TV Eye

Sanitized for your protection

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas, natch)  thinks we 
need to have safeguards to prevent reporters from 
infusing their opinions into news reports.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas, natch) thinks we "need to have safeguards to prevent reporters from infusing their opinions into news reports."

This from the "don't get me started" files.

I came across an article titled "Barton Wants to Investigate TV News," by Bill McConnell, in the Sept. 28 issue of Broadcasting & Cable:

"Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, told a TV engineering trade group in Washington that TV news operations 'need to have safeguards to prevent reporters from infusing their opinions into news reports.'" To spearhead this effort, he wants to hold "hearings on the TV news divisions' editing practices" after the presidential election.

It appears Barton's idea is inspired by the egg-on-their-faces incident Dan Rather and CBS news were sheepishly mopping up after when the sources provided to challenge President George W. Bush's service in the National Guard turned out to be faulty.

The article continues, "Barton said that Congress might need to pass some kind of legislation requiring TV news operations to instill safeguards, but backed away from the threat of legislation when asked to give specifics."

Where to begin?

Well, let's start with the Fox News Network. One has to wonder, with the network's conservative, pro-Bush slant and a predilection for playing loose and fast with facts, will it be first on Barton's radar? Somehow, I doubt it. But that's not the jaw-dropping aspect of his suggestion. The bigger issue is, since when is it the government's job to monitor newsroom activities when, as Barton seems to have forgotten, it is the role of the media to interrogate the government (and other powerful entities) on behalf of the public?

If Barton or any other legislator is looking to be a defender of truth and democracy (or truth in democracy), why not do something useful? Help dismantle the Commission on Presidential Debates, the entity that, with the input of participating candidates and their parties, "sanitize[s] the debate format [and] exclude[s] popular voices, to avoid discussing critical issues," according to George Farah, founder of the nonpartisan organization Open Debates. Farah was a recent guest on NOW With Bill Moyers (PBS, Friday nights at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm), where he reminded us why the League of Women Voters dropped their sponsorship of the presidential debates in 1988:

"The parties were sick and tired of a women's organization telling their boys who they had to participate with, in what format, with whom, and what questions would have to be asked," Farah said. "Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush negotiated the first Memorandum of Understanding in 1988 and handed it to the league." The league refused to comply, dropped their sponsorship of the presidential debates, and from there, the "nonpartisan" Commission on Presidential Debates was born, forged by the Republican and Democratic parties.

For a full and highly illuminating transcript of the Farah interview, and to see a copy of this year's Memorandum of Understanding – revealed to the public for the first time in 16 years – go to the NOW page at www.pbs.org.

As I said at the top of this column, don't get me started. But just in case Barton, his cronies, and any other legislators have forgotten, they are not gods. They are public servants. If they are looking for real and productive projects to take on, on behalf of the American people, here's my working list from a media watcher's perspective:

The FCC

The PATRIOT Act

Legislating morality on TV and elsewhere

Media conglomeration

The public impact of the switch to digital TV in 2006

As always, stay tuned.


What Else Is On?

Following the success of her droll Journeys With George, Alexandra Pelosi turned her camera on her two-year road trip following Democratic presidential hopefuls. The result is Diary of a Political Tourist. Featured are John Kerry, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, Bob Graham, and Howard Dean.

Diary of a Political Tourist airs on HBO Oct. 14, 16, 20, 26, and 31 and Nov. 2. Check local listings for times and additional air dates.


Access TV

Professor Griffin's Midnight Shadow Show now airs at a new time: Friday nights at midnight on cable Channel 16. Go to www.midnightshadowshow.com for show info.

On the Spot is the newest locally produced show to join the cable Channel 16 lineup. Hosted by Jet Baker and Roni Caudill, the show features local actors participating in the time-honored tradition of improv. It's not always pretty, but what else do you have going on Sunday nights at 8:30pm?


And Finally

You'll always be Superman to me, Christopher Reeve. Fly, baby, fly.

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