chicago and later became his colleague in the
Nixon administration (Big Think, 11/7/07). Another funder, John C.
Whitehead, served as Shultz's second-in-command at the State
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The documentary's backers don't just have
institutional and professional ties to Shultz, but personal connections
as well. Two funders--Charles Johnson and Stephen Bechtel--reportedly
hang out with Shultz at Bohemian Grove, the elite summer retreat in
Northern California, where all three belong to the high-powered
Mandalay camp (Sonoma County Free Press, 8/22/08). Shultz was described as a
"close friend" of Richard Blum--Sen. Dianne Feinstein's husband--in a
press release (4/19/06) announcing the launch of the Blum
Center for Developing Economies, for which Shultz serves as an
honorary trustee; the San Francisco Chronicle (5/13/07) named Blum and Feinstein as part
of a small circle of "friends and loved ones" of Shultz's wife
Charlotte. Charlotte Shultz serves on the board of trustees of the San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art with donors Doris Fisher and Gretchen Leach--a
board chaired by Charles Schwab.
David deVries, the producer of the series, also had a
response to what he called the "the sneering, scurrilous accusations
of prejudice and partiality about the shows made by Greg Mitchell in
his Nation blog of July 12 and the FAIR.org blog of
the same date." DeVries wrote:
throughout the almost three years it took me to create the series, I
was completely unaware of who the funders were.... The overall positive
tone of my portrait of George Shultz was arrived at through my own
research and an extensive interview process. It is positive because I
legitimately came to believe Shultz has been a dedicated public servant
and a great secretary of State.
It is not necessary for the producer to be aware of
the funders for the funders to have an impact on the program;
contributors to Free to Choose Media would certainly expect that
they were funding a conservative project, because that's what that
production company consistently does. Whether it does so by telling the
producers it hires what to say, or by hiring people who do not need to
be told, is not particularly important.
Read Getler's full response, as well as PBS's
response, here: http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/
FAIR thanks Getler for his response. Thanks also to
all the FAIR activists who wrote to Getler.
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FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.