WGBH's "Beat the Press" started tonight with an apology by Emily Rooney for the way she dismissed complaints by media professionals about the lack of minority representation at PBS in general and the way that all the time given over to documentaries by Ken Burns makes it near impossible for other documentary makers to get their work aired.
Rooney particularly went after the Asian-American producers of a documentary on 150 years of Asian-American history that got less air time than a Burns bio of Ernest Hemingway, saying that maybe their work just isn't as good as Burns'.
She also pooh-poohed the notion that the five hours a year Burns gets on PBS is a lot - something the other four panelists on the show, including fellow GBH commentator Callie Crossley, who has worked on documentaries, said then was wrong, because documentaries in general get very little airtime, so five hours is, for them, significant.
Tonight, Rooney acknowledged she hadn't seen any of the work on the Asian-American experience and admitted she went too far in defending PBS and Burns.
"I crossed the line," she said, admitting her remarks were "uninformed, dismissive and disrespectful."
She added, "I want to sincerely apologize for my offensive remarks."
Rooney's on-air apology, which was recorded before the show aired, came two days after 21 documentary makers and film-festival organizers in New England wrote the station asking it do something about "Rooney's demeaning and racist commentary" on April 2:
Many of us have produced for GBH, which is known for its fact-based reporting and integrity. Rooney is a longtime presence there, touted in her bio as someone with “deep knowledge of media, politics and culture.” The program we reference was about access to airtime and funding from PBS – which concerns all of us. Instead of showcasing her understanding of the subject, Rooney relied on derision, racist tropes and more ignorance than fact.
Yesterday, GBH General Manager Pam Johnston wrote back that she agreed:
We acknowledge and share the concerns you have raised about the April 2 edition of Beat the Press, which did not meet GBH’s standards for opinion journalism, or our commitment to being an organization that respects all people. We have taken steps with Emily Rooney, and she has recorded an apology, which will be broadcast at the beginning of the next edition of Beat the Press, on Friday, April 16.
Like you, we are committed to growth and change within the public media system. This episode is an unfortunate reminder of the continuing work GBH must do, and is doing, to meet our commitment to advancing understanding, tolerance and justice.
The original episode, in which you get the feeling Crossley is being more restrained than she really wanted to be: