Endings: A No-Show and a Shout-Out

Posted by Michael Getler on

Here’s a brief mailbag to catch up on a couple of unusual things at the end of recent programs that caught the attention of some viewers.

One involves the PBS NewsHour’s post-debate news analysis segment immediately following the Sunday night, Oct. 9, broadcast of the second Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton debate, this time a 90-minute town hall format. The roughly 20-minute segment featured the usual cast of characters—co-anchors Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill and commentators David Brooks, Mark Shields and Amy Walters. It also featured some useful fact-checking by political director Lisa Desjardins, and was supposed to include, as Ifill had explained, interviews with advocates from both campaigns carried out by correspondent John Yang.

Yang did interview Trump senior advisor Boris Epshteyn, who gave, not surprisingly, a full-throated endorsement of Trump’s performance and chances and “the failed policies of Clinton and Obama.” But there was no Clinton advocate interviewed. At the very end of the program, Ifill said: “Unfortunately we had hoped to talk to some folks from the Clinton campaign out there in St. Louis tonight, but we weren’t able to do it. So that concludes our coverage. We’ll get to them tomorrow.”

The NewsHour Explains

In this most intense of all campaigns, that was, indeed, unfortunate. And there was no “them” on the regular Monday program either. I asked the NewsHour about the special post-debate segment Sunday night. Executive Producer Sara Just said: “The Clinton campaign had pre-arranged an interview with our producers, similar to the guest that we had from the Trump campaign. The guest did not make it to our cameras on time.”

Okay. That’s understandable. Stuff happens. But that was a bad one not to have nailed down and a very bad time for something like that—and something so obvious—to happen. I only got a small number of emails about it, which surprised me, but I would add my name to those surprised, and shocked, viewers who did write.

The second program ending that also brought some critical mail was the Friday night, Sept. 30, broadcast of Washington Week with host Gwen Ifill. Around the table with Ifill were political and national reporters from NPR, the Associated Press, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Their names, respectively, are: Ailsa Chang, Lisa Lerer, Ashley Parker and Karen Tumulty. So, you got the picture, right? And at the end of the broadcast, host Ifill could not resist that smiling, soft-spoken, split-second sign-off, “All girls. Yea!”

I have to admit that I enjoyed that stating of the obvious even though I knew it would bring mail, which it did. Washington Week is almost 50 years old, including its earlier formats, and it is very safe to say that, back in the day, there were many, many hundreds of Friday night broadcasts in which everyone around the table, including the moderator, were white males. That, for decades, was the face of mainstream American journalism. No more, and that is a good thing for good journalism and for all those who still depend on it for an accurate picture of what is going on in this country.

But as in politics, television viewers have a lot of strongly-held, diverse and differing opinions. What follows now are some of the emails from viewers who have critical views about both of these episodes.

First, that AWOL Clinton Advocate

I’m appalled and about to drop my financial support for KCTS and PBS after last night’s PBS News post-debate coverage. Besides a lot of rambling, PBS news staff took time to interview Trump’s campaign manager and completely neglected to do the same with Clinton’s campaign. The poor excuse was running out of time. Not Acceptable!! Pass it up the line!

Bellevue, WA

~ ~ ~

Your interview with Trump's campaign manager after the second debate without interviewing anyone from Clinton's campaign shows bias. I expect more from PBS.

Decatur, GA

~ ~ ~

I was appalled that the NewsHour cut off its coverage of the debate tonight without any comment from the Clinton campaign. Hardly equal or fair. And then, having run out of time, we were treated to four minutes of ads for PBS programs.

Jonathan Bohm, Hampton Falls, NH

~ ~ ~

I am STUNNED that the post Presidential Debate coverage on PBS had a Trump representative interview but not a Clinton representative interview! Otherwise excellent coverage was tainted by this egregious error. I love PBS and NPR and this is the first time I have seen unbalanced reporting. I am appalled that the leadership of this program allowed this unfair coverage of a critical news story.

David Brown, Salisbury, NC

~ ~ ~

Boos for Yea

I was offended by Gwen Ifill's comment tonight: "All girls, yay." I am a man, and I see no difference between her celebrating all females on the show, compared with someone celebrating all men, or all gays, or all whatever potentially dominant category of humans might be on PBS.
Please bring this to her attention.

Jay Goyette, Montpelier, VT

~ ~ ~

I enjoy and support several Public Broadcasting Service programs. For years I have appreciated PBS news service for high ethics, integrity, non-biasness and quest for truth. Last Friday night (September 30, 2016) I set an alarm so I would not miss the Saturday 2:00am rebroadcast of Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. The show was as good as usual, until the end. In a strange fit Gwen Ifill said something close to, “Look I am with all women, Yea!” as she gave an excited wave. I was shocked and horrified. I do not even know how PBS can rectify this to regain my trust or support.

Richard Thorne, Blaine, MN

~ ~ ~

At the conclusion of WASHINGTON WEEK this week, the host cheeringly declared "All girls this week. YAY." As such this is textbook sexism and it has no place on either side of the gender divide and most particularly on PBS.

Rochester, NY

Posted on Oct. 11, 2016 at 2:21 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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