After an expose was published showing that WNET had once again been taking money from plutocrats to promote a Neoliberal agenda, WNET has decided to return the money from former Enron Trader John Arnold.
Arnold had funded a series called “Pension Peril” that was heavily biased in favor of trickle down economic theory that called for cuts to pension systems rather than taxing rich people such as John Arnold. The revelation shocked and infuriated many PBS supporters who believe it was inappropriate to be taking money from billionaires to promote their agenda.
WNET, the New York City public television broadcaster, said on Friday that it would return a $3.5 million grant it received to sponsor an ambitious project on public pensions in the face of charges that it solicited inappropriate underwriting for the series.
In the absence of the funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the project, called “Pension Peril,” will go on hiatus, although WNET will continue to report on the topic. The series, which began in September, was examining the economic sustainability of public pensions.
WNET claimed they were returning the money over concerns about “perception” and that Arnold and his foundation never had editorial control over the program. Despite WNET claiming there was no actual conflict Stephen Segaller, WNET’s vice president for programming, did concede that accepting the money was a “mistake.”
The admission came after initial resistance.
On Thursday, before the statement came out, [Segaller] said in a telephone interview that WNET believed the funding did not violate PBS’s “perception” rule, because the foundation’s goals of encouraging public discussion were separate from Mr. and Mrs. Arnold’s desire for reform.
By telephone Friday, he said WNET officials reversed course after discussions with PBS “about both the facts and the optics. We all take very, very seriously any suggestion that there’s a perception problem about the integrity of our work or the sources of our funding, and we came to the conclusion that it’s better to err on the side of caution.”
The PBS Ombudsman noted that the “Pension Peril” project lacked transparency and raised ethical questions.
Hopefully WNET will take more care in the future about who they seek money from. WNET had already been criticized for trying to interfere with a documentary that reported on the Koch Brothers due to David Koch being a donor to WNET.