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Shpilk: We're making the same point


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There are no neutral observers.

The act of choosing which stories to cover, is, by itself, a subjective act. The only other alternative - accepting a list of stories to cover, promulgated by somebody else - is a kind of "double" subjective act.

I certainly have no deep objections to PBS or Mr. Lehrer's work. I just find it difficult to reconcile the holier-than-thou announcement that one is not in the entertainment business, with appearances in PBS commercials over the decades, including one in which he is shown crowded into a little girl's room reading bed time news stories just after Lara Spencer, stopping off from her duties on The Insider, appraised the value of the antiques mentioned in the stories.

That promo is a symbol of this disconnect. Everybody in Category 1 tries to keep as much distance from the entertainment business as possible. But at minimum, we are competing with the entertainment business for viewers, listeners, and readers. It is simply a fact, which owes in large part to the decision in the '20s to make radio commercial, not advertising-free. One might achieve enough of a distinction - a distinction made fuzzier by corporate underwriting and promos with Lara Spencer (a very nice and intelligent person, incidentally; I'm not bashing her) - to say "I'm competing with the entertainment business." But anything further is disingenuous and self-deceiving.

Do you think Lehrer doesn't make decisions to optimize viewership? Does he not push for the most insightful guests, the clearest writing, the top technology, just because those things are also "good tv?" That he may shun more obviously "good tv" junk is admirable, and inspirational. But it doesn't mean he's not selling a product.

I read with astonishment here and elsewhere that I am guilty of never presenting conflicting viewpoints. Do you know what the easiest form of "good tv" is? Put two guys on who disagree with each other and let them yell at each other. I have no doubt I could raise my ratings ten percent by doing that. And I loathe it. I've never seen it illuminate a damn thing. It pains me physically to watch it. And I seen it done, nightly, albeit more politely, on the NewsHour.

I'd rather devote the time to personally rebutting something else that has been let loose into the ether without rebuttal - to putting in a little thought to the equation - than just have conflict because it's pure entertainment. I already did that show, 11 years ago, much against my will and much against my principles.

I am pleased to be able to say that I've never put something on Countdown to toe a party line. I almost lost the show one day when a boss tried to jam a Michael Savage commentary into it. I temporarily lost some political assignments one day when I called the exploitation of 9/11 during the Republican Convention what it was - not what I thought it was, but what it obviously, demonstrably was. I lost a lot of audience by saying what I believed to be true during the primaries last year, and I lost a lot of audience by saying what I believed to be true in Afghanistan last Monday night. So be it. To borrow a phrase: when I wake up in the morning, I only have to decide what the news is and how we are going to cover it. I never have to decide who we are and why we are there.

I would be deeply chagrined to see the NewsHour vanish, or, in fact, do anything but flourish. But when somebody is trying to sell me a product by claiming they are the only ones who don't dirty themselves by trying to sell a product, I am reminded of that phrase "Fair and Balanced," and I reach even more quickly to make sure my wallet hasn't been picked from my pocket.

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