PBS Ombudsman Raps Anti-Palin Wisecrack

September 19th, 2008 9:33 PM

On PBS's Web site today, ombudsman Michael Getler writes of complaints over an incident during last Sunday's pledge drive.  He describes the cheap shot taken by actor Mike Farrell against vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin:

According to Joseph Campbell, vice president of fundraising programs, here's what happened:

"During the broadcast of 'The 60s Live!: My Generation, My Music,' a special featuring Eric Burdon (of the Animals), the Mamas and the Papas, Roger McGuinn (of the Byrds) and others, celebrity host Mike Farrell made an unscripted remark regarding the presidency of the United States. Mr. Farrell's spontaneous comment was entirely unplanned and does not represent the views of PBS, its employees or its member stations."

Campbell explained that, aside from performance clips by many stars of the 60s and pledge breaks featuring station-produced testimonials, a number of celebrities appeared live, including Farrell. "He made the comment live and gave us no indication of his intentions. Immediately after he went off the air he was confronted about his comments and promised that he would stay 'on script' for the remainder of the telecast, and did."

The exact exchange is as follows:

While Farrell is introducing Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas, Phillips says: "People may even know us as boyfriend and girlfriend from (the TV show) 'Providence.'" Then Farrell says: "'Providence' that's right. Now I've been thinking about the fact that with all your qualities and the fact that you don't know anything about economics or foreign policy that you could be in line for the Presidency!"

Getler rightly notes that making political statements while asking viewers for contributions "is just plain stupid, and contradictory to the purpose and credibility of PBS."  He includes a sampling of letters received, all of which are critical. 

Actor Mike Farrell's extremely liberal views and eagerness to voice them are well known and his comment should not have been totally unexpected.  Still, at least PBS is recognizing that - at least during fundraisers - it's prudent to dial down the bias.