PBS Ombudsman Doesn’t See What the Big Deal Is With Plagiarism

Michael Getler, the ombudsman for PBS, heard from viewers upset that the frauds and plagiarists Mike Barnicle and Doris Kearns Goodwin were presented as talking heads in the new installment of Ken Burns’ baseball documentary. The ombudsman did not know what to think about this .

[T]his is, after all, baseball we are talking about. So as a viewer, the use of these two among many did not bother me.

Hey, it’s only baseball. Plus, the viewers who complained were anonymous, and Burns and his co-producer/director Lynn Novick told Getler that they do not respond to anonymous complaints. They have principles. Still, the outrage of the viewers was enough to send Getler down the self-reflexive rabbithole of ombudsmanship:

But the likelihood that it would bother some, and the fact that there are other very expressive potential interviewees out there, is important because it is the body of work itself that is most important rather than personal ties and choices….

Does the use of Barnicle and Goodwin distract? Could others have been chosen? Should a director’s choice be influenced by some would-be criticism? Those are hard calls. I have no idea if they were considered by Burns and Novick but they should have been.

Oh, the likeliness of the perception of a reason to be bothered! Should directors be influenced by the possibility that they could be criticized?

Let’s strip away some of the ombud-layering here. Why was it possible that Burns and Novick could have been criticized? What was the action underlying all this reaction and preemptive meta-reaction?

Burns and Novick presented a fraudulent historian and a fraudulent journalist as a historian and a journalist.

It’s not a question of the audience’s feelings. It’s a question of whether or not a nonfiction program should treat frauds and liars as reputable sources. Getler, who was the Washington Post ombudsman before going to PBS , and who was a journalist for decades before that, wrote that Barnicle and Goodwin “have been involved in literary controversy in earlier years.”

“Literary controversy”? That is like saying that Pretty Boy Floyd was involved in accounting fraud. Mike Barnicle is a serial plagiarist and fabricator . Doris Kearns Goodwin is a plagiarist. Each one grossly violated the basic standards of his or her profession . Why, as blogger Mark Leccese asks, is the PBS ombudsman ” brushing off plagiarism “?

Getler acknowledged that the two “faced charges.” He did not acknowledge that the evidence behind those charges was overwhelming, or that Barnicle lied blatantly about his offense and Goodwin tried to cover up hers by paying off the victim . Getler:

We all, of course, make mistakes, and most of us, I think, believe in redemption and second chances.

Nice sermon, if you’re a preacher, which you aren’t. You want second chances? Go back and write another ombudsman’s column. This time, try to act like you believe in journalistic standards.