Politicians and pundits are again debating the wisdom and necessity of American taxpayer support for public radio and television. Both Juan Williams’s firing and alleged comments by National Public Radio’s executive Ron Schiller have raised real questions about political bias.
It seems that the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has a similar problem. Someone at its Frontline website has been substituting fake biographies of conservatives written by an organization called Right Web for legitimate institutional biographies. Right Web is a project of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a think tank whose scholars’ positions range from left wing to Marxist. When challenged about inaccuracies on the dossiers he compiles of “right wing militarists,” the editor of Right Web e-mailed that even when no evidence supports his allegations, corrections of his slanders would require proving his allegations wrong, an impossible standard that is also embraced by conspiracy theorists like the LaRouchies, 9/11 revisionists, and Birthers. Right Web is also among the worst Google manipulators in the political realm.
It is Right Web’s right to publish such nonsense, and some naive or unprofessional journalists may accept it at face value. But congressmen might want to ask PBS’s Frontline about the editorial decision to substitute these fake, conspiracy-riddled biographies for the real thing: for example, here (see the links under almost every name) and here (see the link on Jeffrey Goldberg).
It is hard to believe that editors at Frontline would let this silliness slip by unintentionally. Does PBS have ethical guidelines? Why were they not applied? Why were they waived? Certainly, editors test links when they commission stories. That they do not appear to understand their actions to be politicized and unethical is troubling. That they have turned PBS into a tool for policy advocacy and dirty tricks is unfortunate. If that’s what Frontline wants to do, so be it. But they should not do it with taxpayer money.