Sunday, February 17, 2008

TV: Bad TV takes no holiday

In what we (Ava and C.I.) hope is our last TV piece on news and public affairs programs for some time, we started the week thinking, "We'll say kind things." That would certainly please our PBS friends who became as prickly as porcupines when the writers strike meant we stopped covering entertainment programming. But that wish sputtered out quickly, like a Rudy G presidential campaign when faced with reality. The reality we faced was actually watching.


"Make someone happy, make just one someone happy, and you will be happy too," Jimmy Durante sang so let's do that in order to be happy too! And if anyone deserves to be happy it's the entertainment writers who staged a 4-month strike and appear (the contract needs to be signed still by February 25th) to have won. So it was a bit of surprise to finish speaking Thursday morning, check our cell phones and find non-stop voice mails from writers. They were mad. They were angry. They felt disrespected by Democracy Now! And, guess what, they were.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez did at least their third sit-down interview on the strike and, yet again, they went with Michael Winship. Winship is president of Writers Guild of America East. Sorry to break the news to Democracy Now!, but since Desi Arnaz devised the method to film a sitcom with multi-cameras, NYC hasn't been the heart of the TV industry. It's also not the heart of the film industry.

Now members of the Writers Guild live all over the world -- not just the United States. There's no requirement that they live in NYC or the Los Angeles area. But somehow Winship was allowed to be the voice for the strike and that has ticked off huge numbers of friends on the West Coast. They're right to be mad. The picket lines in the LA area were significant and Winship didn't speak to those and couldn't speak for those. It bears noting that the only time Democracy Now! offered writers speaking about the strike in a segment, they were also from NYC. A national strike . . . reported as NYC actions. Since the show is no longer merely aired on NYC's WBAI, that is offensive. That's not the worst of the offenses on Valentine's Day, but that really needs to be noted.

Some may argue that Democracy Now! needs to go with local guests due to their location. They've done phone interviews before (including on Friday), they've had interviews beamed in from other studios. There was nothing preventing them from inviting on somone representing the Writers Guild West. Due to the well known split between the East and West Coasts, having invited the president of the East chapter on twice already, it was more than incumbent for them to bring on the West Coast chapter.

In the East, the left media really doesn't grasp the differences or just don't care. It's why they pushed for a former president of the East Coast chapter in a Senate run and were surprised that not only did he not have overwhelming support in the NYC region, he had little to no support. He, in fact, had a number of very vocal critics. Equally true is that the East Chapter seems to have trouble getting it together on very basic things. During the strike, you may have heard the statistics that 48% of the membership was unemployed? That's the statistic from and for the West Coast Chapter. The East Coast Chapter still can't even get their act together enough to figure out that basic statistics on their membership. That point was stressed repeatedly in voice mail messages and in all the calls that followed. It's a good point. If you want to know about the strike -- and it had a greater impact on the West Coast -- then why is that chapter not being invited?

It was the Oscar telecast that forced the networks hand. A West Coast event. "I'm not trying to be divisive," explained one TV show runner, "but they have yet to feature anyone from the West Coast." That's not divisive, that's noting reality. The East Coast TV industry effected by the strike was much smaller and the motion picture industry remains based in California -- where it's been based since before the advent of sound. To be sure, the East Coast members should be heard, but they are not the only voices and they are not the bulk of the industry. As Winship popped up in USA Today, The New York Times and other publications throughout the strike, a number of members of the West Coast Chapter began wishing he'd develop a case of laryngitis for the duration of the strike and that was not limited to the issue of glory-hog but also included what the felt were misrepresentations.

The above was bad and goes to fairness. Fairness also includes honoring those who strike as well as, if not dishonoring, refusing to honor strike breakers. Introducing the segment on Thursday, that the strike was over, the program felt the way to go was with ha-ha sketches from The Daily Show and The Stephen Colbert Report. For those unaware, both programs broke the strike. Both crossed picket lines to return to production. David Letterman, who worked out an agreement with the Guild, did not break the strike. Nor did Craig Ferguson whose program is produced by Letterman's World Wide Pants. So if we were in the mood to celebrate, why is it that the allegedly pro-union Democracy Now! elected to go with ha-has from strike breakers? Did they not get how offensive that would be?

The Jon Stewart clip required heavy bleeping to rebroadcast due to his repeated use of the f-word. As one sketch comedy writer said, "Anyone can get a laugh swearing. That was low comedy and it lowered our victory." Please note, that man knows no "sacred cows." He has gone after everything and will again. But even he was among the offended by the clips. Stephen Colbert was seen as even more offensive -- and it's shocking that Democracy Now! couldn't grasp that he would be -- since his skit involved bringing on stage the 'returning writers' which, a giggling Amy Goodman explained, included "former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and actor Kevin Bacon."

Oh, ha, ha, ha, ha. Judith Miller being included in that joke? It was offensive. Judith Miller's not a comedy writer. Judith Miller is most famous for selling the illegal war with questionable, lie-riddled stories. It was offensive. It wasn't funny. It showed hostility and disrespect. And, hate to break it to Goodman, but comedy writers weren't the only ones on strike and it was when the show runners of dramatic shows started complaining that we really got an earful.

"We're Judith Miller?" asked one. "We're Judith Miller and that's supposed to be funny?"

Goodman may never grasp how many writers she offended. She should quickly grasp that when you're supposedly 'honoring' the strike, when you're supposedly 'pro-union,' you don't 'celebrate' the strike (with trashy skits or otherwise) by highlighting the work of strike breakers and that is what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were. Now a Writers Guild East president might find that funny, he might have to scrape and bow before the tiny gods of basic cable due to how little of the entertainment industry originates from NYC today, but on the West Coast, there was no rejoicing that strike breakers were being presented as the go-to-source for news on the strike. It was offensive and anyone who claims to support unions or to be pro-labor should be embarrassed. We wonder how Pacifica workers, who staged their own successful walk-out earlier this decade, would have felt to hear strike breakers being 'amusing' over Pacifica airwaves without being called out for their refusal to honor the strike?

On Friday, Goody was back to do more damange. (Feb. 14, 2008 was the Thursday show, Feb. 15th the Friday show. You can google "Democracy Now!" if you need the transcripts but we're not linking to trash.) She interviewed Eve Ensler about V-Day. Yeah, that'll make everyone forget that Goodman published in H**stler or that she set Gloria Steinem up. Of course, Ensler's one of those 'independents' who supports Barack Obama. Funny, we thought Ensler belonged to a political party? Strange. Who knew she was just another dull homebody who read Good Housekeeping? During the interview, Amy Goodman felt the need to give a 'shout-out' to the Iraq War. It only revealed how uninformed you are when you drop the illegal war repeatedly and then try to pick it up as an aside.

Goody declared, attempting to brandish non-existent feminist credentials, "One of the stories we heard was that women soldiers stopped drinking water, where it's extremely hot in Iraq, 120 degrees, at around three of four in the afternoon because they were afraid if they drank water after that that they'd have to go out to the latrines at night and they were too terrified to walk out because they were afraid of being raped by their fellow soldiers." Well, as Stevie Nicks once sang, "Welcome to the room, Sara, Sara, welcome to the choir, sir, well of course it was a problem."

But Goody's problem is that she thinks she can pick up Iraq ever so often and come off as an expert. She can't. And her statement is ridiculously offensive. Women serving in Iraq did that because they were terrified? No, they do that because the military refuses to address the problem, the crime. They do that because the military told them not to go the latrines at night alone. They do that because the military's 'answer' to rape was to order the women to only go to the latrines at night with a 'buddy'. That is a huge indictment of the current military system and Goodman wants to reduce it to a personal whim or fear on the part of the women serving? She wants to pull it out of the context of the system? She avoids noting that the military provided an 'answer' to the problem that was no answer at all and further encourages rape because, if it's a woman responsiblity to take a buddy or risk being raped by those serving with her, then we're back to the "She asked for it" nonsense. Eve Ensler paused a moment before replying and, when she did reply, didn't call that out. Guess it wasn't V-Day in that moment. Guess it was retro-throw-back day. No woman was well served by that nonsense.

Let's move over to NBC's Today Show on Thursday (which you were given a heads up to the morning of). One incident is getting a huge amount of attention and they should be very glad for that, it allows the actions of the on air staff to go overlooked. That's not limited to Meredith's stating, before the show's theme played, that it would "take a miracle" for Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic presidential nomination now. At the desk, after the theme played, Natalie Morales would announce it was "impossible." We weren't aware that either was an expert on US politics. We quickly became aware that there is worse than a turkey waddle -- such as whatever you call the thing bulging beneath Meredith's chin -- a bulge that shook wildly when Meredith intoned, "Chicks rule the roost!" (Matt Lauer's voice had given out and, though he showed up at the studios Thursday morning, he was unable to go on. Morales filled in for him.) The most important "chick" (judging by viewer feedback) wasn't present: Ann Curry.

Her absence is always noted by those contacting the show. It should have been noted by all watching on Thursday. That's when the Larry Craig ethics issue was 'addressed' by news reader Hoda Kotb who declared that the Senate Ethics Committee found that "he acted inappropriately with the mens room sex thing" or "sex sting." We're being kind and offering the "or 'sex sting'." To our ears, she's saying "thing" but friends at Today maintain she said "sting." Being kind and allowing for "sting," it's still wrong. It gives the impression that Craig was admonished for assisting law enforcement in a sting. That's not what happened by a long shot.

The (PDF format warning) committee statement can be found here. It's very clear that he entered a guilty plea to "disorderly conduct" and that committe found he attempted to use his standing to circumvent the arrest process: "Following your arrest on June 11, 2007, you showed the arresting officer a business card that identified you as a United States Senator and stated to the officer, in words or substance, 'What do you think about that?' Under the circumstances present at the time, you knew or should have known that a reasonable person in the position of arresting officer could view your action and statement as an improper attempt by you to use your position and status as a United States Senator to receive special and favorable treatment." The committee further found that he was in violation of Senate Rule 38.2 by using campaign contributions without the committee's approval to pay for his legal expenses ("and apparently, 'public relations'"). The amount of money in question is listed as "over $213,000". Gee, if only everyone who got caught soliciting sex in a men's room had that kind of money to fight the charges. Being kind and allowing that the word used by Today was "sting," it still doesn't address what happened or what the Senate found.

Which brings us to PBS. Many think the road shows killed The McLaughlin Group. Possibly Gwen Ifill is as tired of her show as we are and is attempting to kill it off? More likely, she's hoping for a tie-in with Antiques Road Show -- another PBS time waster. Gwen and the gang went to Florida and, if there's anything worse than seeing her and the gas bags, it's seeing them on stage trying to get laughs. Nothing like seeing 'experts' giddy with the hopes of receiving laughter and applause to grasp how empty the gas bags are. Chief among them was Todd S. Purdum. Purdum is someone who, having left The New York Times, we really hoped to never offer an unkind word about. If you drop back The Common Ills circa 2005, you will read often of Purdum. It was a period when, at many other sites, words like "knee pads" and "Elisabeth Bumiller" had to be appear in the same sentence. Apparently, a Constitutional amendment had been passed that we missed.

We weren't outraged for the sake of "tone," but we did wonder why women were the only one receiving the "treatment"? As a result Todd S. Purdum became the whipping boy and the joke was that he reported as though he were wearing an atheletic cup. The joke was that it was a smelly one whose fumes were getting to Purdum. As repeatedly noted at the site (and in reply to e-mails), Purdum does not have a body odor. This was in response to the easy slams launched on women while men doing similarly appalling work were overlooked. So you got "NYT: What can the Times do about Todd S. Purdum's smelly jock strap?," "NYT: Todd S. Purdum 'cupping' the story," "NYT: The fumes from his smelly jock k.o. Todd Purdum yet again," etc. Now the joke worked on a number of levels and one of the most satisfying to those who know Purdum (C.I. does) is that Purdum's sports obsessed. So it shouldn't have been all that surprising to catch him on Washington Weak Friday citing sports. But it should have appalled everyone watching that he was listing one year on a basketball team, second string, as evidence of leadership.

Again, there was a reason "athletic supporter" was used on Purdum. We'll be kind and say he wasn't trying to come off like Frank Hart but his comments certainly did bring to mind Dabney Coleman's 9 to 5 character: "You girls, of course, never got a chance to play football or baseball and I've -- I've always felt that that was unfortunate because I think it's probably the best place to learn what team work is all about." Purdum's 'insight' offered nothing to do with leadership or anything to do with being president. Surprisingly with two female gas bags and Gwen on Washington Week, not one woman thought to make that point on air.

Then it was Bill Moyers Journal and, as we noted at the top, we really hoped we'd be able to have kind things to say. Since this could be the last week (it probably won't be) that we have to tackle news and public affairs for some time, we really wanted to be able to offer nothing but praise for Moyers' program. "Didn't work out quite the way you wanted, how were you to know?" asks Carole King in "Chalice Borealis" but, thing is, we should have known.

The first segment (after Moyers with a book note) should be called out by many. Thing is, it won't be and it'll again get back to us about how "mean" and "nasty" we are. (And those are the nicer comments.) It's hard to know where to start with that segment so let's start with assumptions.

The assumption that's being operated on right now is that Democrats will regain the White House in the November elections. That's not a prediction among the gas bag set, it's an assumption.

If you doubt it, you need only look at Scott Biddle and Jean Johnson, Moyers guests for the first segment. It's time to get serious, it's time to realize we can't pay for everything, it's time to tighten the belt. You may know the mantra. If you're old enough, you may grasp it only gets trotted out without rebuttal when a Democrat is in the White House or thought to be headed to the White House. When it's Dem time in the White House, suddenly every half-wit in the pundit set or on an editorial board is an economic expert and preaches "self-control," "moderation" and cuts, cuts, cuts. Contrast that with the spending spree Bully Boy's been on for over seven years now. We only get those speeches when a Dem is in the White House or assumed to be headed to it. That should offend a number people. Actual economists (and Paul Krugman may tackle this aspect shortly if a Democrat gets into the White House) know that a deficit in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. (That's not a defense of Bully Boy's economics. They are a disaster. That's speaking in terms of basic principles.) The gas bags weren't actual economists.

They are this decade's Faith Popcorn and it's too bad for them that everyone won't be as mesmerized by their statements as Moyers was -- too bad for them, but good for the country. Neither Scott Biddle nor Jean Johnson holds any degree in economics. And you need to keep that in mind as we get into their 'proposals' and their 'economic' understanding. What you've got is Jean who made a tiny splash at a tinier record label (back when they were called 'record labels' by all) and communications and journalism major Scott who was handling the 'hard hitting' travel features not all that long ago. Now Faith Popcorn is a name that many today won't know. There's a reason for that. She was a mini-media god during the 80s. Her 'research' was all the rage the way a Scott Biddle or a Jean Johnson's will be today. They will be proclaimed as straight talkers, nee, as seers, and we will all be encouraged to weigh each of their half-baked words as though it were gospel. But they are The Markateers and they have a very short shelf life.

Before we go further, it needs to again be stressed, the two have no economic background. The average reader knows more about economics than they do. They know marketing. That's what their careers basically were long before Public Agenda and it's what it remains. What are they marketing? A Social Security crisis. There is no crisis. Repeating, there is no crisis.

To hear them tell it, there is and it must be dealt with immediately -- to hear them lie. To hear them lie, 2040 sees a meltdown of the system. That's not reality.

The US government notes, "Presently, Social Security collects more in taxes than it pays in benefits. The excess is borrowed by the U.S. Treasury, which in turn issues special-issue Treasury bonds to Social Security. These bonds totaled $1.9 trillion at the beginning of 2006. Social Security received $94 billion in interest from bonds in 2005. " Students of Gore Vidal -- someone Moyers should immediately book to address this topic -- know where we're going. That's the current surplus Social Security is running. Social Security has always run a surplus. If there is no outbreak or mass catastrophe by 2040 or a baby boom over the next two decades or a restoration of an actual production economy in this country, it is thought that that for every two Americans paying into Social Security there will be one person collecting. As Vidal has long explained -- though Markateers ignore it -- the government has long used the monies paid into Social Security for their own benefit. Treated it as an asset, included it in the general revevnue and spent it. But they've left the bonds as markers. (Al Gore, a relative of Gore Vidal, attempted to address this in 2000 but was widely ridiculed by the media for "lock box.") Having run at a surplus for all the years of existance, Social Security has 'markers.' When it's time to pay off benefits in 2040, it won't just be about 2 workers for every person receiving benefits, it will also be about those "markers" being called in to keep the program afloat. Will that cause a strain on the government? It may or may not. We're talking three decades from now and the two are not economists. But you don't borrow money without knowing you'll have to pay it back, even if you're the federal government. Especially, if you're the federal government. They've double and triple dipped into the people's pension and too damn bad if paying back is going to be a little harsh but it is paying back, not a gift to the system.

Please note, Biddle and Johnson aren't just arguing for cuts to Social Security, they are arguing for cuts to all programs -- all people's programs. They never once noted the runaway defense budget. Pressed by Moyers about the cost of the Iraq War, they maintained it wouldn't make a difference because it was so small comparatively speaking. Really? The figure most often cited as needed for the next 75 years is 4.3 trillion and the National Priorties Project running counter on the cost of the illegal war currently lists it at closing in on the half a trillion mark. (By the time this post, it will be over the half a trillion mark.) We need 9 "half a trillions" according to the most bandied about figure and the illegal war has already cost one of those. That would leave 8 more needed and Biddle and Johnson want to dismiss the cost of the illegal war (ironically, they were less dismissive of it at The Huffington Post this month but Markateers are all about 'tailoring' the argument to the audience.)

Remember that half a trillion figure because it's a figure Biddle and Johnson don't know. Biddle claims, "Between 2001 and 2007, we spent about $600 billion on the entire war on terrorism: Iraq, Afghanistan, everything else. Over that same period, we added 2.3 trillion to the debt. So the war is certainly making our financial problems worse. But it's not the sole cause, and it's not the sole answer." If you just got uncomfortable, that is another problem, the two constantly referred to the Iraq War as "the war on terrorism." Considering Moyers' Buying The War opener for this series, he should have corrected them. When people wonder why some of the public would still believe there's a connection between 9-11 and Iraq, look no further than the likes of Biddle and Johnson (who are affiliated with the dreaded war hawk Council of/on/for/about Foreign Relations).

$600 billion is incorrect. That would mean that hardly a dime is being spent on the Afghanistan War. Where they get their numbers you'd probably have to shell out your hard earned money for their easy-to-read book in order to find out. Don't bother. They're liars and hucksters. Your clue list on that should include the citation of Homer Simpson, talk of "focus groups" (not really a huge concern to those working in the field of economics), and non-stop crap designed to make them appear 'caring.' Jean's ready for "change" and sure the country is as well. Scott explains he's "an optimist." And this is how Jean rewrites the Bully Boy's tax cuts (and gets away with this crap unchallenged by Moyers):

I think, like the war, it's a lot of money. But we are routinely overspending. And even if we rolled back all of those tax cuts, which not even the Democrats are proposing. Some of those tax cuts are for families and for married people. We still would face a major, major problem balancing the budget. And we have to remember, balancing the budget is not enough. We also have to look at Social Security and Medicare and make some decisions about them.

The tax cuts that people speak of rolling back -- the bulk of the tax cuts in fact -- are not for "families" (outside the Jack Welch and Summer Redstone families) or "married people" -- they are for the extremely rich. The two think they can play you for a sucker. It's equally true that the two hucksters made no attempt to address the decade by decade decrease in tax on corporations.

It was alarmist hogwash and we're offended it aired -- and that Moyers refused to challenge them and that he even booked them. They are a fad, a hula hoop and we're damn sick of their likes being treated as "knowledgable" and "informed." We are all going to have to give up a little, they inform on the show, but somehow "we" never includes Defense Contractors. The defense budget -- leave out the costs of the two wars -- is nothing but pork -- million and billion dollar give-aways for planes that don't fly, guns that don't shoot without jamming and tons of other programs that never pass the accountability test. While other business, such as Mrs. Field's Cookies, have to pay for their own reasearch & development, the government doesn't just purchase from the defense contractors, it funds their r & d.

Not mentioned, it is, after all, PBS, was aid to Israel. It's real funny, really damn funny, that US citizens are being told "we" all have to sacrifice when, by 2001, Washington Report On Middle East Affairs was noting, aid to Israel (the bulk of it military hardware) had reached $91 billion since 'aid' began. This month last year, Haaretz was reporting of US aid to Israel, "The present package, which ends this year, covers 2.4 billion in annual military aid." And the paper was reporting that this wasn't enough, that it was time to ask for an increase. 2.4 billion over the next thirty years would mean over sixty billion dollars. When it's time to make cuts, there's a good place to start. But being Council 'folk' and being on PBS, Biddle and Johnson are never going to propose that. They speak vaguely of money flying out of the US government but when it's time for specifics, it's Social Security and Medicare that need cuts -- as though they studied under George Will. Under George Will? What a horrifying thought.

Another thing -- much lower on the cost scale but if 'we' are supposed to be tightening the belt, let's mention it -- that could be tossed on the chopping block is AIDS 'education' funding in Africa. The minute you start wasting money on 'abstinence' 'education,' you are no longer teaching scientific prevention and you are undercutting everything else. We've long called that nonsense out and didn't need to wait for the studies that have since come in saying it doesn't work, all we needed was a working knowledge of human nature.

Here's something the studies still haven't gotten around to telling you, "Just say no" translates as "If I have unprotected sex only a few times, then I won't get AIDS." That's a basic of any 'wrong' the young are taught to 'stay away' from. How do you prevent AIDS? That requires safe sex, protected sex. You betray science and prevention when you water down that reality with your dream that you can prevent sex outside of marriage (it's never been preventable in any known society -- not even the Shakers at their largest managed to practice it which is a reason their numbers 'dwindled' -- and a reason often left out of the telling of that religious group's history). You do more damage than good because 'no' translates to people who want something as "I'll just do it a little and that's almost a 'no'."

They end the segment with Moyers' coyly asking them why they dedicated their latest non-book to their fathers (the answer is on the dedication page, but let's all play dumb) and they respond it was because their fathers never would have left debt for them to pay. Apparently their mothers are a different story? And how lucky for them that their fathers (we'll forget their mothers, the two of them did) weren't, like many seniors, living check to check. When they start talking cuts, that's another reality they failed to note.

When we call out Moyers, it's apparently a big deal and PBS friends flock to their phones to tell us what's being said. Apparently so much ego stroking has been done (and it has been), that reality is not just a shock, it's a brutal shock. That first segment (and any news magazine show knows the first segment is the most viewed) pushed the lie that the Iraq War is about 'terrorism,' it pushed the lie that 'we' need to tighten our belts but 'we' is always the people when people's programs (such as Medicare) account for so damn little of the federal government expenditures. It pushed the lie that Poppy Bush's tax increase (near the end of his one term) was the same as all the cost-cutting measures under Bill Clinton, . . . . We could go on and on down the list but that segment was insulting and nothing but the lies of Markateers passed off as "economic realities."

Apparently, we are all supposed to be unquestioning idiots while the Moyers program airs. We're supposed to nod along spellbound -- while breathing through our open mouths? -- and never for a minute believe that there are standards and they must be maintained. Wealth and want, Henry George was calling out the contradictions the program avoided (calling it out at the end of the 19th century) but we're all supposed to avoid that and any other knowledge or history that refutes the crap and lies the first segment offered.

Again, we wanted to offer a valentine to the show. It's the best thing PBS has to offer. It's the only reason to donate a dime to PBS. But it is not perfect and some of the segments really require calling out. This is now the second time in two months that the program has floated the notion that Social Security is in trouble. That's a right-wing talking point and, you'll note, that each time it was floated, it came via pollsters. We could say a lot more on that segment and could, for instance, note who was asked questions in the segment, who Moyers directed the conversation to (the male guest) but let's keep it real simple for a very touchy program: No one benefits from these attacks on Social Security.

Nor does anyone benefit from the "greedy geezers" stereotype that is once again being promoted. It was promoted in the seventies, it was promoted in the eighties, it was promoted (and marketed to Gen-X) in the nineties. It has never, ever been true. But it has done real damage and led to real cuts in Social Security that have left many current seniors dependent on Social Security living precarious lives. If it hurts to have your program called out, quit airing these distortions.

There were two more segments and, yes, they were wonderful. Yes, they were everything that PBS is supposed to strive for and hallmarks of public affairs programming. But to get to them, viewers had to wade through a cess poll of lies in that first segment that older viewers should have had a sense of Deja Vu about because we've been there many, many times before.

Turning to the positive . . . Susan Jacoby, the author most recently of The Age of American Unreason, for instance, won't be popping up on Dateline or 20/20. Jacoby's segment was a lively discussion of themes and myths that need dispelling such as the use of "commander-in-chief" to describe a president because a president is not "commander-in-chief" of the people, such as the fact that a White House that wants anything (good or bad) has an obligation to educate the people on the proposal they're making, the laughable creative use of "troop" that now tends to dominate press coverage, we could go on and on. It was a very important segment and had it been expanded (it easily could have been) so that it replaced the first segment, we'd be able to offer our desired valentine. That's not because we agreed with every word that Jacoby uttered, that's due to the fact that she wasn't a huckster prepared to sell yet another round of attacks on Social Security, another round of right-wing lies that only take hold when they can peel off the left with spin masked as 'reason.'

The third segment was an interview with photographer Lori Grinker about her photos of victims of the Iraq War and that too was an amazing segment. For this exchange alone, the segment deserved high praise:

Bill Moyers: It's hard to understand what it is to be orphaned by history, you know, to just be rolled over.

Lori Grinker: It's . . . You know, they're followed by the war now, and will be forever. And that's what I want to document. You know the war doesn't leave them. For them, they're living it. And they're living it all the time. And these people will be living it forever. These people's stories can tell us the story of the Iraq war. To see individuals -- kids and teenagers and, you know, families -- without any idea of what's going to happen in the future, and that it's all related to this war, I hope that will teach the story of this war. It's a very long road for them.

There's a moment where the program shows you a photo of women in a bus, prepared for a wedding, and then Moyers and Grinker discuss the photo with Grinker pointing out how easy it is to first see that photo and not notice that all have been shot by a sniper. Those are wonderful segments and the program frequently offers many wonderful segments.

So is it carping to to critique the first segment or similar ones we've noted in the past? No. It's calling out crap. We're all for an open discussion in the public square. An open discussion is not Bill Moyers allowing lies to be stated on his program and not calling the guests out. That's playing stupid and playing the viewers stupid. Moyers is more than old enough to have lived through every attack on Social Security. If he truly did not recognize the one happening before his eyes that's still no excuse for allowing guests to falsely tie Iraq into 'terror' or for him to play dumb -- and remember Moyers was part of the LBJ White House -- on how tiny a sliver of the annual budget goes to people's programs.

Moyers is fully aware of what the big-ticket items are -- year after year -- and how easy it would be to cut them out. Instead of asking them to explain their book's dedication page, he should have used the time to ask them to explain the realities of the federal budget and where the bulk of the money -- year after year -- goes. He should have asked them to explain how much has been spent on the laughable 'Star Wars' program and maybe that could have led to a real discussion about the militarization of space -- one that included how unpopular it is with the rest of the world and the animosity and ill will it is breeding towards the US from outside.

"Even Bill only has so much power," one PBS friend offered as a defense for the appalling first segment. Oh, like that idea had never popped into our heads? Of course, "even Bill" faces the same restrictions and head butting into walls that many at PBS face (with more walls constructed each year -- under the myth that it's 'saving' PBS). That's why you don't invite on hucksters and con-artists. That's why our answer -- constructive criticism that we supposedly never offer -- who knew we were summer camp counselors supposed to impart life lessons? -- to Friday's broadcast was not invent a new segment, just expand the two worthy ones. You would have had a full hour of quality television if that had been done.

Instead we got yet another attack on Social Security and we can't understand how anyone could book that segment and not grasp that? Before Biddle and Johnson ever uttered a word, it was obvious that all they had to offer was tired spin that's been repeated non-stop since the end of LBJ's administration. And that's the thing, LBJ was not the great 'evil.' His legacy should include some actual work done domestically for the people. The Johnson administration truly gave a damn about people's programs and we're not sure we can say that about any administration -- Democrat or Republican -- since.

We will gladly note that Bill Moyers truly gives a damn about people. His ego is the same as anyone else with a history in broadcast journalism, no question, but if it was all about his ego, he'd have descended to the embarrassment that so many of his peers have (which doesn't stop with hosting informericals, yeah, Hugh, we mean you). We're fully aware that week after week, he offers at least one segment that challenges and demonstrates that at least one person on air at PBS still remembers why it was created to begin with.

We know why we do these pieces. And we know our mission is not to provide aid and comfort to those who supply bad TV. So as much as we wanted to offer up hearts, flowers and candy to Bill Moyers Journal, our obligations to call out the damage done is far greater. It's about responsiblities and that's why we're, yet again, unable to ask: "Bill, will you be our valentine?"

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