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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, July 2005

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Earlier this month, I attended the INPUT conference-an international convocation of public television executives and filmmakers-in San Francisco. What kicked off and drove the conference was a report in The New York Times that Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, had installed "ombudsmen" to ensure "balanced" programming-that is, programs that countervail what the far right perceives to be a left wing bias, as perpetuated by the far right's favorite whipping boy, Bill Moyers. According to The Times, Tomlinson had also paid a consultant $10,000 to watch Moyers' former program NOW and monitor it for bias.

At a luncheon that CPB hosted that week, Michael Pack, senior vice president for television programming, worked overtime to reassure the attendees that public television programming was safe from meddling and that there was no need for a firewall. Well, the very fact that CPB was created by Congress in 1967 as a private, nonprofit, non-governmental agency indicates that it is precisely that: a firewall against undue partisan pressure on programming content.          

Moyers himself, who worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson and witnessed the creation of both PBS and CPB, weighed in two weeks later, at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis, in which he defended NOW and attacked the agenda of Tomlinson and his cohorts on the right. Moyers noted, "We're seeing unfold a contemporary example of the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch, to punish, the journalist who tells the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable."

It's not just responsible and conscientious journalists who tell these stories; it's ordinary citizens like Tony Comes--an Ohio-based firefighter and devoted Catholic who challenged the Toledo Diocese for covering up a long pattern of sexual abuse perpetuated by some of its priests--and Shelby Knox--a Lubbock, Texas high school student and Christian who questioned the conservative mores of the local school board and its stance on sex education. These individuals star, respectively, in Twist of Faith (Kirby Dick, dir.; Eddie Schmidt, prod.) and The Education of Shelby Knox (Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt, dirs./prods.), both of which air in June, on HBO and on PBS' P.O.V. series. 

As the far right continues its crusade to infiltrate public institutions, from the US Congress to school boards to IMAX theaters to public television, may we as filmmakers and firefighters alike continue to tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White