Moyers: PBS Burying 'Prime' Impeachment Coverage

Ex-Noncom newsman Bill Moyers and his former senior writer, Michael Winship, continued to hammer PBS over the weekend on its coverage plans for the public impeachment hearings of President Trump starting Wednesday (Nov. 13).

PBS plans to cover the hearings live during the day, then repeat them on its WORLD digital subchannel at night, the digital channel carried by 157 public television stations (covering 64.4% of U.S. TV households) a PBS spokesperson told Broadcasting & Cable Friday (Nov. 8).

Winship and Moyers had called on the network in a blog post and New York Times ad last week to re-air the hearings on television at night for folks who had to work and couldn't watch during the day, as it had done with the Nixon impeachment hearings on Watergate back in the 1970's. The digital subchannel rebroadcast, which is TV but not noncom stations' main TV channel, did not cut it for the pair, who weighed in again with a blog post Saturday (Nov. 9).

"[I]f after working all day you want to sit down in front of your TV set to watch all the testimony for or against President Trump during the prime time hours, you’ll have to go to a digital subchannel called WORLD," they wrote, "which is difficult to find if not impossible to receive in many communities where there is inadequate access to cable, satellite or the internet. We wager most of you have never even heard of it. Or watched the many public affairs programs sent there to die.

"Announcing the PBS plan for hearings coverage on Friday, a spokesperson took pains to remind us old fogies that, “We live in a vastly different media universe than we did 45+ years ago," Moyers (85) and Winship (68) wrote. "In today’s on demand world, we will ensure that Americans have access to the replay of the hearings when and how they want to view them. Close but no cigar, PBS...This language legerdemain obscures the truth. PBS plans to do exactly what they intended all along: live broadcasts of the hearings side-by-side with commercial networks during the day and business as usual in the evening. Nature, Great Performances, Antiques Roadshow (seen twice in one night on some stations) and the rest blithely will roll along as if nothing momentous is happening, as if American politics aren’t breaking down, as if the American experiment in democracy isn’t paralyzed.

"No, PBS is saying under its breath, we will not repeat the House hearings on a familiar, convenient public channel available to all. By thus failing to offer an alternative to the profit-hungry commercial networks in prime time, we suspect most Americans will miss the hearings in the day and at night many will go to their respective partisan corners on MSNBC or Fox."

The pair also sent a letter to the heads of PBS stations making their pitch for prime time coverage.

The House Intelligence committee has scheduled two hearings this week, Wednesday's will feature Ambassador William Taylor and deputy assistant secretary George Kent. Taylor is the chargé d'affaires for the State Department in Ukraine. Kent is deputy assistant secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau at State. Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has said Taylor's testimony establishes the quid pro quo --U.S. aid for a Ukrainian investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden--that the President has vociferously denied. He also says Kent's testimony buttresses that of others on the quid pro quo.

On Friday (Nov. 15) the witness is former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch.

PBS had no comment.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.