PBS Ombud: Tea Party Interview a 'Public Relations Win' For Dick Armey

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler posted a critique of a recent NewsHour approach to covering the Tea Party.

Getler noted that the news program's effort to provide interviews with competing commentators, Arianna Huffington on the left and Dick Armey on the right, didn't work.

He writes, in part:

In the segment with Armey, NewsHour correspondent Judy Woodruff told viewers that this was the first of a two-part series of book conversations with thinkers on both sides of the political spectrum and that “a very different perspective . . . a conversation with liberal Democrat Arianna Huffington” about her new book would be coming soon. The Huffington interview with correspondent Gwen Ifill aired Sept. 16.

One of the benefits of the NewsHour is that it has the time for this kind of series, allowing more in-depth exploration of supposedly opposing views, and I've always advocated that viewers judge a news program or publication on the continuity of its coverage of a subject rather than on an individual segment.

But this time it didn't work, in my view. Woodruff is a good interviewer and managed to get in some brief but telling questions, although there was no discussion of Tea Party funding that was the focus of most of the e-mail to me. The “series” turned out, it seemed to me, to be a big public relations win for Armey as mostly a platform for his views, while Huffington's main point was that “the solutions are beyond left and right” and spent as much or more time bashing the Obama administration, aside from noting that the problems grew from “obviously a failure of the Bush years.”

One is that Huffington may be labeled as “a liberal Democrat,” but she and her widely viewed website strike me, as a reader, as an equal-opportunity critic. Armey is not. There are plenty of sharp, critical assessments of the Democratic Party and administration on her site. For me, this fits into a purely anecdotal sense that I have that much of mainstream television coverage for some time now is more from a center-right starting point than left-center-right, where far more talking heads and pundits that are described as liberal or left-of-center, actually are closer to the center and just as likely to criticize the left as the right. That is usually not the case, at least as it seems to me, with conservative or right-of-center guests and pundits.