Boston PBS Show Offers Provocative Commentary

Those lucky enough to live in the Boston area and receive PBS station WGBH are afforded the chance to watch “Beat the Press” each week. Those living elsewhere should check out the podcast or clips on the show’s Web site.

Each week a panel offers commentary in the vein of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” about matters of the media’s reporting, ethics and judgment. Advertising issues sometimes creep in as was the case last week.

The show is not without flaws. Notably, the panelists (journalists, academics and others) all appear to be cut from the same left-of-center cloth and the show could benefit from a counterbalance.

But within its half hour, it offers plenty of provocative commentary to mull over and make personal judgments. Last week, it came through while delving into the controversy over whether NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is going too far with his public expression of his Christian faith.

The Tebow-inspired debate about whether sports should be a venue to exercise one's First Amendment rights and express passion on a sensitive topic is well-trod. “Beat the Press” didn’t necessarily offer much new there.



But, while it wasn't the first, it did put forward some incisive and weighty thoughts about a slippery slope Tebow’s expressions might prompt. How a degree of bigotry towards Muslim players might follow.

During press conferences, Tebow will start with a tip of the hat to “my Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” This is not unusual since athletes for years have begun interviews with sideline reporters with similar encomiums.

Tebow will kneel in a prayerful pose on the sidelines. Again, this isn’t that unusual. In recent years, athletes have taken to pointing skyward after home runs and other standout plays.

Yet, Tebow has gotten more attention. Likely because he helped his Denver Broncos go on an unexpected winning streak when inserted as the starting quarterback. Had he brought a deity as a 12th man for the Broncos along with him? (Had he lost games right away, religious matters would have stayed on the sidelines.)

“Beat the Press” went into some detail about how fiery a controversy would result if a Muslim player praised Allah during interviews. Also, what if Muslim players got on their knees and prayed – as devout Muslims do five times a day – on the sidelines during games.

The show suggested the worst of America might surface.

“I do think that when somebody puts down a prayer rug, we’re going to be having a different kind of conversation,” said Calley Crossley, a WGBH radio host and frequent “Beat the Press” panelist.

Show host Jennifer Rooney opened the conversation with: “If Tebow replaced Jesus Christ with Allah, it would not be acceptable to anybody.”

That, of course, may be an overstatement. Yet, her thrust was tough to argue with considering today’s climate, where an anti-Islamic tide was accentuated by the recent advertising controversy surrounding a TLC show.

Rooney went on to suggest the NFL “would not permit” such a broad display of Islamic pride by players. There is little doubt that situation would have Commissioner Roger Goodell thinking.

After its version of Tebow-ing, “Beat the Press” last week segued into the brouhaha about the reality series “All-American Muslim” on TLC. The show features the stories of American Muslim families living in Michigan. A conservative activist group suggested the show was some kind of propaganda plot by the Islamic community. Related or not, Lowe’s pulled out as an advertiser citing the nature of the subject matter.

Rooney continued with her intolerance theme. “Would Lowe’s have dared pull its advertising from the ‘All-American Jewish Family,’” she said. “Absolutely not.”

“Certain religious identities are perfectly acceptable in America and certain are not,” she added.

Seek out “Beat the Press.” In this holiday season, it might offer some grist for small talk at parties and, more importantly, serious deliberation year-round.


-- Correction: The Dec. 20 TV Blog should have noted that in the Miami local-TV market, six homes in the Nielsen sample equal a rating point in household ratings. Using data from Rentrak, 1,000 homes in its larger sample account for a household rating point.

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