(Updated) Why is Public Television against public schools?

I’ve written off and on about PBS, NPR and the fact that these self-styled “public” media outlets appear to have been captured by the billionaires (like James Tisch and David Koch) who control the major content-producing stations — WNET in New York, WGBH in Boston and WETA in Washington.

But wait, there’s more. Thanks to the Stars Hollow Gazette, we find this, from Peter Dreier at Huffington Post (my emphasis and paragraphing):

Why Is Public Television Against Public Schools?

You’d think that that public television would support public education, but you’d be wrong. The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) has gotten in bed with the billionaires and conservatives who want to privatize our public schools.

Money doesn't talk; it buys everything in sight.

Money doesn’t talk; it buys everything in sight, like PBS.

PBS has nary a word to say about the big money — from folks like the Walton family (Walmart), Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Eli Broad, business titan and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein (former NYC schools chancellor and now a Murdoch employee), and their ilk — that has been funding the attack on public schools and teachers unions. They’ve donated big bucks to advocacy groups, think tanks, and candidates for school boards who echo the their party line.

[But] PBS and its local stations have fallen all over themselves to promote “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary film that could easily been mistaken for a commercial on behalf of charter schools. In contrast, missing from the lineups on most PBS affiliates is a remarkable new documentary film, “Go Public,” about the day in the life of a public school system in California. The film celebrates public schools without ignoring their troubles. Americans who care about public schools should contact their local PBS affiliates and urge them to broadcast “Go Public.”

And a list of PBS’s “crimes” against truth in education advocacy:

On PBS, there’s a virtual broadcast blackout of major critics of this assault on public education. One of them is historian Diane Ravitch, author of ten books about education …

PBS has failed to report on, much less investigate, one of the most well-funded political campaigns in the last few decades — the propaganda crusade to disparage public schools and public school teachers. …

The billionaires supply the money but others do most of the talking. The chief cheerleaders include Michelle Rhee (former Washington, D.C. school chief who now runs Schools First, a corporate-funded lobby group), Wendy Kopp (founder of Teach for America), Geoffrey Canada (founder of Harlem Children’s Zone), [Obama’s hand-picked] Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Klein. They routinely get to spew their propaganda on PBS. …

One horrid, telling example of the intersection of big money, charter schools and anti-public school propaganda:

Should you be financing the "new PBS"? Let the billionaires do that.

Should you be financing the “new PBS”?
Let the billionaires do that.

Last month, for example, Families for Excellent Schools — a pro-charter school group funded by the Walton family (Walmart heirs) and Wall Street financiers — spent $3.6 million on TV ads over a three-week period to attack New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his opposition to giving charter schools free space in the city’s public schools. The ringleader of this business-funded lobby is Eva Moskowitz, a former NYC councilwoman who operates 22 city charter schools with millions of dollars in assets and earns a $475,000 salary.

And there’s more; read the article for all that PBS does to promote the billionaire anti-public education agenda. What’s really going on? Last quote; Dreier nails it here:

The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call “school reform.” What they’re really after is not “reform” (improving our schools for the sake of students) but “privatization” (business control of public education).

All you need to know.

Did PBS sleep next to a pod?

I think PBS went to sleep in the Reagan 80s, and woke up next to a pod. We’re watching — and financing — the result, as if the “old PBS” were still alive.

It isn’t. And about that financing … don’t. Let the billionaires spend their own money to keep their “public” propaganda machine oiled. Don’t you do it. I’m serious — stop financing PBS today.

If you’re interested in the documentary mentioned above, “Go Public”, the trailer is here. Enjoy.

Update: For a note about terminology, see this good comment. The key idea is that the major “public television” stations, like WNET, WGBH and WETA, as noted above, create content (programs) that are made available by PBS, the distributor, to all “public television” stations, who decide what to run. Frontline, for example, is produced at WGBH. That horrible anti-pension propaganda series Pension Peril was produced by WNET and run on News Hour. If you think WGBH is “clean,” think again. David Koch sits on their Board of Directors.

So what is “public television”? It’s the whole thing. In other words, they’re all in bed with each other. My point stands — don’t give money to any public television entity involved in the promotion of billionaire propaganda, like that described here. Don’t give to WGBH until David Koch resigns.

If you want to keep Bill Moyers in business, or Terry Gross, give to them directly.


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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58 Responses to “(Updated) Why is Public Television against public schools?”

  1. GreatLakeSailor says:

    Petroleum Broadcasting System

  2. Dwight says:

    Ah yes, one documentary equates with a lifetime of programming for education and a current amount of educational programming that expends more time per day airing educational programs than any teacher spends in a classroom. You want one documentary that counters another documentary and that is your case against public stations that have a lifetime of educational programming. Gain some insight into the subject matter before you add more prose to your narrow view of what public TV stations do for education. You, as so many writers today, lack context and an understanding of what you are writing about and it is sad to see.

  3. Dwight says:

    OK, you can step out of your conspiracy pod for a moment. If you wanted PBS to produce it you would have to give PBS the money that Murdock allows Fox to spend for it. It was a bidding war and Fox has more money. Pretty simple stuff especially if you understand the difference in the amounts of money each have available to spend.

  4. caphillprof says:

    There are no “liberals” at the WaPo or the DNC. And very few remaining at PBS which now leans right

  5. Public Television Gal says:

    Dear Gaius,
    I very much appreciate your updated version of this blog.
    Have a fantastic weekend,

  6. HelenRainier says:

    Understood — I just think it’s an interesting juxtaposition.

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    To be clear, I don’t say that there are no liberals or conservatives. In real life there are liberal and conservative politicians and parties and they are both right wing.

    Some are worse on this or that issue, but on the whole both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans largely peruse the same politics – wars of aggression, racsim, particularly against immigrant and imported workers (but also against one and other, like the racism of the Clintons against Obama), union busting, opposition to health care reform. support for austerity measures and ceaseless, rabid attacks on the standard of living of working people.

    Leftist, if the term is to have any real meaning, is comprised of socialists who want an end to capitalism and the emerging labor left which is moving in that direction. People who don’t want to end capitalism are not part of the left, they’re centrists like the American Greens or rightists like politicians from the Democrat, Libertarian and Republican parties

  8. 4th Turning says:

    Admitting to curiosity-as good as dry matches tucked away in our backpacks.

  9. Naja pallida says:

    Fox has the ‘updated’ Cosmos because it’s produced by their goose that laid the golden egg, Seth MacFarlane. But Fox Television doesn’t have the generalized bias that Fox Noise does.

  10. Ang says:

    It’s a piddly detail, but Schoolhouse Rock (and the I’m Just a Bill short referenced in your illustration) was run on ABC on Saturday mornings. It isn’t PBS educational programming.

  11. Naja pallida says:

    They’re not wrong. You’ve said it yourself a hundred times. There are no real liberals in our public discourse… no real conservatives either. They’re almost all selfish plutocrats, out to line their own pockets by any means necessary. We find it convenient to give them the left and right labels, but that doesn’t make it true.

  12. Bill_Perdue says:

    Oddly enough, whenever I criticize liberals like those at the Washington Post or PBS or the DNC someone says ‘Oh, but they’re not really liberals’.

  13. caphillprof says:

    Your view of PBS as being liberal is several decades out of date. It’s increasingly filled with questionable right-wing content including Christian programming.

  14. Houndentenor says:

    I have to admit now that I had to google the quote. I think I know the quote from Truman Capote (played by Robert Morse) quoting it in the Broadway play “Tru”. (I could be misremembering.) I was about to attribute it to Capote so I’m glad I checked.

  15. HelenRainier says:

    How strange it is — 35 years ago it was PBS that brought us the original Cosmos with Dr. Carl Sagan, and now Fox is bringing us the updated Cosmos with Dr. Neil Tyson.

  16. 4th Turning says:

    And they get the best seats in the house. Glad you appreciated my
    literary ref. Weird how the insight, synthesis, wisdom found in literature,
    biography, history seem not to matter too much in forming character and/or
    consciousness. (The Tasmanian aborigines were quite literally exterminated)


  17. Houndentenor says:

    Agreed. I’d also like to watch some best of options from other countries. I watched German television when I lived there. I suppose those of us interested in what goes on in the world and not just in America are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to entertainment. Fortunately most newspapers worldwide are available online. Sometimes they are the only way to find out what is going on as our own media seems to avoid anything that is actually substantive.

  18. Houndentenor says:

    F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was raised in an era not that unlike our own in which the disparity between rich and poor was at an all time high (a high it’s on its way back to and may have already arrived). He moved among such people because he was smart and could tell a good story, but he was never one of them. Truman Capote had a similar experience although Capote made the mistake of thinking that being accepted into their world meant they thought he was one of them. He learned that the morning after the publication of “La Cote Basque” in Esquire magazine. Fitzgerald never made that mistake.

  19. Public Television Gal says:

    Two more points, many Public Television stations are owned and operated by public universities and others work closely with K-12 schools. And most have Educational Outreach departments that offer teacher trainings, educational resources, etc.

  20. emjayay says:

    Exactly. Like mentioned above, with Reagan public TV went to corporate funding and started the quasi-commercials. They do have a lot more money than they did before, but like we both are saying, there is going to be some catering going on in exchange.

  21. Public Television Gal says:

    You are very welcome!

  22. ComradeRutherford says:

    Which makes it even more hilarious!

  23. emjayay says:

    It’s most of what I watch. There’s a lot of good stuff on public TV stations.

  24. emjayay says:

    “Propaganda” to Americans is mainly synonymous with “Communist Propaganda” so accusing NPR of being propaganda to most Americans sounds like it’s extremely and rigidly liberal, which is what they think already and also wrong.

  25. emjayay says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

  26. Public Television Gal says:

    A great nation deserves the truth! There are some misnomers going on here. As a Public Television Specialist, I wish to tell you that PBS is not synonymous with Public Television. PBS is the largest distributor of programs to Public Television stations, there are other distributors of programs to these stations as well. Some Public Television stations don’t even buy PBS’ programming, like KCET in Los Angeles. Public Television is a category of TV station licensed by the FCC. There are hundreds of programs available to Public Television stations each year, each individual, local station gets to choose what they air and what they don’t air–for the most part. Most try to serve their local audiences, so their programs schedules differ widely from one another. They are not a real TV network, like in the case of CBS, NBC, ABC. I hope you don’t equate PBS with the over 200 local PTV stations in our country. Thank you.

  27. ComradeRutherford says:

    And NPR changed their name to National Propaganda Radio.

  28. Naja pallida says:

    I figured it was Plutocrat Broadcasting System. Thanks for clearing that up.

  29. BeccaM says:

    Heck, I’d give anything to have access to the full range of BBC programming, in real-time, not just the utterly unwatchable low-res version of ‘BBC America’ offered by DirecTV.

    Their series programming is light years beyond the dreck on U.S. television.

  30. 4th Turning says:

    “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft when we are hard, and cynical when we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”

  31. Houndentenor says:

    I also remember when Logo ran gay-themed programming.

    None of those specialty channels had enough viewers and therefore didn’t make enough money. At least SciFi and the dignity to rebrand (although I suppose that was to increase viewership more than it was designed to provide a more accurate descriptor. There is undoubtedly a larger audience for idiotic reality shows than there is for educational programming. I wish someone would bring the Arte channel from Germany and France to the US but I doubt the dozens of viewers that would attract would justify the cost.

  32. ComradeRutherford says:

    When they first came on the air, my Jewish friends called it the Hitler Channel…

  33. ComradeRutherford says:

    They changed their name years ago. The acronym now stands for Propaganda Broadcasting System.

  34. cole3244 says:

    just like fox, cnn, cnbc, and others i stopped watching pbs years ago.

    this country has tilted so far right that progressive means to the left of the rw crazies, liberal is a label hardly anyone has the courage to use in today’s political climate of course climate is a different argument all together and eventually will make everything else irrelevant.

  35. 2karmanot says:

    Worse, SYFY was/is rabidly homophobic.

  36. Indigo says:

    BBC might be a covert RW machine but they carry Dr. Who so there’s that.

  37. Indigo says:

    PBS? Maybe some old ex-graduate students are still watching it but really . . . PBS?

  38. Dave Bright says:

    “liberal” in the sense that facts always seem to have a liberal bias ;)

  39. BeccaM says:

    I remember how, not that long ago, the plethora of theme-named cable channels actually described what they broadcast. The History Channel had history-based programs…albeit a lot of WWII stuff, but still. The Learning Channel was about learning.

    And of course my own pet peeve, The SciFi channel actually was mostly science fiction and fantasy. (When they started broadcasting wrestling shows on Fridays, I knew the end was nigh… then they rebranded as ‘SyFy’ and gave up any pretense of being anything other than a schlock channel. And sadly, there’s more SF on the Science channel than anywhere else, which means even less room for actual, y’know, science.)

  40. BeccaM says:

    Well this country in particular has entirely lost the sense of ‘for the public good.’

  41. BeccaM says:

    It is neither ‘irresponsible’ nor ‘irrational’ to suggest stopping the donations when our individual hundred buck donations are outweighed by millions from the plutocrats.

    There is at this time literally no point in refraining from giving up on PBS because it stopped being anything like a ‘public’ media outlet in the 1980s, when corporate foundation money replaced the former government subsidies. You can thank Reagan and the Republicans for that, by the way.

    Personally, I’m in favor of both donation AND viewership boycotts. The plutocrats won’t be so crazy about throwing their money away if nobody watches “The Farm Report – sponsored by Archer Daniels Midland.”

    The entire PBS scheme has turned into commercial TV — albeit of a slightly different flavor.

  42. BeccaM says:

    PBS and NPR (and the other ‘public’ broadcast networks) died when the government funding dried up and corporate money was allowed to replace it, along with the repeal of any particular broadcast content requirements.

  43. Naja pallida says:

    Many studies have been done, and conveniently ignored. They have repeatedly found that most things that are privatized, but still funded by public money, are either worse or not significantly better than their publicly operated equivalent at accomplishing the same tasks. The only major difference is that privatized entities almost universally cost significantly more. One of the most ridiculous, long-standing myths of privatization is that it saves tax payers money. It never ever does in the long run. Not to mention, privatization always result in less oversight, so there is never any accountability when they fail horribly and repeatedly. We don’t have to look any further than privatized prisons and privatized military services to see how it has cost us far more, in both lives and money. Privatizing public schools will be no different, and Texas is proving it.

  44. Houndentenor says:

    Still not as bad as something calling itself the History Channel that is nonstop conspiracy theory nonsense, but bad. Of course the PBS crowd seems fond of woo and anti-vax nonsense.

  45. Houndentenor says:

    It’s all about money. I’m in the arts. Yes, it’s about the art but none of that can exist without money and lots of it. No money; no art. I’m sorry if that sounds crass but it’s the reality and people too naive to understand that seem constantly bewildered at how the world really works. PBS is going to have to find other sources of funding (good luck with that) or cater to corporate agendas. You gotta dance with what brung ya, as the saying goes. Or you don’t get to dance.

  46. Elijah Shalis says:

    This is just one more reason not to ever donate to PBS or watch them. It is bad enough they have quack doctors on during the weekends peddling their brain, diabetes, Alzheimers, health solutions to the old and vulnerable.

  47. Houndentenor says:

    The Koch brothers are not social conservatives. They just want deregulation and tax cuts and in American that is bundled with anti-gay, sexist and racist agendas. You don’t get one without the other. So yes they seem not to have any problem with real science (dinosaurs and evolution and all that) or with gay employees (what do they care so long as they do their job well) they have no problem throwing those very same people and causes under the bus when it suits their main goals.

  48. Houndentenor says:

    In what sense is it liberal? It tends to be reality based. I applaud that. But I used to watch News Hour. No program has ever been more fair about presenting points of view. Is something liberal only because a real liberal appears on air even when sitting next to a conservative? Is that how far out of balanced our perception of liberal vs conservative has become?

  49. Houndentenor says:

    This has been going on for a LONG time. The practice of making big donations to or sponsoring programs on PBS to change it’s programming agenda to suit your own has been happening at least since the 1980s. It’s just more blatant and common now. I’m glad people are finally figuring this out. One wonders if Cosmos had been on PBS if they wouldn’t have bowed to pressure from right wing donors to accommodate creationist views on the program instead of dismissing them outright. The PBS people remember from the 70s has been dead for a long time. Constant replays of John Tesh concerts (blech) is what made me stop even bothering to see what programs they were airing.

  50. 4th Turning says:

    I dare say-for those of us buying into it, the inexorable slow motion collapse of planet Earth over the next 15 years, will best be photographed and documented by pbs and npr no matter how much they get squeezed. Tea party and their 80’s ancestors have already gotten a big head start on us with their own attempts to suffocate.

  51. 4th Turning says:

    Carnegie tried to buy respectability with his many libraries (the PBS of their day). He and his neighbors besides causing the Johnstown flood owned the america of their day.

    This from only a totally superficial google search:

    CKF underwrites research and teaching at Brown, Mount Holyoke, Sarah Lawrence, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Vassar, and some 245 other colleges. This includes a speaker series, reading group, and essay contest at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in Harry Reid’s home state. Koch Industries (which offers same-sex spousal benefits to its legally married employees) also donated $814,000 to the Kansas State University Office of Diversity to assist “historically under-represented students.”

    David Koch supports PBS’ documentary series “Nova.” He also is a paleo-philanthropist, having given $15 million to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for a Hall of Human Origins and another $35 million to update its fossil and dinosaur displays in Washington, D.C. New York’s American Museum of Natural History will enjoy a new Dinosaur Wing, thanks to David’s $20 million gift.

  52. 4th Turning says:

    I despair Diane losing her voice before her time on this Good Earth…

  53. Dave Bright says:

    GP, like it or not, TV will be, at least for the foreseeable future, the most influential media for public outreach. Conservatives know this very well and are taking advantage of this every chance they get. Do progressives abandon TV altogether? If not PBS then where should progressives make their stand-Youtube? Facebook? Blogs?

    This is definitely an interesting area of discussion. I hope to be able to read reactions from PBS insiders on their thoughts to get a better feel for what is going on.

  54. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    What really pisses me off about this crap and the way that it’s covered in the press is that the crucial assumption underlying the push to throw public money at private schools, the assumption that they’re better at educating than public schools, goes almost unexamined. It’s the same, really, with any tale of privatization.

  55. emjayay says:

    BBC programs include a lot of great soap/drama and detective shows. And there’s Frontline (you mentioned) and Nova. And Cosmos…oh wait the new one went to Fox.
    But of course with the major corporate/Koch funding of the modern PBS you have to expect a certain amount of impurity. I am in no way suggesting this is a good thing. It’s like American politics. Money isn’t the whole story, just a big part of the story and we are never willing to do what is necessary to do the structural changes necessary to do anything about it.
    What is just as bad to me on for instance WNET in NYC there are incessant quasi-commercials for for-profit hospitals and medical centers with million dollar CEO’s fleecing the public by exploiting their very human fears of death and pain.

  56. GaiusPublius says:

    Thanks, Dave, but not hyperbole. The part of PBS that isn’t opera and BBC is a covert RW propaganda machine. It’s far worse than most people imagine. We really do need to stop funding PBS and let the billionaires and foundations do it, if that’s the product they want to put out.

    This has been going on since the 80s, and now, at the level of the editors and producers, the network is almost totally captured. Yes, Moyers and Frontline. But WNET produced a long series on how public pensions (!) were killing America, a real Fix The Debt type propaganda job, and New Hour ran the thing until they got called on it. New Hour.

    I don’t think we can reform PBS, no more than we can reform CBS or NBC. They’ll do what they want and we’ll treat them like the not-friends they are, deal hard with them when we want to push for something, like better climate coverage, or this issue … stop pushing the billionaire takeover of public education.

    But for god’s sake, let’s not pay them to pass billionaire messages to us, with our money.

    Not hyperbole. Finally, ask yourself, if you stop funding PBS, what will happen? I don’t think you’ll affect them one way or the other. But your feelings will change, and maybe you’ll see that opera and British stuff for what it is, an opening act to get you in the door for the real, Koch-sponsored messages.


  57. Bill_Perdue says:

    Another confirmation that liberals, in this case the managers of PBS, almost always move right when the going gets tough. Those who don’t move right will just have to redefine themselves and move left with the majority.

  58. Dave Bright says:

    I understand that activism requires a certain degree of hyperbole to get the message across, but putting out a call to completely stop donating to PBS seems irresponsible and a bit irrational.

    Progressives need to try and hold the ground not throw our hands up and give up on PBS just because a few billionaire conservatives have made some inroads into upper management to promote their pet projects. If we do, we’ll be handing over one of the last remaining media outlets where the content is overwhelmingly produced by people that still believe and fight for progressive causes.

    I agree, we do need to fight back on the anti-public school messaging/promotion happening at PBS, but the vast majority of programming is still quite “liberal” and need our support more than ever.
    We should target the outrage not retreat in despair.

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