Melanie Morgan and the PBS Saga

Two weeks after PBS’s "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" reportedly banned pro-troops activist Melanie Morgan from its show and conservative outrage hit a peak, the publicly- funded organization said there is no such ban.

“She is not banned, said Rob Flynn, "NewsHour"’s vice-president of communications and marketing. “Things were just taken out of context.”

Flynn characterized Morgan’s May 8 appearance with liberal veteran Jon Soltz as a “screech-fest.”

“She acted in a somewhat uncivilized way,” Flynn said during a telephone interview on Tuesday.

When asked if Morgan would be invited to appear again, Flynn said “there is a possibility. . . it depends on the circumstances.” He added that he does not make those decisions; producers book guests.

Executive Producer Laura Winslow could not be reached for comment because she was out of the office. But she gave a statement to "NewsHour"’s ombudsman saying she could guarantee that “rude” guests would not appear again.

“PBS appears to be backtracking from its original statement that I was never to be invited back again,” Morgan said on Tuesday. “Now apparently, I am not banned. Well, which is it?”

Morgan, chairman of Move America Forward, the largest pro-troops nonprofit organization in the United States, appeared with Soltz of, a left wing organization that advocates retreating from Iraq.

Prior to the appearance, Morgan said she spoke with "News Hour"’s producers several times to clarify the ground rules. They assured her that they expected a lively debate and that cross talk was OK, Morgan said.

Morgan appears regularly on cable news stations and cohosts a daily conservative radio show with Lee Rodgers on KSFO in San Francisco. She is a well-known advocate for the troops and conservative causes. Her style is well documented. "News Hour" producers could not feign ignorance when it comes to Morgan’s style of debate.

During the segment, Soltz and Morgan each interrupted the other four times.  In addition, Soltz interrupted host Judy Woodruff twice. Morgan never did. My analysis of the show found that the two guests spoke a total of 1,840 words. Soltz was given time for 1,036 of those words, or 56 percent of those spoken, while Morgan had time for 804, or 44%.

When I pointed this out to Flynn and asked how the show decides what guests should reappear, he said, “We are not scoring it like a prize fight.”

“She (Morgan) came on and she was over the top,” Flynn said.

The day after Morgan appeared on the show, leftist Media Matters for America ran a headline on its web site saying, “NewsHour hosted Melanie Morgan on Iraq war despite her history of misinformation and smears.”

Media Matters, which regularly monitors Morgan’s radio shows and public appearances, then criticizes her for sometimes petty matters and has taken her quotes out of context, listed PBS’s phone number and web site so readers could complain about Morgan.
Some emails arrived, though the number didn’t outpace other high-profile or controversial issues, Flynn said.

A quick background check on some of the emailers show they are affiliated with left-wing causes and one is a liberal politician.

Once word got out that PBS banned Morgan, the blogosphere went ballistic and Sean Hannity asked Morgan to appear on Monday’s edition of “Hannity and Colmes.” Both Hannity and Colmes agreed the reported ban was outrageous given tax dollars support PBS.

The same day that Media Matters posted its hit piece, Winslow published a statement on the ombudsman’s site.

“Since neither guest was in the studio with Judy Woodruff, there wasn’t much she could do to prevent them from interrupting one another, short of saying — as she did at least three times — ‘please let him/her finish his/her point,’ Winslow wrote. “The NewsHour style is to ask pointed questions politely; we expect our guests to subscribe to the same rules. Since the program is produced live, we can’t do much to eliminate rude guests from your television screen once the segment has begun; what we can do is guarantee you will never see that person on our program again.”

It is unclear whether her “guarantee” is now rescinded. Flynn was clear that PBS does not ban people, even though he characterized Morgan as “over the top” and that she acted “uncivilized.”

Producers go through a “complex evaluation” after each show to determine whether it held up to standards.

“It is just some segments go better than others,” Flynn said.

Morgan isn’t holding her breath for an invitation from PBS.

“PBS has a blatant left-wing bias,” Morgan said. ‘It’s no wonder people are finding alternate news sources when PBS can’t be fair. They just don’t like to have a pro-America, pro-troops position in fighting terrorists overseas rather than bring them back to America for a bloody battle.”