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PBS : Behind the Screen
Published in Paperback by Prima Publishing (1998)
Authors: Laurence Jarvik and Lawrence Jarvik
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Interesting but annoying; read it critically
If you're politically liberal or a fan of PBS, you'll probably be annoyed by this book; conservatives are likely to enjoy it much more, judging from the gleeful blurbs by such luminaries as Rush Limbaugh and William F. Buckley, Jr. I found Jarvik's evidence for his main points--that PBS can survive without government funding, and that it shouldn't have such funding as long as it fails to live up to the ideal of non-partisan, or at least politically balanced, broadcasting--to be pretty substantial. But the tone of the book is often grating: Jarvik seems far too inclined to see a liberal conspiracy behind every broadcast, and his criticisms lack a sense of proportion that would make him more persuasive, at least to this (moderately liberal) reader.

Although Jarvik often has plenty of evidence for his criticisms, it is sometimes a mixed bag that he presents as if all the evidence had the same weight. For example, he goes a long way toward debunking the personal image that Moyers has made an integral part of his programs, but along the way he implies that Moyers is complicit in the alleged anti-Semitism of Joseph Campbell, while the only evidence he musters for the charges against Campbell are uncorroborated statements from an NYBR article that sound suspiciously like faculty-lounge sniping from jealous colleagues. Similarly, in illustrating Moyers's liberal bias, he includes this comment about Moyers's program FACING EVIL, which dealt with racism and Naziism: "curiously missing from the list of evil were horrors from the Communist world." This is just one of the several times Jarvik criticizes PBS for failing to seize an opportunity to say bad things about Communists--he even goes so far as to criticize a nature program, LAND OF THE RUSSIAN BEAR, for not bringing up Chernobyl.

Jarvik is also not above a little rhetorical overkill--even when the plain facts speak for themselves. He claims that underestimated construction costs on a THIS OLD HOUSE project "bankrupted" the homeowners after he has just acknowledged that they sold the house for almost twice the cost of construction. Jarvik's Foreword writer, Van Gordon Sauter, plays the same game, characterizing PBS as "a professional mendicant, living off the government dole," even though Jarvik notes that PBS depends on the federal government for only 14% of its funding.

Another favorite trick is the not-quite-fair comparison. He criticizes the program NOVA for portraying computer technology in an inappropriately "Luddite perspective in the age of the Internet and World Wide Web." To back this up, he cites programs aired in 1981, 1983, and 1990, well before the massive popularity of the World Wide Web. He also criticizes NOVA for not producing programs on some of the major science issues of the day, comparing its few dozen offerings per year to the *hundreds* of stories on all commercial television in the same year.

One wonders if a better balanced argument might have been accepted by a more established publisher than Prima, who might have saved the author from such boners as "jokes...of a...scategorical [sic] nature." Or who would have realized the dubiousness of printing blurbs from figures who are sympathetically profiled in the book (William F. Buckley, William Rusher, Milton Friedman).

Overall, a good book, though one that needs to be read critically.

PBS is all that the other critics say it is, and less.
It is an essential book, since it provides a counterbalance by exposing the people who run the myriad alphabet-soup organizations for connected, undemocratic hollow (wo)men ... PBS, NET, CPB, ABC, CBS, CNN, BBC. Why do I enumerate commercial companies among this list? Because the leadership of the organizations are interlocked, as much as are the boards of the major industrial and financial companies. As an example, Bill Moyers moved freely between public and commercial broadcasting. Was it because he was so powerful, or because he had allies and angels throughout these media companies?

PBS is a thorough book which covers much ground in 287 pages, while focusing on only about 10 programs or series. The other critics fail to mention the closing chapter's topic, Milton Friedman's Free to Choose, which supposedly is the only instance of conservative, ideological balance on PBS to the pervasive liberal, ideological programming. Only by using guerilla tactics (funding it themselves, going outside of the regular production centers, selling it to the independent stations, accepting poor timeslots, and shaming management into rebroadcasting it in prime slots), were the producers of Free to Choose able to beat the system.

I was surprised to learn that PBS is anti-Semitic; I would have thoug ht just the opposite. The section that dealt with this was overly long in laying out the evidence, but was short on assigning personal or cultural responsibility or offering motivation, and thereby fails to make the case conclusively by leaving important questions unanswered. The most we can say is that there is "an appearance" of anti-Semitism.

The book ends abruptly with a thud, claiming that the Friedman chapter is a suitable conclusion. I agree it is a good choice for the final topic of subject matter. However, a synopsis and conclusion by the author would have been a better final chapter. How about an organization chart, or a verbal presentation of the leadership of PBS, and the other organizations which make up the power Who do these people tend to be, and from what centers of power do they corporate sponsors, and 2 parts entertainers." What are their motives and objectives? Purely money and power, or is the money and power only a perk, and is the real objective to achieve political domination by controlling the media? (The first thing coup leaders do is to storm the radio station.)

The fact that PBS programming is coordinated with the federal election campaigns of the Democrat party candidates is most alarming. How timely that we are just starting another election campaign cycle, here in late 1999! Will the Republicans point to this book as grounds for defunding PBS, when PBS runs programs favorable to Democrat party candidates (as PBS surely will, in spite of these revelations)? Or will the Republicans keep PBS in tact in hopes of gaining control of it, if they can ever secure control of the Executive and Legislative branches of the Federal government, as the Democrats have done frequently?

For those media insiders who know the many people who are portrayed, it must be an especially exciting to get the inside scoop on their machinations. For a frequent viewer of public television like myself, many of the details presented in PBS lack context, but that's OK. I can't verify their goings-on. But enough of the onscreen characters and programs/series are familiar enough to judge that Laurence Jarvik has written and accurate and telling book, that will be ammunition for those who yearn for freedom, and for a responsible and free press.

A cerebral blow to PBS' credibility.
PUBLIC TELEVISION EXPOSED © ABIP 1997 by Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

For taxpayers and donors of public television, Laurence Jarvik's PBS BEHIND THE SCREEN is a must. Deals, manipulations, intrigues, dirty tricks, betrayals, censorship and political bias at PBS are exposed in this book. As the secrets unfold, we begin to realize that PBS is not serving the best interests of the people who are dutifully paying its tab, and in many instances works against them.

This needed, serious, informative, matter of fact, easy to read and enlightening book provides a wealth of information otherwise not easily available. Jarvik does an admirable job putting it all together: from the Foreword by the former president of CBS News, Van Gordon Sauter, through Jarvik's introduction and thirteen chapters presenting the history of public television from Edward R. Murrow to THIS OLD HOUSE, including the telling case of Nobel Prize-winning ec onomist Milton Friedman's 1980 FREE TO CHOOSE, rebutting John Kenneth Galbraith's 1977 AGE OF UNCERTAINTY.

Jarvik exposes PBS' largely unknown, huge money making venues licensing videos, books, toys, games and other products - some of which are manufactured in China and other Asian countries notorious for their exploitive labor practices, including child labor - from its shows for children: SESAME STREET, BARNEY and MISTER ROGERS. Sufficient money to render PBS independent from government and individual support.

In spite of huge profits, PBS begs shamelessly for subsidies and donations while their executives, directors and producers - making six figure salaries - have side businesses and become multi-millionaires at the expense of the uninformed. Jarvik points out that "SESAME STREET serves as an infomercial for the 5,000-plus licensed SESAME STREET products that gross over $800 million in retail sales around the world each year." This kind of eye-opening information is important and necessary. After reading it, close your donor wallet until PBS comes clean.

The chapter on that colorful Bill Moyers is certainly worth the price of admission. I won't say more here. I don't want to spoil the fun.

It is imperative that the PBS's public understand the political struggle behind THE MACNEIL/LEHRER NEWS HOUR as well as the history of bias and inaccuracies of FRONTLINE, NOVA, THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE's controversial episode "Liberators," and the ongoing PBS trials against conservative thought "ending" with the advent - as an act of tokenism - of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s FIRING LINE. In the fascinating chapter on Buckley, Jarvik says, "Typical of the way PBS treats conservatives is the case of Reed Irvine's response to WGBH's thirteen-hour series VIETNAM: A TELEVISION HISTORY (1983), which he believed was filled with 'inaccuracies, a lot of errors, and distortions'."

Mr. Irvine, AIM's Chairman, asked for a chance to offer a rebuttal documentary on PBS. In contrast with the National Endowment for the Humanities' $1.2 million grant for PBS' series, Irvine was offered only $30,000 which, when added to private donations totaled $100,000. Irvine's TELEVISION VIETNAM: THE REAL STORY finally aired on PBS on June 26, 1985, and Jarvik says, it "was not permitted to stand alone but was surrounded with critical interviews and commentary. Irvine was not allowed to suggest alternative reading material to compete with the PBS companion volume to the WGBH series . . .." Subsequently, Irvine was viciously attacked and snubbed by PBS.

There is much more intriguing and thought provoking material in Jarvik's book for the readers' enlightenment. My conclusion is that there is no reason for taxpayers to support PBS' attempts to reshape American thinking according to the philosophies and political beliefs of a well-entrenched elite of executives, directors and producers. Their bias favoring those utopian 19th and early 20th century thinkers is against the tide of history. They have to accept reality, stop manipulating public opinion and censoring information that doesn't conform to their socialist mold. PBS' huge profits must be used to produce programs open to all ideas and stop being taxpayers' and donors' parasites. I certainly hope Jarvik's book will bring more public thought and less public money to PBS.

© ABIP 1997

Agustín Blázquez, Producer/Director of documentary COVERING CUBA email:

Masterpiece Theatre and the Politics of Quality
Published in Hardcover by Scarecrow Press (23 December, 1998)
Author: Laurence Ariel Jarvik
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Could have been a lot better.
Mr. Jarvik admits in his forward that many prominent players in what could have been a fascinating story have died, that the CPB would not cooperate with him, and so he had no information about certain events that occurred at PBS, the BBC and other British companies, and WGBH Boston (which I was most eager to find out about.)

He therefore crams this book with filler such as a lengthy biography of Alistair Cooke.

I was extremely disappointed to see that this book did not live up to my expectations. It told me little that I did not already know, and that can be gotten from far more accessible sources. It is not badly written; it is interesting in places. But it is not a terribly informative book.

The politics behind Masterpeice Theater
"A fascinating narrative and analysis of Masterpiece Theatre's birth. Jarvik's book exposes the commercial and political motives of all the interested players and makes it no longer possible to think of the series only as a pleasant weekly visit to Edwardian England."

--George Griffith, Chadron State College

The National Endowments: A Critical Symposium
Published in Paperback by Second Thoughts Books (1995)
Authors: Laurence Jarvik, Herbert I. London, and James F. Cooper
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Public Broadcasting and the Public Trust
Published in Paperback by Second Thoughts Books (1995)
Authors: David Horowitz, Laurence Jarvick, Laurence Ariel Jarvik, and Center for the Study of Popular Culture
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