The Usual Suspects And The Usual Spin
Frontline has a big four part series on the news rolling out. Producer Raney Anderson journeyed to California to make the case for why I ought to participate, and I declined. I spent a decade inside the PBS system, and while I think Ms. Anderson is a talented and sincere documentarian, the form is inherently biased as the moment a cut gets made, an editorial choice has been rendered, and I didn’t trust a PBS team, however talented, to make those choices about what I have to say about media, new and old.
I was open to being persuaded, though, and made a sincere offer to Ms. Anderson: She could come on my radio show, discuss the series with me, her objectives and her methods, and then I would run a web-based poll asking my listeners if I should participate. I would agree to abide by their vote.
This bit of applied transparency intrigued Ms. Anderson, but was ultimately declined. The negotiations were interesting and good humored. I did provide many other suggestions. We parted on good terms. A few months later, Ms. Anderson –a very persistent producer– tried again, and even dangled the prospect of having the series’ host, Lowell Bergman, appear on my program. I declined. With most docs, it is the producer and director who matter most, and I had offered to allow the team to film the entire radio show on which they appeared.
Bergman also said he tried to talk to several conservative radio personalities, including Hugh Hewitt. But Hewitt said he would only agree to appear if Bergman and a “Frontline” producer went on his radio program first and, after that, only if his audience voted that he should do an interview for the series. Bergman and “Frontline” did not take him up on his offer.
This strains at the limits of even “technically true” as I have never spoken to Mr. Bergman, and even if one takes an expansive approach to what it means to say that “he tried,” the graph does not in any way fairly reflect the long conversations I had with Ms. Anderson or the assistance I provided, or the fact that they would have been allowed to film the radio show conversation.
I am hard pressed to consider why I even came up in this conversation Mr. Bergman had with Melanie McFarland. I am not in the series, and I have written nothing about it. But having been as helpful as possible, and as open to cooperation that I could be, I am disappointed that there appears to be some bitterness there.
But I have to say that old media’s insistence that new media play by its rules is outdated. It is too bad that PBS is still mired in the old ways, producing all the usual shows from all the usual suspects.
And still spinning every step of the way.
Frontline has an extensive and public list of its “Guidelines on Journalistic Standards and Practices.” There’s quite a lot about “fairness” in there. Do they apply to post-production promotion?