PBS Thumbs Nose, Selects Liberal-Pleasing WashPost Ombudsman Michael Getler

Reuters reports PBS has named departing Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler as its first ombudsman, in an act which can only be seen as a defensive political strategy against conservatives. (The liberals are even upset at this tepid step.) The public broadcasting elite has been appalled at  the naming of two ombudsmen at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- Ken Bode for liberals, Bill Schulz for conservatives. (Although that is a fairly quiet blog.) They prefer the NPR model (and the Washington Post model) -- one generally liberal ombudsman who rarely touches on conservative complaints, and usually finds them wanting when they're evaluated. This is Getler's record at the Washington Post. Liberal bias was not one of Getler's big issues. Try a little Nexis work. There is no mention of the Media Research Center or Brent Bozell in Getler's articles over the last five years. How about Accuracy in Media? One, Nexis found -- well, no. Make that zero, too. On June 23, 2002, Getler focused on left-wing complaints from "Fairness and Accuracy In Media." Oops. That's Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), whose complaints were also evaluated once in 2001, and three times in 2005 (April 24, May 15, and June 19). Media Matters for America, the new kid on the left-wing block? Getler's also worked out their complaints with Post staffers three times this year (January 30, May 15, and September 11). Getler has complained he hates the canned e-mail campaigns, but he keeps biting on them when the critics are left-wingers. This is not to say Getler has never found a liberal bias in the Post. But we have noted his tendency to find the idea a bit silly. Here's one from Notable Quotables last year: 

“Events on the ground have confirmed the thrust and credibility of the reporting on this conflict and that the press generally has been more reliable than official statements as a guide to what is happening. My view is that both this country and Iraq are at a critical juncture in a huge, costly and controversial undertaking and that readers who view the work of reporters covering this for major U.S. news organizations as ‘lefty spin’ are fooling themselves.”– Getler, in a May 23, 2004 column rejecting reader complaints that the Post’s Iraq coverage has downplayed U.S. achievements.

Then there's another crack at ideologues in his farewell column on Sunday:

The Post is a fine newspaper. It is also an important newspaper. To remain strong, it needs to be challenged -- not by ideologues or forces seeking to destroy those who look under the wrong rocks -- but by readers who demand and value hard-nosed reporting, fair and insightful analysis, and high journalistic standards that provide confidence in what is being reported.

This isn't fair to lefties or righties. Often, both sides are whacking the WashPost about rocks they won't look under. The left cries "Downing Street Memo"! The right cries "Air America's fraudulent financing"! A good ombudsman ought to start with the premise that "ideologues" can have something important to say about "fair and insightful analysis and high journalistic standards." To dismiss them as press-hating censors is not a good sign for PBS. It's another example of more of the same -- the arrogant idea PBS has that conservative-bashing fiestas like "NOW" are "journalism" at its best, because it shoots at all the right targets. Everything else is toadying to power.  

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis