If non-sectarian, why not non-partisan?

If non-sectarian, why not non-partisan? June 25, 2009

Michael Gerson raises some interesting points about how PBS is now enforcing (with some odd exceptions) ban on religious programming:

On Tuesday, the Public Broadcasting System’s board of directors decided that member stations could no longer add religious programming. The board was applying a 1985 rule that all PBS shows must be “noncommercial, nonpartisan and nonsectarian.” But the decision was a compromise — allowing stations that currently run religious shows (mass for shut-ins, Mormon devotionals, etc.) to continue existing programming. . . .

Yet the PBS board’s decision on religion has some consistency problems. If its concern was constitutional — a belief that publicly-funded institutions should never accommodate sectarian institutions — then the decision was timid and hypocritical. If Catholic mass for shut-ins on PBS violates the separation of church and state, why isn’t existing programming banned? If it doesn’t violate the First Amendment, why forbid such shows in the future?

In addition, the strict application of the “nonsectarian” standard would seem to require the strict application of the “nonpartisan” standard. For all its virtues, PBS has occasionally been a platform for political leftism. In November, 2002, for example, Bill Moyers used his show NOW to argue:

The entire federal government — the Congress, the executive, the judiciary — is united behind a right-wing agenda for which George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate. That mandate includes the power of the state to force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives. It includes using the taxing power to transfer wealth from working people to the rich….And if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture.

Whatever you think of his arguments (and I don’t think much of them), it is difficult to deny that they were partisan.


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  • “For all its virtues, PBS has occasionally been a platform for political leftism.”
    Occasionally? Really? Only Occasionally? Perhaps the person only occasionally watches PBS, and thinks it is a coincidence that when they occasionally watch it it happens to be the same time the occasionally allow it to be a platform for political leftism.
    In any case I like to watch PBS even with it’s leftist agenda. I also like some of the religious broadcasting. Trying to think of the show but there is one where the guy interviews a different faith group each week. I think that is good. At least it helps you understand your neighbors better. Though I do think it goes too far here in Utah as the Mormon devotionals are on a “PBS” channel run out of BYU. These things are on almost 24 hours a day here. And I sometimes wonder if I would be supporting BYU if I were to support PBS? Though I do like that they made BYU pick up the “Create” channel that has programming devoted to wine, and generally uses a lot of alcohol in the cooking shows.

  • “For all its virtues, PBS has occasionally been a platform for political leftism.”
    Occasionally? Really? Only Occasionally? Perhaps the person only occasionally watches PBS, and thinks it is a coincidence that when they occasionally watch it it happens to be the same time the occasionally allow it to be a platform for political leftism.
    In any case I like to watch PBS even with it’s leftist agenda. I also like some of the religious broadcasting. Trying to think of the show but there is one where the guy interviews a different faith group each week. I think that is good. At least it helps you understand your neighbors better. Though I do think it goes too far here in Utah as the Mormon devotionals are on a “PBS” channel run out of BYU. These things are on almost 24 hours a day here. And I sometimes wonder if I would be supporting BYU if I were to support PBS? Though I do like that they made BYU pick up the “Create” channel that has programming devoted to wine, and generally uses a lot of alcohol in the cooking shows.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The way to hurt PBS is through their fisc. Make no contributions to what is a fundamentalist sect that promotes multi-culturalism as a civil religion.

    Personally, I stopped contributing substantial sums to the Boston station, WGBH, when it was clear that they made zero contributions to both the Easter and Christmas seasons. I wrote a blistering letter to them on this and have since convinced many Christians friends to do so, also. Whenever, I run into people connected with public television, they get an earful.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The way to hurt PBS is through their fisc. Make no contributions to what is a fundamentalist sect that promotes multi-culturalism as a civil religion.

    Personally, I stopped contributing substantial sums to the Boston station, WGBH, when it was clear that they made zero contributions to both the Easter and Christmas seasons. I wrote a blistering letter to them on this and have since convinced many Christians friends to do so, also. Whenever, I run into people connected with public television, they get an earful.

  • Bob

    I love PBS.

  • Bob

    I love PBS.

  • DonS

    We don’t need government funded broadcasting, and PBS should be de-funded. There are plenty of private media outlets of all sorts and no need whatsoever for PBS. We are running incredible deficits and there is no excuse for continuing to fund government media.

    PBS has never been non-partisan. It has always had a leftward tilt. As for the term “nonsectarian”, doesn’t that mean “not limited to or affiliated with a particular religious denomination”? So how does that term get interpreted as meaning “absolutely no religious programming ever (unless it is already running)”? As long as the programming includes elements of various faiths and denominations, what’s the problem? Why do we always insist on completely excluding a huge element of American life from the public forums? (I know the answer to that, of course. It’s a rhetorical question).

  • DonS

    We don’t need government funded broadcasting, and PBS should be de-funded. There are plenty of private media outlets of all sorts and no need whatsoever for PBS. We are running incredible deficits and there is no excuse for continuing to fund government media.

    PBS has never been non-partisan. It has always had a leftward tilt. As for the term “nonsectarian”, doesn’t that mean “not limited to or affiliated with a particular religious denomination”? So how does that term get interpreted as meaning “absolutely no religious programming ever (unless it is already running)”? As long as the programming includes elements of various faiths and denominations, what’s the problem? Why do we always insist on completely excluding a huge element of American life from the public forums? (I know the answer to that, of course. It’s a rhetorical question).

  • Don (@4), did you even read the article Veith linked to? It says, and I quote, “the future ban does not concern programs about religion, only programs that express a single religious viewpoint.” The programs that this ban would affect are, as already noted, videos of Catholic mass and things like that. This would not preclude the type of show Bror alludes to (@1), where someone “interviews a different faith group each week.”

    I don’t see that the ban would preclude anything I’d consider valuable. Does anyone have an example of something good that will be affected by this ban?

    Peter (@2), what do you mean WGBH “made zero contributions to both the Easter and Christmas seasons”? Is there a word missing there?

  • Don (@4), did you even read the article Veith linked to? It says, and I quote, “the future ban does not concern programs about religion, only programs that express a single religious viewpoint.” The programs that this ban would affect are, as already noted, videos of Catholic mass and things like that. This would not preclude the type of show Bror alludes to (@1), where someone “interviews a different faith group each week.”

    I don’t see that the ban would preclude anything I’d consider valuable. Does anyone have an example of something good that will be affected by this ban?

    Peter (@2), what do you mean WGBH “made zero contributions to both the Easter and Christmas seasons”? Is there a word missing there?

  • Bob

    Do you folks really think TV would be better without public TV? Really??

    Have you watched the crap that passes for programming on the commercial stations? I can’t believe all of you social conservatives think TV isn’t better served by having an alternative to the materialistic, secularistic, shallow, sex-tinged, anti-God bilge pumped out by the commercial networks.

  • Bob

    Do you folks really think TV would be better without public TV? Really??

    Have you watched the crap that passes for programming on the commercial stations? I can’t believe all of you social conservatives think TV isn’t better served by having an alternative to the materialistic, secularistic, shallow, sex-tinged, anti-God bilge pumped out by the commercial networks.

  • Debs

    Bob, the right is always more tolerant of “the materialistic, securalistic, shallow, sex-tinged, etc.” stuff you complain of than to an opposing view on, say, health care or social security, If you can understand that fact, everything falls into place here.

  • Debs

    Bob, the right is always more tolerant of “the materialistic, securalistic, shallow, sex-tinged, etc.” stuff you complain of than to an opposing view on, say, health care or social security, If you can understand that fact, everything falls into place here.

  • Bob

    Debs,

    I guess anything that’s “private” is sancrosanct, eh?

    Talk about an ideological blinder…

  • Bob

    Debs,

    I guess anything that’s “private” is sancrosanct, eh?

    Talk about an ideological blinder…

  • DonS

    tODD @ 5: Yes, I “even” read the article. But I don’t think the 1985 rule actually applies to individual programs. Here is how the PBS Ombudsman quoted it in his column today: “Since 1985, PBS policy has been that member stations provide a ‘nonsectarian, nonpolitical, noncommercial educational program service.'” So, as long as, in aggregate, the programming is nonsectarian, it seems as if the intent of the rule is served. At least, that appears to be how the rule was interpreted from 1985 to 2009.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 5: Yes, I “even” read the article. But I don’t think the 1985 rule actually applies to individual programs. Here is how the PBS Ombudsman quoted it in his column today: “Since 1985, PBS policy has been that member stations provide a ‘nonsectarian, nonpolitical, noncommercial educational program service.'” So, as long as, in aggregate, the programming is nonsectarian, it seems as if the intent of the rule is served. At least, that appears to be how the rule was interpreted from 1985 to 2009.

  • DonS

    Bob & Debs: I don’t watch commercial network TV. There are plenty of other alternatives on cable and through Netflix and other such services. PBS is truly an unaffordable anachronism. You have to cut somewhere.

  • DonS

    Bob & Debs: I don’t watch commercial network TV. There are plenty of other alternatives on cable and through Netflix and other such services. PBS is truly an unaffordable anachronism. You have to cut somewhere.

  • And of course, as we all know, “the right” is completely synonymous with religious fundamentalism — whatever that means.

  • And of course, as we all know, “the right” is completely synonymous with religious fundamentalism — whatever that means.

  • Bob

    DonS,

    I disagree. We need more choices in TV programming, not less.

    Mike #11 —

    What on earth are you talking about?

  • Bob

    DonS,

    I disagree. We need more choices in TV programming, not less.

    Mike #11 —

    What on earth are you talking about?

  • Debs

    Mike, I think it’s the other way around: religious fundamentalism is synonymous with the right, as evidenced by your comment elsewhere today that those on the ‘left’ have no morality, i.e., are immoral.

  • Debs

    Mike, I think it’s the other way around: religious fundamentalism is synonymous with the right, as evidenced by your comment elsewhere today that those on the ‘left’ have no morality, i.e., are immoral.

  • Bob, it was a sarcastic response to Debs, who issued a broad brushed accusation of hypocrisy, conflating those who are concerned about moral issues with those who are concerned about social welfare policy.

  • Bob, it was a sarcastic response to Debs, who issued a broad brushed accusation of hypocrisy, conflating those who are concerned about moral issues with those who are concerned about social welfare policy.

  • Don (@9), if you read the article, then you will clearly see the strawman you built with your previous questions (@4):

    So how does that term get interpreted as meaning “absolutely no religious programming ever (unless it is already running)”? As long as the programming includes elements of various faiths and denominations, what’s the problem? Why do we always insist on completely excluding a huge element of American life from the public forums?

    Clearly, religion is not being “completely excluded” from PBS, nor does this mean “absolutely no religious programming ever”. According to the ombudsman article you apparently read, “News coverage of a religious program, historically significant programming about religion, cultural (i.e., arts and entertainment) performances of a religious nature or other objective commentary presented in a religious venue (church, mosque, synagogue, temple, etc.) are not considered sectarian,” for example.

    What’s more, everyone here is either ignoring or unaware that these stations are still allowed, under this rule, to have as much sectarian, partisan material as they want on their other, non-PBS-branded sub-channels. Or so says the PBS ombudsman.

    Personally, I’d like to think that PBS could afford losing or rejecting the 16% of its budget that comes from taxpayer funding, just so I don’t have to listen to conservatives complain about it anymore.

  • Don (@9), if you read the article, then you will clearly see the strawman you built with your previous questions (@4):

    So how does that term get interpreted as meaning “absolutely no religious programming ever (unless it is already running)”? As long as the programming includes elements of various faiths and denominations, what’s the problem? Why do we always insist on completely excluding a huge element of American life from the public forums?

    Clearly, religion is not being “completely excluded” from PBS, nor does this mean “absolutely no religious programming ever”. According to the ombudsman article you apparently read, “News coverage of a religious program, historically significant programming about religion, cultural (i.e., arts and entertainment) performances of a religious nature or other objective commentary presented in a religious venue (church, mosque, synagogue, temple, etc.) are not considered sectarian,” for example.

    What’s more, everyone here is either ignoring or unaware that these stations are still allowed, under this rule, to have as much sectarian, partisan material as they want on their other, non-PBS-branded sub-channels. Or so says the PBS ombudsman.

    Personally, I’d like to think that PBS could afford losing or rejecting the 16% of its budget that comes from taxpayer funding, just so I don’t have to listen to conservatives complain about it anymore.

  • @Debs: Perhaps you can define “religious fundamentalism” for me. I hear and read about its existance all time, but I really have no idea to whom it refers. A group of boogeymen, it seems.

    …and, sorry if you didn’t grasp my use of rhetoric to make a point about the left’s puritanical pointing of fingers.

  • @Debs: Perhaps you can define “religious fundamentalism” for me. I hear and read about its existance all time, but I really have no idea to whom it refers. A group of boogeymen, it seems.

    …and, sorry if you didn’t grasp my use of rhetoric to make a point about the left’s puritanical pointing of fingers.

  • Nuts. I responded to the wrong thread… Bad me!

  • Nuts. I responded to the wrong thread… Bad me!

  • DonS

    tODD @ 15: I see that we agree on the funding issue. Which would moot everything else.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 15: I see that we agree on the funding issue. Which would moot everything else.

  • DonS

    This is a win-win. As tODD says, eliminating federal funding of PBS would only require backfilling by donors of 16% of PBS total budget. One more telethon a year. Which is a good deal, because that’s when PBS runs the good movies. Since Bob and Debs think PBS is vital to their lives, I’m sure they will each be more than happy to increase their donations accordingly.

    Glad that’s settled. See, liberals and conservatives can get along!

  • DonS

    This is a win-win. As tODD says, eliminating federal funding of PBS would only require backfilling by donors of 16% of PBS total budget. One more telethon a year. Which is a good deal, because that’s when PBS runs the good movies. Since Bob and Debs think PBS is vital to their lives, I’m sure they will each be more than happy to increase their donations accordingly.

    Glad that’s settled. See, liberals and conservatives can get along!

  • Bob

    DonS,

    I’ll keep giving to PBS. You keep not giving. Deal?

    We need an alternative to the private networks, which are all owned by big corporate interests. Not much original there.

  • Bob

    DonS,

    I’ll keep giving to PBS. You keep not giving. Deal?

    We need an alternative to the private networks, which are all owned by big corporate interests. Not much original there.

  • Debs

    Don, you have a very interesting either/or mind. Since I sided with Bob about the right, you concluded that I had to be a staunch PBS defender. But I did not defend PBS on this thread, much less say it was vital to my life. I’m not given PBS a dime. I’m outraged that it carries swill like the McLaughlin Group.

  • Debs

    Don, you have a very interesting either/or mind. Since I sided with Bob about the right, you concluded that I had to be a staunch PBS defender. But I did not defend PBS on this thread, much less say it was vital to my life. I’m not given PBS a dime. I’m outraged that it carries swill like the McLaughlin Group.

  • DonS

    Debs: Well, then we are in even more agreement than I thought. We will de-fund PBS, because of the “swill” that it carries, and then we both will not donate.

    Perfect solution!

  • DonS

    Debs: Well, then we are in even more agreement than I thought. We will de-fund PBS, because of the “swill” that it carries, and then we both will not donate.

    Perfect solution!

  • Bob

    DonS,

    If someone doesn’t give money to PBS and then continues to
    not give money, that’s hardly defunding.

  • Bob

    DonS,

    If someone doesn’t give money to PBS and then continues to
    not give money, that’s hardly defunding.

  • Debs

    Don, we indeed agree that the McLaughlin Group is swill. Shake, brother.

  • Debs

    Don, we indeed agree that the McLaughlin Group is swill. Shake, brother.

  • Bob

    I always loved Dana Carvey’s great sendup of a hysterical John McLaughlin. Much better than the real thing!

  • Bob

    I always loved Dana Carvey’s great sendup of a hysterical John McLaughlin. Much better than the real thing!

  • Debs

    Bob, if PBS carried Carvey imitating McLaughlin instead of McLaughlin imitating an informed commentator, I would give the network a donation.

  • Debs

    Bob, if PBS carried Carvey imitating McLaughlin instead of McLaughlin imitating an informed commentator, I would give the network a donation.

  • DonS

    Bob @ 23:

    Of course, by “defund”, I meant strip PBS of its federal funding.

    I appreciate that you like to have an alternative to watch on TV. That’s great. But you should pay for it, and not coerce every taxpayer in America, 98% of them never watching the network, to do so.

    Fair enough?

  • DonS

    Bob @ 23:

    Of course, by “defund”, I meant strip PBS of its federal funding.

    I appreciate that you like to have an alternative to watch on TV. That’s great. But you should pay for it, and not coerce every taxpayer in America, 98% of them never watching the network, to do so.

    Fair enough?

  • DonS

    Deb @ 24: well, we indeed agree that much of PBS programming is “swill”, or at least not worthy of coerced taxpayer funding. I’m not specifically familiar with the “McGlaughlin Group”, other than it is some kind of political roundtable show that I thought had advocates for both sides on it.

  • DonS

    Deb @ 24: well, we indeed agree that much of PBS programming is “swill”, or at least not worthy of coerced taxpayer funding. I’m not specifically familiar with the “McGlaughlin Group”, other than it is some kind of political roundtable show that I thought had advocates for both sides on it.

  • I would be more inclined to give to PBS if they didn’t do telethons. Sorry but I can’t stand the gnostic gurus they parade during those things. And I like the McGlaughlin Group. But it hasn’t been as good since Tony left, and I am not sure how Pat manages to keep his place.
    It is also nice that as liberal as their bias is, they actually do report on the news in a timely matter. If you say watch the News hour you get news, the major stories are hit and you don’t have to wade through an hour of sensationalism. Even Fox News is bad about that. This 24 hour New cycle seems to have less reporting than the old standby’s.
    However, since PBS has gone to the digital network, it has become as bad as any network for ludeness and so on.

  • I would be more inclined to give to PBS if they didn’t do telethons. Sorry but I can’t stand the gnostic gurus they parade during those things. And I like the McGlaughlin Group. But it hasn’t been as good since Tony left, and I am not sure how Pat manages to keep his place.
    It is also nice that as liberal as their bias is, they actually do report on the news in a timely matter. If you say watch the News hour you get news, the major stories are hit and you don’t have to wade through an hour of sensationalism. Even Fox News is bad about that. This 24 hour New cycle seems to have less reporting than the old standby’s.
    However, since PBS has gone to the digital network, it has become as bad as any network for ludeness and so on.

  • Bob

    ‘98% of them never watching the network, to do so.’

    DonS, you’re way off.

    About 89 million Americans watch PBS in an average week.

    *

  • Bob

    ‘98% of them never watching the network, to do so.’

    DonS, you’re way off.

    About 89 million Americans watch PBS in an average week.

    *

  • DonS

    OK, Bob. I don’t know where you got that number, but that’s cool. I know that prime time ratings in most major markets for the local PBS station are about equivalent to those for USA network, Bravo, or A & E. Suffice to say, not huge. But even accepting that 89 million Americans watch at least part of one PBS program a week, that means 215 million Americans never watch it at all. So, should they be forced to turn over their hard earned tax dollars so those 89 million can tune in to their favorite PBS program? Especially since the PBS viewership demographic skews toward the wealthiest Americans? Can’t they pay for their own TV, just as everyone else does?

  • DonS

    OK, Bob. I don’t know where you got that number, but that’s cool. I know that prime time ratings in most major markets for the local PBS station are about equivalent to those for USA network, Bravo, or A & E. Suffice to say, not huge. But even accepting that 89 million Americans watch at least part of one PBS program a week, that means 215 million Americans never watch it at all. So, should they be forced to turn over their hard earned tax dollars so those 89 million can tune in to their favorite PBS program? Especially since the PBS viewership demographic skews toward the wealthiest Americans? Can’t they pay for their own TV, just as everyone else does?

  • Bob

    DonS,

    Here’s where I got the number:

    http://www.itvisus.com/programs/aowh/partners_pbs.asp

  • Bob

    DonS,

    Here’s where I got the number:

    http://www.itvisus.com/programs/aowh/partners_pbs.asp