Mitchell Stands By Buster Call

PBS president Pat Mitchell said she has no regrets over her decision not to distribute an episode of Postcards from Buster that featured a visit to a family headed by a lesbian couple.

“I wouldn’t inject PBS stations into a culture war they did not start and cannot stop,” she told American Women in Radio and Television Friday. The group was holding its annual meeting in Washington.

PBS in early February decided not to distribute the episode, "Sugar Time," after it, and the Department of Education that funds the majority of the series, had reservations about the “two mommy” family featured in Buster's visit to Vermont for a maple sugar primer.

WGBH, which produced the show, went ahead and aired the show Feb. 2 along with a handful someother stations that obtained the episode directly from WGBH.

Mitchell said she decided against distributing the show to all PBS stations because allowing a kids show to wade into the middle of a societal fight would detract from public broadcasting’s primary missions: education and providing an oasis for children. “We think we made the right decision. It was not an easy one.”

Mitchell also gave her thoughts on the status of women in the media and America’s executive ranks.

She voiced particular pride that 60% of PBS executive positions are held by women, including chief financial officer, general counsel, chief technology officer and media relations chief.

Mitchell, the first woman to head a U.S. broadcast network, said American media could repair the damage to its reputation inflicted by the divisive rhetoric voiced so frequently on commercial outlets if more tapped the unique points of view female executives could provide. “We are dangerously close in the media to losing the public trust.” Women, she said, should speak up for responsible journalism and against the partisanship that turns citizens away from the media.

Mitchell, who announced two weeks ago she will step down when her contract ends 2006, had some words of sympathy for Carly Fiorina, the embattled Hewlitt-Packard CEO who was recently fired.

Mitchell has endured her share of well-publicized tangles too, most notably with conservatives in Congress who think PBS programming is too liberal and with folks on the left angered by public TV’s efforts to put more conservatives on the air. “The press turned [Fiorina] into a celebrity,” Mitchell said, “They also took her down when she was vulnerable.”