Bill Moyers PBS Special Trade Secrets Lacks Balance

Too important for balance? Or too afraid of allowing viewers to hear a contrasting interpretation? Last week the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz revealed that a Bill Moyers special on PBS about the evils of the chemical industry, which aired last night in most markets, does not include one second in its 90 minutes from any chemical industry representative. Instead, Moyers relegated any balance to a 30-minute panel discussion afterward in which two industry spokesmen will have to fight it out with some antagonists.

An excerpt from Kurtz’s March 22 story:

Bill Moyers, the dogged crusader of public television, is about to air a typically tough exposé on the chemical industry.

But unlike the most routine news story, the 90-minute documentary includes not a single comment from the industry under fire. Instead, Moyers has invited two industry officials to play defense in a panel discussion after the program.

“We're looking at this as Bill Moyers, media icon, statesman: Why isn't he including us in a story that's going to have a big impact on us?” said Terry Yosie, vice president of the American Chemical Council. “We just want a fair shake.”

But Moyers, noting that his report is based on hundreds of thousands of pages of industry documents, said yesterday: “It's not that kind of story. We designed the special to include them from the beginning, but in the half-hour that follows the reportage. These documents exist. They are fact. They are not a matter of opinion or conjecture. We wanted to lay the record down, and then we want the industry to respond to the whole.”

Yosie and his colleagues have peppered Moyers and PBS with letters complaining about their exclusion in an effort to change the “Trade Secrets” documentary before it airs Monday night….

Despite the exclusion, Yosie said he and another industry official would join PBS's taped panel discussion. “He's trying to make a comparison between our industry and the tobacco industry — that we're secretive, deceptive, covering up information,” Yosie said. “If we don't show up, that's going to reinforce a message he's trying to peddle that we're tobacco-like. We think we can hold our own.”…

The documentary, which includes interviews with people affected by vinyl chloride, draws on an archive of “secret” and “confidential” documents unearthed in a lawsuit by the widow of a Louisiana chemical worker.

A 1959 memo to B.F. Goodrich, for example, says vinyl chloride “is going to produce rather appreciable injury when inhaled seven hours a day, five days a week for an extended period.”…

Should industry officials have been allowed to weigh in? “Sure, we could have interviewed them and cut them down to fit my notion of what I wanted,” Moyers said. “But that would have been unfair.”…

Moyers…is comfortable with his approach. “If I had given it to them too far in advance, they would have tried to do what industry has always done” — launch a preemptive strike against the broadcast. “The documents are the story, not the debate about the documents.”

Kurtz pointed out that the American Chemical Council has set up a Web site with its letters of complaint to PBS and Moyers:

(This report courtesy of the Media Research Center.)

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage