Following PBS president and CEO Pat Mitchell's February 15 announcement that she plans to resign from PBS, conservatives continued to attack a controversial episode of PBS' Postcards from Buster for its depiction of lesbian couples. The Buster episode titled “Sugartime!” features an animated rabbit visiting the children of two real-life families with lesbian parents in Vermont to learn how maple syrup is made. As The Washington Post noted, “In other episodes, Buster has met Mormons in Utah, the Hmong in Wisconsin, people from the Gullah culture in South Carolina, an Orthodox Jewish family and a Pentecostal Christian family.”
On MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway asserted that it's not an issue of “right versus left, but right versus wrong” and that people “don't want their kids looking at a cartoon with a bunch of lesbian mothers.” Conway cited recent state-level same-sex marriage bans recently passed in Oregon and Michigan -- states that went for Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election -- to back up her claim that "[i]t's not the right wing," but rather “regular Americans” who don't approve of homosexuality and PBS's depiction thereof. But recent polling data, as Media Matters for America has documented, contradicts Conway's claims about the level of acceptance towards homosexuality in the United States.
On FOX News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly compared Buster's visit to the Vermont families with lesbian parents to visiting “a bigamy situation in Utah” or “an S&M [sadism and masochism] thing in the East Village [of New York City].” O'Reilly also stated that Mitchell “washed her hands like Pontius Pilate” regarding PBS' decision to not distribute the episode. (In the Bible, Pilate presided at the trial of Jesus and gave the order for his crucifixion, then washed his hands in front of the crowd that demanded Jesus's crucifixion and said: “I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your responsibility” [Matthew 27:24].)
As Media Matters for America has noted, PBS said it decided not to distribute the episode to its affiliates “a couple of hours before” it was criticized by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, according to a Washington Post article. The Los Angeles Times reported on January 28 that "[a]lthough PBS won't distribute an episode of a children's program featuring a gay couple, local affiliates may air it." As a January 28 New York Times article noted: “Like the grown-ups in most of the episodes, the lesbian mothers in the 'Sugartime!' segment are mainly background.”
Mitchell announced on February 15 that she will not seek a third three-year term as president and CEO when her contract ends next year, but said her decision had “absolutely nothing” to do with the controversial Buster episode.
From the February 16 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
CONWAY: This endless banter about -- the endless banter about the right wing, the right-wing, the Christian right, the Christian right. Katrina [vanden Huevel, editor of The Nation and fellow guest], this is why your party is in complete disarray, because you just don't get it. Did you not read the last election results? Same-sex marriage failed in places like Oregon and Michigan, which Kerry handled -- he carried handily. It's not the right wing. It's people saying not right versus left, but right versus wrong. They don't want their kids looking at a cartoon with a bunch of lesbian mothers.
Are you attacking this nation's parents? It's not Jerry Falwell writing letters to PBS. It's regular Americans standing up and saying, “I fight hard all day. I work hard. I pay my dues. I try to protect my kids from outside, external influences corrupting their minds and their bodies.”
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL (The Nation editor): Kelly, do you have lesbian friends? Do you have lesbian friends?
CONWAY: Of course I do. Of course I do.
VANDEN HEUVEL: So why not represent the diversity of America on our television screens?
CONWAY: In a cartoon? In a cartoon?
VANDEN HEUVEL: The Democratic Party is not in disarray over the moral values issue.
CONWAY: In a cartoon on PBS? That's ridiculous.
From the February 16 edition of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Mr. Weber, Pat Mitchell could chuck GBH [WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate that produces Postcards from Buster] right out of the PBS system if she wanted to, OK?
JOE WEBER [Business Week correspondent]: I'm sure.
O'REILLY: I don't want to play these semantic games with anybody -- not you or anybody. She had power to say no Buster under the PBS banner, period.
WEBER: And what she said was she's not going to distribute Buster.
O'REILLY: Yes. She washed her hands like Pontius Pilate. Not good enough. And then she's taking flak from the left. Explain that to us.
WEBER: Well, what's interesting to me, Bill, about this is that she has actually -- she's in a no-win position. She is taking flak from the right clearly --
O'REILLY: On Buster.
WEBER: Obvious -- on Buster.
WEBER: Clearly you demonstrated that. She's also taking flak from the left because the left believes that they want shows like that to be aired. And they ought to be encouraged. Now that's their stance.
WEBER: She tried to walk a middle road here and say, OK, she's not going to distribute the show. GBH can distribute it if they want to. And local programming -- and this is why there's a crucial difference between a lot of public television stations and other type of network stations -- the local stations can choose to run the show or not.
WEBER: Whether PBS distributes it or whether GBH distributes it.
O'REILLY: But she got in trouble because the education secretary, Ms. Spellings, the new education secretary --
WEBER: That's correct.
O'REILLY: -- basically bawled her out and said, “We're not going to be kicking you $80 million in taxpayer money if you're going to have Buster the Bunny hop.” And not -- it's not only about homosexuality.
WEBER: That's right.
O'REILLY: I wouldn't want Buster hopping into a bigamy situation in Utah. I wouldn't want him hopping into an S&M thing in the East Village here. I think Buster should --
WEBER: There clearly are some lifestyles that are a little strange.
WEBER: I mean, there's no question.
O'REILLY: So, let's keep Buster out of the sexual realm in all areas. Wouldn't that be the best thing to do?
WEBER: Yes. And parents certainly are free to do that. And local stations are free to do that.
O'REILLY: All right.
WEBER: As I was about to say, 47 of the stations in fact chose to run it. The majority chose not to.