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Conservative biker shaking up PBS

In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon interviews Ken Ferree, the new head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). CPB is a government-funded nonprofit that supports television's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), as well as National Public Radio (NPR). Ferree is a Republican who rides motorcycles.

You have to read the whole thing to really appreciate Solomon's snide tone toward Ferree, who has the gall to suggest that maybe public television and radio shouldn't cater quite so exclusively to a liberal audience. Referring to Ferree's predecessor, Kathleen Cox, getting fired "supposedly because she had incurred the wrath of conservative groups," Solomon (in italics) kicks off the following exchange:

Do you worry that these sorts of incidents will alienate the old left-leaning PBS loyalists?

Well, maybe we can attract some new viewers.

You mean viewers who are more conservative?

Yeah! I would hope that in the long run we can attract new viewers, and we shouldn't limit ourselves to a particular demographic. Does public television belong to the Democrats?
Later on, Ferree says PBS's political commentary show "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" just isn't compelling in the Internet age:
Yes, Lehrer is good, but I don't watch a lot of broadcast news. The problem for me is that I do the Internet news stuff all day long, so by the time I get to the Lehrer's slow.

For the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, you don't sound like much of a PBS viewer.
Which, of course, is exactly the kind of person PBS should be listening to if it wants to expand its audience. But Solomon presses on, wondering if Ferree is maybe just more of a radio man:
Perhaps you prefer NPR, which your organization also finances?

No. I do not get a lot of public radio for one simple reason. I commute to work on my motorcycle, and there is no radio access.

Can't you install a radio on a motorcycle and listen with headphones?

One probably can. But my bikes are real cruisers. They're stripped down deliberately to look cool, and I don't want all that electronic gear.
By this point in the interview, it sounds like Ferree is having a bit of fun with Solomon: "Gee, Deb, I'd really like to listen to NPR, but not if it means my bike won't look cool."

I have a hunch that even if Ferree did have a radio on his bike, NPR wouldn't be his first choice of listening material.

(A Riding Sun throttle-blip to Joefish for the tip.)


Anonymous said...

It's funny that these PBS/NPR people are so elitist about what they broadcast. Both networks are editorially Left, but more embarassing than that is how staid they have become. Not staid as in "Masterpiece Theatre" or "Mystery", both of which I enjoy. No, it's their pledge-driven programming that makes them so f*cking dull.

I've said to friends and family that I would pay an annual BBC-type fee if it meant that PBS would never run another pledge drive. They do these awful drives every 2 - 3 months, and they take no breaks from asking for money, not even during the morning kids' cartoons ("Go ask your parents to come to the TV ..."). That and the constant rereuns of Andre Rieu, Yanni, Doo-Wop, Susie Orman (whom I am convinced is coked up), etc. ad nauseum .

They're no longer public television, at least as we might understand them to be. Frankly, PBS should call all of their affiliates "WOCC", as in "Only Crones & Coots" wouls be caught dead watching their programming. Pretty soon even their left-leaning programs won't be able to justify their existance, as the traditional PBS audience leaves to watch CNN. I hope Ken Ferree  can shake things up a lot, because PBS is in danger of killing itself off long before Conservatives would have any chance of dismantling their programming structure.  

Posted by Langtry

Anonymous said...


Elitist? How's is that exactly? Because their programs are thought provoking? Because they assume that their viewers/listeners operate with a threshold understanding of politics, science, history, culture and art? Because they don't cater to dummies with short (or non-existent) attention spans with flashy graphics, two-second camera cuts and shouting heads? Because they feature an animated bunny visiting with a friend who lives with a lesbian couple.

And what exactly is your point about pledge drives?
They're boring? Nice insight. 

Posted by Bojack

Sharon said...


You have the potential to be eloquent, yet the disdainful tone your posts so frequently take sabotages your posts every time. I thought my post was pretty clear, and I thought I cited precise examples of why I thought PBS pledge drives are "f*cking dull." Perhaps I lacked detail as to why I think they people who run PBS are elitist.

In my opinion, it is elitist:

To assume that others share your political slant.

To assume that said political slant is the norm, and therefore other opinions/leanings need not be addressed in your programming.

To condescend to a new PBS CEO because he does not share the aforementioned politcal slant as his predecessors (as does Ms. Solomon in the NY Times Sunday Magazine GB cites in the post).

To promote causes that trend to your political in your programming, and ignoring contrary programs, or relegating them to hours when no one is likely to be watching, i.e. overnight.

I could go on, but this is GB's blog, not mine. As for PBS pledge drives being dull as dirt and tacky in presentation (asking kids to get their parents during a break in "Sesame Street", or running "The Three Tenors" for the fifth time in one week b/c the old farts in the audience can't get enough of a no-longer-in-fine-form Luciano Pavorotti), you'd have to be one of their employees to disagree.
Posted by Langtry

Anonymous said...

You may not share Ken Ferree's tastes in programming, but he is no dummy. A good background of the man can be found in this  2003 USA Today article, written when Ferree was at the FCC.

Interesting points about Ferree:

-- Went to Dartmouth College, then graduated near top of his class from Georgetown Law School.

-- Plays classical piano

-- "By all accounts, Ferree is one of the sharpest legal minds in Washington." 

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

Indeed, I know nothing about Mr. Ferree's tastes in programming and have no objection to his taking the helm at the CPB. I do not think he is a dummy and have no reason to think that he will dumb down the programming. God speed Mr. Ferree.

If you are concerning with the pledge drives, take issue with the $60 million budget cuts. It is a simple matter of economics.

Also, I've read the NYT magazine interview a few times and fail to see the snide tone you refer to. I want to say that this is just liberal boogeyman paranoia, but I'm keeping my disdain in check.


Posted by Bojack

Anonymous said...


"Also, I've read the NYT magazine interview a few times and fail to see the snide tone you refer to. I want to say that this is just liberal boogeyman paranoia, but I'm keeping my disdain in check." 

LOL! You still mention the "liberal bogeyman paranoia" when it comes to not seeing Deborah Solomon's bias/tone in her Sunday NY Times Magazine column, but I do appreciate that you've toned down the tenor of your writing. It's appreciated.

I agree that PBS has to fund-raise because of the cuts to their budgets, and this means that pledge drives are a necessary evil. I would also argue that, as an organization that depended almost solely on Government funding until sadi budget cuts were made, they had an even greater obligation to be politically objective. Despite the budget cuts, the obligation to present both sides of a story remains.

Perhaps the awful pledge drives, whose formats have remained static since the time the budget cuts first occurred, are another symptom of the staid nature of those who have run the organization prior to Mr. Ferree. It may be just me, but I've always thought that "staid" is an unofficial synonym for "elitist". After all, if you think you're already doing everything better than anyone else, why consider new ideas for raising funds? Or new formats, etc.? It may be just my own personal semantics, but it's what I have come to believe based on having been a PBS watcher for 30+ years.

Posted by Langtry

Anonymous said...

"Now" is without a doubt a show with a strong liberal slant, but have you ever seen Washington Week or Wall Street Week right afterwards? Not everything on PBS is utterly left wing. Back when Louis Ruckeyser(sp?) was the host of Wall Street he would editorialize from a strong Republican standpoint, and Washington Week has reporters from a range of publications on their roundtable. 

Posted by Mutantfrog



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