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November 30, 2005
by Gordon E. Finley, Ph.D.

In airing Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories, PBS tragically has chosen to play the Dan Rather role in tonight's performance of "How to Lose the Public Trust."

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) web site states that "in selecting programs and other content for its services, PBS seeks the highest quality available. Selection decisions require professional judgments about many different aspects of content quality, including but not limited to excellence, creativity, artistry, accuracy, balance, fairness, timeliness, innovation, boldness, thoroughness, credibility, and technical virtuosity."

Over the years, PBS has aired many wonderful programs, such as the NOVA series, that have met those standards. However, with the recent airing of Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories, PBS not only clearly has lost its way but it has sled down the slippery slope of ideology so that one is left with nothing but fraudulent propaganda. Big Bird and Gordon, where were you when we needed you?

Numerous commentators have pointed out the slanted viewpoint, deceptions, and bizarre "statistics" presented in this program. Yet PBS continues to distribute and defend this program. How sad that PBS has chosen to cast itself as Dan Rather in his career-ending role as the newsman who refused to accept that he had broadcast a blatantly fraudulent program. Welcome to PBSgate.

What can PBS do to salvage its reputation? The production and airing of Breaking the Silence is so far from the lofty claims of its website that it is not at all clear that PBS can restore the public trust in its programming. If PBS wishes to try, however, it must do the following:

First, PBS must acknowledge that the critics of the program are correct, and that something went terribly wrong with its production and internal review process that allowed this massively flawed program to be aired. A candid and forthright acknowledgement is the first step.

Second, PBS must apologize to those harmed by the airing of this program -- the children and fathers of divorce along with the many individuals and organizations slandered. This would include individual fathers libeled by this program and the American Psychological Association (APA) whose position on the Parental Alienation Syndrome was so maligned that the APA issued a public statement labeling the PBS position as "incorrect."

Third, PBS must counter the disinformation of its original broadcast and make restitution for the harm it has done. To do this, PBS must fund, produce, and broadcast a truly balanced and top quality program on the same subject that includes those voices silenced by Breaking the Silence -- the voices of the children and the fathers of divorce.

Fourth, PBS must strive to correct its internal review process to ensure that this lapse into propaganda does not happen again. As one who has viewed Breaking the Silence, I find it incomprehensible how any competent review panel could have approved this program. Even my 15 year old daughter who viewed part of the program with me immediately recognized most of the flaws.

Fifth, and lastly, everyone involved in this project must be held transparently accountable. PBS should put all parties involved in the production, internal review, and support of this program -- from top to bottom -- under review with an an eye to dismissal for foisting propaganda rather than truth and balance on a trusting public.

Gordon E. Finley, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Florida International University in Miami.

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