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For the week of Apr. 12 through Apr. 18, 2000

HST could have taught Idaho lawmakers a thing or two

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

If Idaho Public Television is faithful to the state Legislature’s marching orders, IPTV gradually will strip its schedule of anything resembling challenging thought for adult viewers, and instead will resort to endless Pollyanna pap geared for the intellectually lazy.

How else to interpret dictates of lawmakers who retaliated with a vengeance over IPTV’s airing of "It’s Elementary," a PBS network program exploring how teachers and students discuss homosexuality?

Meanspirited lawmakers with an aversion to confronting social issues sliced IPTV’s budget request in half, then added a fiat: IPTV’s programs should avoid controversial topics and instead stress cultural and family enrichment, character education, promotion of virtues and moral values.

That’s fine for the local pastor’s Sunday sermon, but hardly fuel for gray matter that adult IPTV viewers expect.

The most stubborn booster of this veiled censorship was Sen. Hal Bunderson, a Meridian Republican, whose special peeve about public discussion of homosexuality ignores reality. Homosexuality is a hot political topic.

The presumed presidential nominee of Bunderson’s political party, George W. Bush, made news by agreeing to meet with Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group. In Congress, debate rages on about gays in the military. Corporations are extending benefits to same-sex partners.

So why does Sen. Bunderson want to remove IPTV from the real world? Could it be he believes a TV program would instantly transform viewers into homosexuals?

Mindless politicians of the 1950s behaved the same about communism—discussing communism in college political science classes was tantamount to subversion.

So IPTV’s dilemma is what sort of "controversy" to avoid, and whose moral values to promote, lest Sen. Bunderson’s Victorian sensibilities be offended and he uses the purse again for revenge?

Is controversy swirling around teaching evolution vs. creationism too spicy for Sen. Bunderson’s tastes? Should IPTV carry programs examining controversies surrounding abortion and physician-assisted suicide?

Sen. Bunderson’s attempt to substitute his judgment for those of pros reminds me of President Truman.

After Truman boasted in a University of Missouri speech he could do as good a job editing a newspaper as journalists, my boss at the time, Miami Herald publisher John Knight, invited HST to "edit" the Herald on his next trip to the Key West "Little White House."

On April 30, 1960, former president Truman showed up. Knight provided copy pencils, a stack of stories from the news services and the seat at the news editor’s desk. Truman pondered hundreds of stories from which to pick material for the morning edition. Finally, he looked up in helpless exasperation.

"Hell, this is your job," HST said, nodding toward Knight and editors standing nearby.

Truman left without editing a word, admitting he should stick to politics.

If that’s good advice for an American president, surely it’s good enough advice for Sen. Bunderson. Mr. Senator, leave TV to the pros.


Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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