PBS Ombudsman Slams Decision to Edit Out Tina Fey's Nasty Anti-Palin Jokes, Diminishing Fey's 'Uniqueness'

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler quite naturally wrote his column this week on viewer reaction to the editing of Tina Fey’s harsh left-wing jokes in her Kennedy Center acceptance speech of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Getler’s headline: “Would Mark Twain Have Edited Tina Fey?” The article began: “I'll take the liberty of answering the question in the headline: 'I doubt it.'” Somehow, due to Fey's "extraordinary" talent for impersonating Palin, he found "to take out those 30 seconds or so seemed to diminish Fey's uniqueness, take the viewing audience for granted and deprive it of one of the most edgy segments."

While every liberal dearly loved the Fey impression of Palin, the idea that it's a national treasure isn't shared outside the insular liberal bubble. Getler felt that the overwhelmingly liberal audience of PBS should have been rewarded with Fey’s nasty comments that conservative women somehow want rape victims to pay for their rape kits, as well as disparaging them for opposing “gay marriage” and not believing in human “evolution.” This "humor" is hardly unique. Editing it out was a “big mistake,” he wrote:

First, the producers of this event - Comedia and Mark Krantz Productions - are experienced. They've been doing the Twain Prize show since it started in 1998 in conjunction with the Kennedy Center and with PBS as a broadcast partner.

This time, however, I think the producers made a big mistake, one that was virtually certain to come back and bite them and PBS, in editing out several lines Fey used in the actual live performance about supporters of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

But precisely who will come back and bite them for the edits? Obviously, it is liberals who oppose censorship -- at least when glib left-wing comedians are trashing Sarah Palin and her supporters. Just as obviously, Palin and her supporters are bone-tired of sending their tax dollars to Washington so snarky elitists like Fey can mock them as primitive Christian morons.

Only leftists can be "edgy" on taxpayer-supported PBS. Perhaps Mr. Getler remembers who PBS viewers were livid that they had to tolerate the least "edgy" of conservatives for a year of the last decade: Tucker Carlson (unfiltered?) and the very soft-spoken Paul Gigot and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Report. Getler should know that the people who are perennially "taken for granted" in this long-running liberal scam are the conservative taxpayers.

Of course, those viewers wrote angry letters about this episode. Getler's first letter in his mailbox post demanded a public-broadcasting channel that's just as ideological as Fox News:

I have to ask this question: "Standards of editorial integrity"? You've got to be kidding me. This political act and the lame excuses that followed are repugnant to us. Consequently, we say, "good bye, PBS", just as we have to Fox News. At least Fox has the balls to be flagrant about its politics. PBS elects to slither along dismissively in the shadows. Yours is a more devious and perfect way of ending up with someone like Sarah Palin as president. – Larry Norman, Caldwell, ID

Getler noted that the editing was caught by Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi, who reviewed the original event and then also watched the PBS version:

Ironically, in his initial review, Farhi also wrote that Fey's on-stage lines about conservative women "played first to nervous laughter and then to not much laughter at all." That is precisely what executive producer Kaminsky argues; that they kind of fell flat, that three-punch-line jokes are tough to deliver, and that the political content in her broad monologue "didn't seem to be the strongest part of her material."

Even if you agree with that, which I do not, you would have to have a tin ear, in my non-producer opinion, not to recognize that Fey's extraordinary ability to mimic Palin on Saturday Night Live two years ago - aside from her many other accomplishments - surely was an important factor in this award, and to take out those 30 seconds or so seemed to diminish Fey's uniqueness, take the viewing audience for granted and deprive it of one of the most edgy segments, and certainly at least appear to be influenced by political considerations.

Getler apparently finds the rape-kit-and-evolution humor to be a riot. He argued that at least PBS viewers should have been informed the broadcast had to be shortened to meet a time limit:

When I asked Kaminsky whether some way might have been found to alert a broadcast audience that this was a slightly abbreviated version of the show, or that it had to be shortened for presentation at that time, he said he thought that was a novel idea that was worth thinking about and discussing but that there wasn't time in this case and that it would not have affected content. He pointed out that many such shows regularly must be shortened to meet network time demands, and that the performance last year with Twain Prize recipient Bill Cosby, for example, had to be cut by 31 minutes.

But among the traits that the Twain Prize is meant to recognize is to be "a fearless observer of society." That's what, in my view, got diminished by the editing, along with PBS's credibility, even though they did not do the editing.

Getler had a more mixed opinion when PBS snipped out Paul McCartney arrogantly mocking George W. Bush as illiterate ("After the last eight years, it's great to have a president that knows what a library is") after his PBS concert at the Obama White House, since he mocked Bush when the concert was over and Obama had left the room. It's time some Republican members of Congress did some "fearless observing" of the taxpayer-funded broadcasting system.

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