On the defensive for the offensive
WGBH has some explaining to do after it featured a vet with a controversial tattoo in a station promotional spot
It seemed like a fine idea at the time. WGBH recently shoved a pile of money at famed “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’’ director Joshua Seftel to produce five, five-minute promotional vignettes about people whose lives had been influenced by the venerable Boston station. A young cello prodigy in Newton likes “From the Top at Carnegie Hall,’’ a blind lady is understandably wowed by the station’s commitment to descriptive video, and so on.
Enter Dave Nash, an Iraq war veteran featured in a ’GBH “Frontline’’ episode called “The Wounded Platoon.’’ Nash suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, developed a drug habit, and lost his veteran’s benefits because of an other-than-honorable discharge. The “Frontline’’ report shamed the Veterans Administration into helping Nash, and all is right with the world.
Or is it? In both the Seftel video and in a staged photo for ’GBH’s members magazine, Nash is sporting a big ole tattoo. What does it say? “Mein Kampf.’’ Yikes! The title of Adolf Hitler’s book is not exactly an uplifting message for potential ’GBH donors.
Few people noticed this, although for those who did, ’GBH ginned up a prepared statement, attributed to Nash: “Those words are part of a larger phrase ‘my struggle is eternal’ (“mein kampf ist ewig’’) that continues on my arm. This is an entirely personal statement that reflects struggles I have had in my own life, and is not related to any other words or beliefs. I chose the tattoo in that language because of my German heritage. I regret any misinterpretation, and I apologize if it has offended anyone.’’
Then there was the time ’GBH paid $100,000 for a BBC comedy episode performed in blackface. . . . Oh, never mind.
Someone sent me the embarrassingly awful trailer for “Long Distance Warrior,’’ a documentary about former MCI chairman Bill McGowan that has aired on ’GBH and elsewhere. Even by PBS standards, this was laughable journalism. The trailer calls McGowan, who competed hard and successfully against AT&T for telephone business, “a fighter . . . a modern day David in a business suit, battling Goliath where few others dared . . . a catalyst for a new era’’ blah blah blah.
The film slathers on more credulous pap: “Bill was a legend. . . . He lived life on the edge. . . . He could see to the center of a problem and focus on the critical success factor. . . . People loved working for him. . . . You could not put that man down.’’ He was a saint! And longtime ’GBH collaborator Sarah Holt found plenty of relatives and former MCI associates enriched by McGowan to say so.
What’s next? Jack Welch action toys for sale at the ’GBH auction?
I wanted to know who paid for this bunk. Holt judiciously ducked my calls, leaving a factotum to say that a Delaware-based business museum underwrote all production costs.
A civil action
Maybe people should stop sending me stuff. California-based writer Kathleen Sharp sent me her new book, “Blood Feud,’’ and I found it tough slogging. “Feud’’ is the tragic, complex story of whistleblower Mark Duxbury, who is posthumously enmeshed in overlapping litigation against his former employer Johnson & Johnson. It may well be true that the billion-dollar anti-anemia drug Procrit and its look-alikes are dangerous and were marketed deceptively, but proving that in court is one tall order, as we learn.
Look who’s here! Beverly’s own Jan Schlichtmann, the protagonist of Jonathan Harr’s bestseller “A Civil Action,’’ immortalized on the silver screen by John Travolta. At the end of Sharp’s book, Schlichtmann is very much back in business, tilting in federal court with another local institution, Judge Rya Zobel. Appointed to the bench by Jimmy Carter in 1979, Zobel wears a black hat as well as a black robe in this book. Schlichtmann spews “forth an impressive string of blasphemies’’ over the judge’s “parochial ruling’’ on a key point of whistleblowing law. Against him, naturally.
Call me sentimental; I have had a soft spot for Zobel ever since she ruled for the angels and preserved Edwin Land’s instant photography patents against the greedheads from
I also have a soft spot for Schlichtmann. “This situation is very discouraging,’’ he said. “My client is dead, and after eight years we’re still fighting in the end stages of discovery in the case.’’ He’s not backing off his criticism of Zobel. “I have great admiration for her time on the bench, but here I just think she’s got it completely and fundamentally wrong. Her ruling reduces the whistleblower law to an absurdity.’’
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is email@example.com.