When you’ve had it with “reality shows” and sitcoms with loud laugh tracks, public television is a welcome refuge. Where else can you see “Sesame Street,” a nature documentary and a wry British comedy all in one day?
Public television, because it is funded in part by the American taxpayer, has always been a target for the Religious Right. Leaders of that theocratic movement vacillate between trying to abolish public television and laboring to take it over.
Recently, a flap erupted in Alabama over demands that PBS stations there broadcast DVDs by David Barton, a Religious Right pseudo-historian in Texas.
Barton insists, against all evidence, that the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation” and that church-state separation is a “myth.” His work has been solidly debunked, most recently by two professors at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, but that hasn’t slowed him down. Barton distributes propaganda, not history, and the effort to more widely distribute his work is usually led by politicians or activists with an axe to grind.
In Alabama, Allan Pizzato and Pauline Howland, two veteran employees of Alabama Public Television, were summarily fired by the Alabama Educational Television Commission. The two said they were given no reason for the dismissals, but Howland told the blog Current.org that earlier this year, Commissioner Rodney Herring, an Opelika chiropractor, began pressuring Pizzato to air a 10-part series by Barton on America’s “Christian” roots.
Pizzato balked – and that may explain why he’s out of a job. Howland said that Pizzato and others on the staff had “grave concerns” about the content of the Barton DVDs. They felt the series was overtly religious and designed to advocate a certain political point of view.
PBS stations, of course, air political programming from all perspectives. It was PBS, for example, which aired William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” for 33 years. Many PBS stations also carried “The McLaughlin Group” for many years. On the liberal side, Bill Moyers has been a PBS fixture for decades.
But PBS is not required to give “both sides” of an issue when there aren’t two equivalent sides. The program “Nova” can air shows about evolution without offering creationists equal time. PBS specials featuring astronomers don’t have to be balanced with astrologers.
Barton, who doesn’t have a history degree and whose work has been shown time and again to be error ridden, sloppy and propagandistic, has no place on public television. If Pizzato and Howland were fired for rejecting his DVDs, it’s an outrage. Alabama residents who care about the integrity of public television should speak out. (Here is a link to online contact information.)
This drama is made even more ironic by the fact that Barton himself has no interest in an allowing his ideas to be examined in an open forum, where he might have to defend his work before critics.
Our friend Kyle Mantyla at “Right Wing Watch” noted recently that two professors critical of Barton’s work – Warren Throckmorton and John Fea – have stated publicly that they are willing to appear with Barton in public forums to debate his “Christian nation” claims. Barton has refused.
In one case, Truth in Action Ministries, a Florida group founded by the late TV preacher D. James Kennedy, asked Barton to appear on a radio show after Fea was interviewed. Barton still refused – even though Truth in Action is favorable to his view.
What is Barton afraid of? My guess is that Barton is well aware that a real historian or academic would mop up the floor with him. He simply refuses to do these appearances, preferring instead to bask in the glow of adoring Religious Right audiences who would rather swallow his claptrap than study the actual history.
Barton is a huckster. No PBS station – in Alabama or anywhere else – should give this man any assistance in peddling his pack of lies.