This sort of thing has become an obsession with the well-funded Christian right. First it was a cohabiting Bert and Ernie, then a purse carrying Tinky Winky, then Barney the purple (heavens!) dinosaur. Now, they've fixed their crosshairs on a hand holding Spongebob and progressively minded Buster.
Are we so numb as a nation to allow James Dobson, Margaret Spelling, Don Wildmon, Brent Bozell and the other blinkered nincompoops to set the moral agenda? Their pseudo-righteous rantings make for mainstream news fodder -- and, frighteningly, have compelled timid politicians and broadcasters to act -- but its time we as a still free people started talking back. To start, take note of speakspeak.org. It's still in beta, but this grassroots reply to the uber-prigs may be the shape of good things to come. People for the American Way are often out front defending diversity in our media as well, as is our friend Gloria Tristani at the United Church of Christ. Sadly, we can no longer count on the shrinking violets at PBS to do the same.
And that's what is especially worrying about this instance. The involvement now of a cabinet-level administration official has had a profound impact on the Corproation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. Eric Boehlert writes in Salon:
But for PBS insiders and longtime supporters, the skirmish, and the speed with which PBS backed down in the face of threats from the Bush administration, mark a new low point for the broadcasting institution and a dangerous development for the public. Low because the content of the "Buster" episode was so innocuous. And dangerous because it highlights the inside-the-Beltway environment in which PBS is forced to operate, where funding concerns often trump programming decisions, and the fear of upsetting conservatives has become a driving force.Jonathan Rintels of Creative Voices in the Media put it this way: "If you're a parent, this sorry censoring by Spellings should make you afraid for your children, not reassured. For free expression in this country, a core value every parent teaches his child, is under attack by those in power responsible for our nation's educational system."
Here's something you can do today: Let Margaret Spellings know what you think of her first act as a cabinet member by using this Focus on the Family form to send her a letter. Focus on the Family provided this function so their retrograde members could praise Spellings for being intolerant like them. You can use it to send the opposite message. Here's my letter to Spellings:
Dear Secretary Spellings,Let her have it and then post a copy of your letter into the comment thread below.
I am writing to criticize your shameful effort to block the airing of the "Postcards from Buster" episode that features a lesbian-run household. It is incumbent upon our media to portray the diversity of lifestyles that make up America's great democracy. Your attempt to cut this episode and appease intolerant and un-American members of the right wing does a grave disservice to our country and Constitution.
Do not waste another cent of taxpayers' money on such silly and narrow-minded endeavors. If this is what we are to expect from you going forward, please resign your post effective immediately.
A free America will not allow you to serve our country in such a disgraceful fashion.
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2-01-05 Update: WGBH which produces "Postcards form Baxter" says at least 24 of the 349 PBS stations plan to air the show; many others are still deciding what to do. WGBH's vice president for children's programming, Brigid Sullivan, says the show is a "direct response to a request" from the Ready to Learn program, which PBS administers on behalf of Spellings' DoE, for a show about "diversity and tolerance in modern America for school-age children."
In the 40 Buster episodes that were made, families have included Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and evangelical Christians. "The show is about children," Sullivan says. "It's not about their parents. It's about letting children validate children as children, regardless of the family they live in."
Natatcha Estebanez, a co-producer of the Buster show told the Boston Globe: "In the context of the whole CBS controversy, it's easy to say 'OK, we'll back down.' . . . This is not the most creative climate right now in television." Another producer Pierre Valette added, "There was always intensive pride when you walked in the door at WGBH. Now there are just goosebumps."
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2-01-05 Update: In a related and equally worrisome development, conservative media watchdog Accuracy in Media has called on public television and radio to give up their $400 million in taxpayer subsidies. AIM Editor Cliff Kincaid says that it is obvious that the liberal media are only against taxpayer subsidies for journalists when they are conservative. This, of course is a feeble attempt to deflect negative coverage away from the payola pundit scandal involving Republican columnists accepting government money to shill for White House policies. Is this just a transparent conservative ploy of drawing false equivalences and deflect attention from the real matter at hand? Watch this development carefully. While it appears ridiculous on the surface, it may become part of their "liberal-media" mantra as defense against the mountain of evidence that suggests our mainstream media is nothing of the sort.