The Mailbag: Sanders, Sports and Secretaries

Posted by Michael Getler on

On Monday nights, the PBS NewsHour’s now weekly “Politics Monday” segment deals with the issues and personalities in the accelerating race for the White House in 2016 by many Republicans and not many Democrats. The segment this week dealt mostly with Republican candidates showing up in Iowa and with Hillary Clinton but also, in part, with a very, very longshot candidate—the Independent senator from Vermont, “Bernie” Sanders, who has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination and who is stirring things up.

Panel host Judy Woodruff, when the discussion turned from the Clinton campaign, pointed out that, “Meantime, Bernie Sanders is out there on the campaign trail, we hear, drawing surprisingly large crowds.”

Panelist Susan Page of USA Today said, “The election is a long way away. But somebody like Bernie Sanders, now 73-year-old Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders from Vermont—I think not really going to wrest the nomination away from Hillary Clinton. But he has exposed some weaknesses on her part, both in the connection he has made with audiences and also on the very specific and very liberal agenda he’s outlined.” Panelist Tamara Keith of NPR added that a forthcoming Clinton speech will probably begin “a more detailed conversation about some of these very policies that Bernie Sanders has been talking about.”

I mention this segment because during the last 10 days or so—a period when I was away—the bulk of the emails landing in our ombudsman’s queue came from viewers who felt that the NewsHour had neglected coverage of Sander’s campaign. I have included a sampling of those emails farther down in the column, along with some messages from viewers on other subjects.

I come to the NewsHour’s defense on this issue. For one thing, this is a very long campaign with many candidates to cover and many opportunities for coverage and it is the continuum of coverage that counts on lots of issues. The exchange I just cited above illustrates that. Also, when Sanders announced his candidacy on April 30, it was reported, along with quotes from Sanders, in the program’s news wrap. More significantly, there was a lengthy candidate interview with Sanders by Woodruff on May 18. The only other mentions of Sanders on the program that I can find were quite brief until Monday’s discussion.

Booing Sports

There were also a couple of letters in our box from viewers who objected to a long (eight and a half minutes) segment devoted to sports on the June 4 NewsHour. Two of the letters are posted below. The gist was that these viewers watch the NewsHour for news and analysis, not sports.

Here, too, I would defend the NewsHour. I thought this was a very imaginative segment that would get the attention of, and be appreciated by, very large numbers of viewers who do consider sports as news.

Reporter William Brangham and guest panelists pulled together and set the scene for a rather unusual cluster of events unfolding during the approaching weekend, including final playoffs in the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association, the Belmont Stakes with horse racing’s triple crown on the line, and the start of play for the highly-touted U.S. women’s World Cup national team.

What follows is a sampling of the emails on these subjects and on an interview on the NewsHour on June 3 with two former secretaries of the Treasury Department.

On Sanders

I find it disheartening that PBS covers so little of Bernie Sanders's run for President. Every night we hear all about Hillary, as if she has already been nominated. She has not. She may have a name, but she has continued to fail to talk about key issue that many American people like myself care about. Wall Street, proper oversight of banks too big to fail, student loan debt, our crumbling infrastructure and the list goes on. Mr. Sanders seems to be the only candidate so far to talk about these crucial issues, yet your agency fails to report it thoroughly. 

Fran Hoef-Bouchard, Portland, ME

~ ~ ~

I've long preferred watching PBS news as opposed to corporate news. Lately you're giving Hillary, O'Malley and Chaffee air time and seemingly ignoring Bernie in articles even though I read polls that say his plans resonate enough with Republicans that he polls better than any of them.

Frank Bender, Spokane Valley, WA

On Sports

I watch the NewsHour just about every night and have literally for decades. Tonight's show [June 4] had a very long segment on sports: horse racing and who knows what else. I watch PBS to get away from this kind of non-news pap. With all that is happening in the world, do we need to be subjected to this stuff? Surely there is more news to cover! To top it all off, this segment was followed by a pause for pledge night! And I love both Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill.

Robert Oaks, San Francisco, CA

~ ~ ~

Why that long sports segment tonight? I don't watch PBS for sports news and analysis. I can get that on many other channels. I think maybe you are trying to avoid controversial political news. It is as if you are purposely dumbing down.

Michael Morgan, Tucson, AZ

Former Secretaries on China

For you to feature [former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary] Robert Rubin and [former George W. Bush administration Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson, the two major architects of the world's financial crises (Goldman Sachs stole multi-millions if not trillions from public pension funds and KNOWINGLY dumped trillions of worthless financial derivatives world-wide causing several European countries financial crises) is beyond the pale…especially regarding trade with China since once again Goldman Sachs ( or as it also known as Government Sachs) only the 1% stand to prosper the most from this trade deal while the U.S. Public will lose millions of jobs. And we heard that U.S. Labor Standards would be protected in NAFTA....WRONG there weren't any strong governing mechanisms in place to enforce the agreement.

Cherry Hill, NJ

~ ~ ~

Yeah, I think we ought to listen to Hank Paulson on China, remember how good he was in 2009. Are you guys totally tone deaf? Do you think your audience is the 1%?

Terry Humphrey, MO

~ ~ ~

I was shocked to see an interview of Hank Paulson and his former boss [Robert Rubin] by Judy Woodruff. Since when does PBS give corporate scoundrels like Hank Paulson so much air time? To me, this interview equals corporate bought p.r. All these guys had to say was Chinese investment in our economy was great and we should embrace it.

Saratoga Spring, NY

(Ombudsman’s Note: There are lots of strongly held opinions about the financial collapse, its aftermath, the recovery and the role of these two former officials. But I thought this interview was straight-forward and useful. It grew out of a recent article on relations with China co-authored by Rubin and Paulson in The Atlantic magazine, with which the NewsHour now has a partnership. And the questioning by co-anchor Judy Woodruff provided a proper balance.) 

Badgering Clinton?

A faithful viewer of The NewsHour precisely because it is truly fair and balanced, last night [May 19] it lost its way. You more than a few times referred to the "problems that continually dog Hillary Clinton" and discussed them with two journalists, one of them patently from a newspaper that despises her, and then recirculated what we already know about her in a way that I found offensive. In examining her paid speeches to organizations that can influence public policy, why not mention Ted Cruz addressing the NRA, a huge source of his funding? Or Rubio, who has not only accepted money from a single patron of his while claiming to have come up from nothing but is also a darling of the Koch brothers? Why dwell on Clinton, to whom no policy decision that I know of can be tied to her financial backers, when it is so obvious that the others are on the payroll of organizations that buy elections?

Susan Meister, Pebble Beach, CA

(Ombudsman’s Note: Focusing on the financial support of Senators Cruz and Rubio is certainly fair game. But this was a segment focused on Hillary Clinton because Clinton was, in fact, the news of the day. It had been almost two months since Clinton had addressed the subject of her State Department emails or taken substantive questions from reporters. The NewsHour’s co-anchor Gwen Ifill, who conducted the interviews, did talk twice about “clouds” that never seem to go away. Early in the segment she said: “The other cloud hanging over this campaign that never seems to go away is the money, how the Clintons earned their money and in some cases how they spent it, but mostly how they earned it, $30 million in speeches in eight months or something like that. So where is this money coming from?” The second time it was a reference to the ongoing Benghazi, Libya, investigation. These are legitimate and timely questions and there was news about the financial questions at the time; a rare and impromptu news conference in Iowa earlier that day. The reporters in the segment were from The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and if the Journal “despises” her you could not tell that from the reporter’s answers.)

Posted on June 10, 2015 at 3:58 p.m.

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As ombudsman, Michael Getler serves as an independent internal critic within PBS. He reviews commentary and criticism from viewers and seeks to ensure that PBS upholds its own standards of editorial integrity. Read More >
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