Deborah Solomon interviewed Ken Feree, the new interim president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine and it was a doozy. Besides the fact that the guy’s right-wing agenda is self-evident, he has an anti-art, anti-intellectual streak a mile long.
Ken "I’d Rather Be on
My Harley" Feree:
new PBS chief (credit:
Ramona Rosales/NY Times)
When asked about the demise of his immediate predecessor due to Bush Administration and right-wing mudslinging, he professed amnesia:
All I know is that on Friday afternoon the board chairman came in and asked if I would serve as interim president. I had no idea until the 11th hour that this was happening. I don’t know what led to what.
When asked whether he feared that the political infighting would lead to the disaffection of traditional liberal viewers, Feree seemed to have no use for them:
Well, maybe we can attract some new viewers.
You mean viewers who are more conservative?
Yeah! I would hope that in the long run we can attract new viewers, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to a particular demographic. Does public television belong to the Democrats?
Hey, all you poor slobs who’ve grown up on PBS with Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers and then graduated to NOVA and Frontline, PBS has no use for you unless you’re part of that growing evangelical demographic that we know watches tons of educational programming (all ten of them)!
Then the interview proceeds into bizarro world. It seems that the new head of PBS doesn’t watch PBS, doesn’t listen to the news (taking a page from George Bush’s playbook?), listen to NPR (which PBS also manages) and doesn’t even watch TV. He doesn’t have a favorite PBS program (couldn’t he have lied and made one up?). He doesn’t much go for Shakespeare (which he likens to the News Hour) and really prefers People Magazine–and his souped up motorcycle. The colloquy has to be read to be believed:
What PBS shows do you like?
I’m not much of a TV consumer. I like ”Masterpiece Theater” and some of the ”Frontline” shows. I like ”Antiques Roadshow” and ”Nova.” I don’t know. What’s your favorite show?
It would probably be the ”NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”
Yes, Lehrer is good, but I don’t watch a lot of broadcast news. The problem for me is that I do the Internet news stuff all day long, so by the time I get to the Lehrer thing . . . it’s slow. I don’t always want to sit down and read Shakespeare, and Lehrer is akin to Shakespeare. Sometimes I really just want a People magazine, and often that is in the evening, after a hard day.
For the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, you don’t sound like much of a PBS viewer. Perhaps you prefer NPR, which your organization also finances?
No. I do not get a lot of public radio for one simple reason. I commute to work on my motorcycle, and there is no radio access.
Can’t you install a radio on a motorcycle and listen with headphones?
One probably can. But my bikes are real cruisers. They’re stripped down deliberately to look cool, and I don’t want all that electronic gear.
So what I want to know is why isn’t this guy a bean counter for People Magazine or a motorcycle salesman? Why does he have to impose his cultural and artistic vapidity on tens of millions of us PBS viewers who like Shakespeare, Jim Lehrer and the other treasures PBS has to offer?