CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Ombudsman's E-Mailbox

Joel Kaplan

February 4, 2013

Various complaints and observations from the public over the past few weeks ranging from Curious George to Miss America:

From Brenda Hillyer of Hendersonville, North Carolina:

Oh, how happy I am that Downton Abbey is back! I would be so inclined to support PBS for that and other programming I like IF it were not for the fact that I despise your biased news coverage. I can't understand why a public broadcasting company, that is constantly saying how much it needs money, doesn't wake up and realize that if GOOD, TRULY REPRESENTATIVE conservatives were invited to give their take on the news along with the host of liberals the PBS New Hour and BBC has almost exclusively, you would make more money. How hard is it to present truly 'fair and balanced' news (which, for the record, I don't think Fox News does, either—but they aren't supported by taxpayer money.) I'm eager to show my support. Now earn it!

In a follow-up email, Ms. Hillyer had this to say:

I wrote to you yesterday saying I would be glad to support PBS if it weren't for its biased news coverage. I read an opinion piece today in the Wall Street Journal, “Persuasion as the Cure for Incivility.” It occurred to me that CPB has an opportunity for bringing in a record number of viewers—and dollars (!) by offering a forum for civil discourse on political topics that are causing such dysfunction in our governing bodies—programming that is different from what it currently claims to be that forum. PBS could be the hot spot for hearing ideas from both sides -if only it would offer both sides! By that I mean: have a genuine, well-known conservatives (that would exclude David Brooks) debating with Mark Shields on Friday night; ditching BBC—who needs them when we have our own people? Let the top think tanks on both sides be the brokers of who appears to make the case for different points of view (i.e., AEI and Brookings, etc.), instead of your choosing fewer, wishy-washier, and more low-profile lawmakers or commentators etc. to voice the conservative side. This would be such a wonderful service to our country: “PBS—The Only Place to Hear Both Sides of Today's Critical Issues.” If conservative groups were happy with your “fair and balanced” approach, they would do a lot of your advertising for you. I guarantee you; it would unlock a lot of money from conservatives who don't support you under your current political analysis programming.

A cry in the wilderness, perhaps—but hope springs eternal.

Nancy Mindell of California is unhappy with the changes at her local NPR station, KPCC (noted in a previous report).

The changes made in morning programming are not satisfactory. Nothing is interesting or clever or informative. It sounds rushed and then there is no there there. I am extremely sad though I am now getting other things done in my new free time.

I am really sad about the changes in morning programming, It was wonderful —-humor —good regulars —excellent guests—and now it reminds me of junior high school. It sounds like a race to nowhere- nothing noteworthy. Blah.

In a follow-up interview, Ms. Mindell, 72, had this to say:

I don't actually listen to it anymore, because it reminds me of morning TV. On those morning shows, they're just gimmicky wankers. I don't know, it's just dumb. And, I don't understand why. Like, they'll have a big discussion about Dunkin Donuts, who likes which donut. That was the last thing I heard. And it epitomized to me where it's gone. I mean, they wanna do LA kind of stuff, so Dunkin Donuts is going national, and they have to talk about it for, I don't know, 20 minutes. And it's not ever about anything. It's just drivel and they riff on it. And I just think that's a sad waste of my time, so I quit listening. Just like I don't watch the morning shows, I'm not gonna listen to that.”

KPCC's program director, Craig Curtis had this response to Ms. Mindell's complaint:

KPCC made some programming and host changes to the morning schedule in the fall. At that time we spoke with (the CPB ombudsman) about the changes, some of which were controversial and generated coverage in the local press. There have been no changes since then, so I simply assume this single listener continues to be unhappy with those changes.

George Walters of California has this observation:

I love PBS and watch it often. One thing that has bothered me for some time and continues to bother me is the children's cartoon, 'Curious George'. The character the cartoon series is based on and is referred to continuously is the fact that he is a monkey, which in fact my young grade school neighbor boy is continually telling me George is a chimp since monkeys have tails. I thought it was about time someone question the powers that be why this question has never been addressed. Everything about the animated 'George' looks like he is a chimp. Kids these days are smarter than smart and as educational as the animated series is children like my neighbor have a hard time getting past learning is science class that apes and primates without tails are chimps or of the ape family and George looks like a chimp. Thanks.

I put my crack research team on this and they conclude that your neighbor is correct: George is a chimp.

Finally, Natalie G. Kauffman of Missouri takes issue with public broadcasting's failure to report Miss America Mallory Hagan's statement that she wasn't sure she would be attending President Obama's inauguration.

With the propensity for CPB to report good news, bad news and news of misspeaks, scandalous remarks and the like, glaringly absent is the statement made by the new Miss America saying she is unsure of attending the Presidential Inauguration because the weather might be too cold and afraid that she will be freezing. This, from a bimbo who purportedly represents the USA? To allow these comments to go forward with no comment from the Miss America Organization or PBS stations only proves how irrelevant PBS has become since the accusation of its being too liberal. Where is the outrage from your organization? What if it were a wardrobe malfunction? You'd be advocating losing her crown in a heartbeat and that is what should be done immediately. Her 'still deciding' is no less than a political Alabaman insult to the President of the United States. you never fail to disappoint. I hope she does not attend; it would be an insult to the country and to the President.

Here is what Ms. Kauffman is referring to: Ms. Hagan, who won the Miss America contest Jan. 12 as Miss New York even though she is originally from Opelika, Alabama, said in a Jan. 19 interview that she was in the middle of deciding whether to go to the inauguration because “it's going to be freezing.”

The next day she said she would be going and also said that she had voted for President Obama. On Jan. 21 she tweeted a photo of herself at the inauguration.

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