The Mailbag: Rose, Sanders and, as They Say on the NewsHour, ‘Much More’

Posted by Michael Getler on

Here’s a sampling of the mail that has accumulated in the ombudsman’s inbox during the first week or so in April.

The first few letters concern an interview with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders conducted by Charlie Rose on the CBS Evening News on Thursday, April 7, and that also appeared later that evening on Rose’s long-running, weeknight show on PBS.

Aside from being quite a well-known and accomplished interviewer, Rose is an accomplished multi-tasker. In addition to the hour-long, late night Charlie Rose show that has been a staple on PBS for more than 20 years, he has also been the co-anchor of the CBS Morning News since 2012 and host of another half-hour PBS show, The Week, on Friday evenings that began in 2013.

Here Are the Letters

I was SHOCKED when I turned on Charlie Rose tonight [April 7] and saw that it was a rebroadcast of an interview Charlie conducted with Sanders on CBS NEWS in the CBS NEWS STUDIO with CBS EVENING NEWS scrolling across the top of the screen. This is unacceptable behavior for PBS. What in the heck is going on here?

James Diefenderfer, Florence, MT

(Ombudsman’s Note: I’ve asked the executive producer of The Charlie Rose Show to explain what was going on but so far no response, and, as of this writing, there is also no video publicly available of what actually was broadcast on PBS, as opposed to CBS. I saw an internal copy of the video and there was Charlie Rose, Bernie Sanders, and the CBS logo all over the place but no explanation about this strange setting to PBS viewers. Rose has had interviews in the past, such as with Syria's President Assad last year, that appeared in both places but that one was in Assad's offices in Damascus and I can't recall another one with CBS logos as the background that was unexplained for PBS viewers.)

~ ~ ~

I am really disappointed by Charlie Rose's interview with Bernie Sanders. His singular attack-dog approach about Sander's comments about Clinton were really out of character and implied some bias. A real low point for a great show.

Montreal, Canada

~ ~ ~

Today's interview of Bernie Sanders by Charlie Rose was slanted, lazy journalism. Rose continually challenged the candidate on the issue that he was "personalizing" or "degrading" the campaign by questioning the qualifications of his opponent. Sander's explanations were by and large ignored as Rose continued to hammer this point. Sanders acknowledged a shared guilt with Clinton in the matter and suggested that journalists were promoting this kind of personal rancor. Rose smiled and didn't deny it and pressed on with a few poorly researched questions (built largely on a recent Sanders/NY Daily News editorial interview.) Sloppy stuff, low-hanging fruit stuff, unbalanced reporting. I have come to expect a lot more from Rose and was disappointed in his journalistic stance. Maybe he's working too many jobs at once? Thanks for listening.

Alan Davis, Sharon, VT

~ ~ ~

Regarding Charlie Rose interview of Bernie Sanders it sounded like a condemnation rather than the normal open interview Charlie usually does and I admire. Charlie needs to interview Hillary too. It was the worst harangue I ever heard and Charlie should know this. He should not let his friendship with Hillary get in the way of his objectivity. Sanders has the heart of America!

Lawrence Quilici, Tucson, AZ

~ ~ ~

Charlie Rose should be taken off the air. He is not a journalist. He is a lackey for Hillary Clinton. His interview with Sanders was more like an attack. Is he now a mouthpiece for the democratic national convention, telling Sanders to be nice to Clinton as she deserves to be president. Get his rich friends to support his propaganda, not tax payers. I mean come on…sarcastically demanding Bernie tell him specifically, in a few seconds, how he will break up the banks. Then be allowed to rant on about how Clinton can't be responsible for her actions as Secretary of State with harpie like questioning of Sanders.

New York

My Thoughts

I think a fair-minded viewer, which I hope I am, would agree that this was a pretty aggressive round of questioning by Rose. That’s okay because Sanders is seeking the presidency and has said things that need pretty intense scrutiny. But, at times, Rose struck a tone that felt more like an attack on Sanders and defense of Clinton rather than just tough questioning. On the other hand, what Rose was pressing most on – the allegations of who was or was not “qualified” to be president–had become an issue, at least in the media, and Rose’s repeated efforts at getting at that – and also why Sanders put so much stock in a controversial Washington Post headline about Clinton’s views about Sander’s qualification – were legitimate issues and did ultimately play a role in clarifying things. This is the most unusual political campaign season in recent memory, especially on the Republican side, and so it has also produced some unusual journalistic moments as well. Late last month, I wrote about an interview with Sanders on the NewsHour that had also drawn criticism from some viewers. But the point then, and now, is that the most important party to these interviews is the candidate, and in both cases, it seemed to me at least, that Sanders handled aggressive questioning quite well. So I think that what is most valuable to viewers is the overall assessment of the candidate that these interviews – questions and answers – can provide.

Much More on Sanders  

I was disturbed tonight [Friday, April 8] when, on Washington Week, Gwen Ifill referred to Bernie Sanders as having "invited himself" to the Vatican conference. That is factually wrong and charged with innuendo that has no place in responsible news coverage. There are numerous quotations available online by Vatican officials referring to his having been invited, and none, that I have found, that refer to his having "invited himself."

Eric Spaeth, Philadelphia, PA

(Ombudsman’s Note: I asked the program about this and they responded this way: “We refer you to this article: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04-08/so-who-exactly-invited-bernie-sanders-to-the-vatican.)

My Thoughts

What Ifill actually said was: “Bernie Sanders, it turns out, has tried to invite himself to an event in which the pope is going to be present, and that has not gone over well?” It may have been tempting to say Sanders “tried to invite himself” because the candidate contributed to some of the confusion about exactly what was going on. But it would have been better, in my opinion, to avoid that temptation. The U.S. News article cited above by Washington Week puts a heavy emphasis on sharp criticism of Sanders by Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a scholarly association in Vatican City that was established by Pope John Paul II in 1994, as described by the New York Times. Archer, according to the U.S. News report, which was, in turn, quoting her comments reported on Bloomberg Politics, accused Sanders of “monumental discourtesy” and claimed that “Sanders made the first move for obvious [political] reasons.” And Sanders, adding to what would become more confusion about this event, said: “It was an invitation from the Vatican” when asked, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, “How did this come about?”

Articles in the Times and Politico, and an Associated Press story posted on the PBS NewsHour’s website make a couple of things clear. Sanders was invited, as his staff said in the initial announcement, to a conference organized by the Pontifical Academy. The Times reported that hours after Archer’s criticism, Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, a senior papal official and the academy’s chancellor, denied that Sanders had invited himself to the event and told Reuters that it was his idea to invite the senator. Politico quoted the March 30 letter inviting Sanders. Politico also pointed out that the academy is an autonomous institution that receives some funding from the Holy See but is not officially part of it. Politico, along with U.S. News, also reported that the Vatican Press Office made it clear that the invitation came from the academy and not from the pope, and U.S. News quoted the pope’s spokesman as saying that the pope does not plan to give the senator an audience.

And Much More

A comment by NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff this evening [Friday, April 8] on the Brooks-Marcus segment violated what I consider a standard of journalistic ethics. Judy Woodruff said that "...we assume that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee..." I've sent a protest email to the NewsHour. Who is the "we" she was referring to? Was it PBS or the royal we?

Jacques Levy, Occidental, CA

(Ombudsman’s Note: Here’s another case where a word was better left unsaid but I don’t think there is any crime here. Keep in mind that she was speaking with two commentators, Ruth Marcus and David Brooks, who have opinions. What Woodruff actually said was: “We assume it will be Hillary Clinton but we don’t know, for sure.” Nothing really wrong with that.  I interpreted this “we” as a reference to the very widely-held view by the great majority of pollsters and analysts that Clinton will be the nominee. But almost everyone has been wrong about something this electoral season, so care must be taken with that word.)

Air Time/Face Time

Tonight [Wednesday, April 6] you reported that Cruz won then you showed Cruz speaking. You reported that Bernie won and then you showed Hillary speaking. This clear bias does not honor your tradition. Be fair in your reporting. Thank you.

Lil Lindsey, Eden Prairie MN

~ ~ ~

I've been annoyed, to put it mildly, with the coverage of Bernie Sanders on the NewsHour. In tonight's reporting on Sanders’ and Cruz’s win in Wisconsin, Cruz is shown as the winner, and yet where is equal time with the other winner, Sanders? Instead it’s coverage of Clinton attacking Sanders. This is not the first time that has happened. I have grumbled to my husband the candidates will be mentioned and you can bet Sanders won't be shown speaking.

Ashland, OR

~ ~ ~

On your April 6 broadcast you covered the Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders wins by letting Ted Cruz spout off about his opinion of NY Mayor de Blasio, immediately followed by Hillary Clinton spouting off about the "impracticality" of Bernie Sander's proposals.

Mary Tracy, Las Vegas, NV

Other Stuff

4/9/16 WNET NewsHour with Hari Sreenivasan–
I would appreciate it if Mr. Sreenivasan would refer to Hillary Clinton as Secretary Clinton not "Former First Lady." I think it's only just when he calls Bernie Sanders Senator...not Mayor or Congressman.

New York, NY

~ ~ ~

Re today's [Wednesday, April 6] report on Diabetes: Please why cannot the media invoke the real primary cause of diabetes, which is the eating of refined wheat and refined sugar as basic food? It is well known that the pre-diabetes condition can be reversed by removing these foods from the diet and replacing them with whole grain foods, whole fruit and vegetables, seeds and nuts. We need to compel the milling and baking industry to switch to making pleasing 100% whole grain foods. Export of their deficient food products and methods is the root cause of increasing diabetes in previously unaffected populations.

Monica Spiller, Mountain View

~ ~ ~

Tonight, there was a special on Diabetes. My daughter is Type 1. She has been, since she was 12 years old, she will be 22 this fall. She was diagnosed with Diabetes because a virus attacked her pancreas. This disease, Type 1, gets very little recognition yet everyone wants to talk about the Type 2, where generally speaking it's from lack of exercise and poor eating habits. These patients can eat right and exercise and most usually get to live a normal life. Not Type 1.

Clinton, WI

~ ~ ~

I was very disappointed with the coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict tonight [Wednesday, April 6]. First were the images, which showed primarily Palestinian young people throwing things and Israelis burying their dead. It is unfortunate that it is visually more difficult to show the humiliation of the Palestinians that has led to their frustration and response.

Washington, DC

~ ~ ~

Tonight’s NewsHour [Thursday, April 7] had a story regarding US-supplied weapons to the Saudis and how the use resulted in civilian casualties in Yemen. My issue is that the US supplies weapons to many countries, including Israel. In particular: The use of these weapons, by Israel, has resulted in civilian casualties in Gaza, but without the reporting that tonight’s NewsHour has done…I acknowledge the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a hot-button, but  . . . well you know, I trust. NPR and the rest of the media could be more complete and or forth-coming in the reporting.

Newbury, MA

A Putin Put-On?

I was extremely disappointed in the program on Russia last evening [Tuesday, April 5]. Many of the claims made in the program remain unsupported by any evidence. PBS had the audacity to use interviews from only those opposed to Putin. PBS even allowed a woman to claim that Russia is the most unequal society because 35 % of the wealth is in the hands of a few hundred families. Do we not have the same plutocratic situation in this country? In fact the 200-300 US families that control about 40% of the US economy have far more power because they control the media, and they have all of our politicians in their pockets. At least in Russia, Putin actually has the power to battle these people, and has done so with the oligarchs. The attempt to cover twenty years of Putin in a one-hour show destroyed the credibility that PBS once held with me. Putin is in part a product of the USA and their continuing attempts to disrupt societies along the Russian frontier so that NATO can continue its march east. Had you talked to serious US experts on Russia, such as Stephen Cohen: Professor of Russian Studies at Princeton, or John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago, the program may have had some balance. Vilifying one man in Russia is all we have seen from the US media over the past two to three years. It is a sad day when I have to say that I no longer trust the journalistic integrity of PBS Frontline.

Minnetonka, MN

Secrets of a Saint

Regarding the DVD, The Secrets of Saint John Paul: I watched this show on WTTW last night. Is PBS now in the business of attacking religion, in this case the Catholic Church? How much money was Edward Stourton paid for this cleverly produced documentary filled with carefully extracted sentences, photographs, etc., combined with very exacting conclusions meant to discredit a Catholic Saint and Pope who was one of a very few number of individuals responsible for the liberation of Poland and destruction of the Soviet Union. Did Mr. Stourton and the Center for Public Television perhaps receive donations from Vladimir Putin to assist in producing this program? As a Roman Catholic and a Polish American, I urge all Roman Catholics and fellow Polish Americans to stop their donations to PBS, local PBS stations, and the Center for Public Broadcasting in response to this "tabloid" documentary and tell them why you stopped giving. Shame on you PBS!

David Wargowsksi, Naperville, IL

(Ombudsman’s Note: I watched a video of this program yesterday and must say that I found it fascinating, well-documented and not at all a documentary “attacking religion.” Rather, it seemed to me to be one more very human, personal, intimate and little known aspect of one of the most important figures of our time.)

Posted on April 12, 2016 at 4:30 p.m.

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ABOUT THE OMBUDSMAN
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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