Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a "Yellow-Dog Democrat," & Missing Walter Cronkite

"In a perfect world," says legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, "we'd want government support [for the arts] and a lot more of it."

Burns' new PBS documentary, Prohibition, was made with his longtime collaborator Lynn Novick and explores the causes, failures, and legacy of the nation's "Noble Experiment" in banning alcohol in the early 20th century. His previous works on topics such as the Civil War, baseball, and jazz were critical and commercial successes, helping to revitalize the documentary form and start rich conversations about race, history, and politics.

The Prohibition documentary will likely do the same. "There were all these factions, left and right, black and white, that were for [banning alcohol].... It [is] too easy to dismiss it as purely a retrograde, conservative attempt back to some good old days that never existed. It was a much more complicated dynamic." Indeed, the documentary stresses the role of Progressive legislators in pushing the 18th Amendment.

"The telling of history need not be Castor Oil, the dry recitation of dates, facts, and events" says Burns, who rejects doctrinaire activism in his art despite calling himself a "Democrat for life."

Burns says the proliferation of cheap production and distribution technologies for creative expression is a cause for optimisim but worries about audience fragmentation. "When I grew up, there were four or five channels and people basically shared a common canon of knowledge....Now people can seek their own self-satisfying sources of knowledge [which] is hugely dangerous."

Despite the immense popular appeal of his work, Burns is no fan of "the market" when it comes to making films. While Bank of America is one of the major funders of his current documentary, he says that in a non-public-television setting the company would have likely exerted editorial pressure on his product. Corporate money and commerical outlets even on niche cable channels come with too many strings and compromises attached, says Burns. He notes that highly praised documentarians such as Errol Morris "work a great deal of time doing commerical work on the side, which I don't have the time or the luxury or the talent to do."

This wide-ranging and sometimes-heated conversation is about 22 minutes long and was filmed by Jim Epstein, Anthony Fisher, and Meredith Bragg, who also edited the piece.

To watch a discussion with Gillespie and Burns specifically about the Prohibition documentary, go here.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions of all our videos and links and supporting materials. Subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notification when new video goes online.

Follow Reason on Twitter.

Follow Nick Gillespie on Twitter.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    While Bank of America is one of the major funders of his current documentary, he says that in a non-public-television setting the company would have likely exerted editorial pressure on his product.

    I guess that is why corporate owned Hollywood always goes so easy on corporations. I mean it is not like they ever make movies where corporations are the villains or anything.

  • Tony||

    It's a good thing you'd never call out a liberal for playing the victim card.

  • ||

    STFU sock puppet. If corporations had any affect on the editorial content of movies, corporate owned Hollywood wouldn't be so relentlessly anti-corporation.

    That is the argument. If you have something to say about it, say it. If you don't, stfu and stop wasting people's time on here. We already know you have an IQ somewhere south of 90. You don't have to keep trying to prove it us on every thread.

  • Tony||

    Hollywood's made plenty of movies where the victims were communists. I can count on two hands the movies with corporations as villains. Who gives a shit what your point is? I've caught you twice today whining about the victimization of rich white people and corporations at the hands of liberals. I'm just saying, it's a good thing you'd never accuse liberals of playing the victim card with respect to poor people and minorities.

    Or maybe the real victims in society are the richest and most powerful members of it, because the "media" and Hollywood are mean to them. Could be.

  • Tony||

    first victims* = villans

  • ||

    Tony, you can only count on two hands the number of movies where corporations are the villains because you can't count past ten. If you could count any higher, you would be able to count more movies.

    And yes, communists are the villains in some movies for the same reason that Nazis are villains in movies, the really were villains you fucking nitwit. Do you think The Killing Fields was fiction? Actually you probably do because you really are that stupid.

    And the position of someone is society says nothing about the fairness of the attack against them. Just because the Kochs are rich or corporations provide jobs and products to millions of people doesn't mean it is okay to lie about them.

    In the end all you can say is "they are not on my side so it is okay no matter what we do to them". That is what being a liberal does to your soul. Honestly Tony, I feel sorry for you most days.

  • Chatroom Crank||

    Having a dirty Swedish hippie look down at Rocky and say "I will break you" just doesn't have the same dramatic appeal as having a Russian killing machine say it.

  • ||

    I love how Tony equates having communists, an ideology that killed hundreds of millions of people within living memory, as villains with having corporations as villains.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Ironically, the asshole NYT reporter in The Killing Fields tried to blame the Cambodian genocide on corporations.

  • Sy||

    Some would argue wage slavery is hell on earth.

  • Tony||

    But let's just parse what being a conservative means, shall we? You're a bizarro universe liberal: you thrive on the politics of victimhood, except your victims are the most powerful and least vulnerable members of society.

    No it's not right to do wrong to corporations. But that you're taking the time to whine about it implies you care more about their grievances than anyone else's.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Stoopid In America,

    I can count on two hands the movies with corporations as villains.


    You can count?

    Anyway, you haven't seen many movies. Even the shitty Tron (and the better newer version) had an eeveel corporashion as a backdrop. So did "Hoot," "Fly Away Home," "Runaway Jury," etc etc etc...

  • Tony||

    So?

  • ||

    So?
    ------
    so the number of movies in which corporations are villains is a hell of a lot higher than ten. A better exercise would be ten movies in which corporations are NOT the villain, or even ten in which corps are seen favorably. Which is a big reason why people laugh at liberal Hollywood - hyper-rich people, often working for hyper-rich corporations, putting out product that denigrates the very mentality which they either exhibit or work for.

  • Tony||

    But who gives a crap? I'm pretty sure that the corporations that make movies care about the bottom line above all else. Why begrudge them that, even if it means making corporations villains?

    One thing I think is logically true: given corporate ownership of media in this country, it's almost certainly the case that corporations aren't criticized enough.

  • Zeb||

    I might grant that certain individual corporations aren't criticized enough (whatever enough might be). But corporations as a class certainly get plenty.

  • ||

    Can I just throw my weight around here? It is the money that is evil.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Really clueless sockpuppet,

    So?


    So there are more than 5, which is as high as you can count, you toddler.

  • ||

    Would he not be free, then, to seek funding elsewhere? It's not like BoA is the only source of arts funding out there.

    I generally like Burns' documentaries, but hearing him spout his glaringly obvious TEAM BLUE sensibilities (see earlier interview at ~8:30 for anecdotal links between 2nd hand smoke, cancer, and why regulation of smoking is teh awesome)

  • ||

    sorry, that should continue to say that upon hearing his justification of smoking bans and other forms of prohibition, I find myself not taking him seriously. How can he research and condemn prohibition and then, out of the other side of his mouth, claim prohibiting other unfavorable behaviors is a good thing? Isn't he just cherry-picking anecdotes to justify favored prohibitions, much like the Drys did in the 19th century?

  • Apogee||

    How can he research and condemn prohibition and then, out of the other side of his mouth, claim prohibiting other unfavorable behaviors is a good thing?

    He can't without contradicting himself.

    His docs are well done, but he might also be frightened to death about his funding, as he seems to imply he's guaranteed funding from the government. There's plenty of rejection of projects that PBS doesn't deem appropriate for their viewership, and he'll make sure that he defends that regardless of what he actually believes.

  • ||

    "In a perfect world," says legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, "we'd want government support [for the arts] and a lot more of it."
    -------------------------------
    If you replaced "for the arts" with virtually any other industry or group, folks would (rightly) call it welfare. But when it's artists, then tossing money at all manner of projects is evidence of a cultured society. No, Ken; paint, sculpt, write, or shoot whatever you want, but don't ask the rest of us to underwrite your time and expenses. A welfare queen with a paintbrush is no more noble than the other kind.

  • ||

    In a perfect world I would get a few million in support from the government every year too. And of course they all run to the government tit and then scream and cry when the people paying the bills want some say over what they do.

  • ||

    "we'd want government support [for the arts] and a lot more of it."


    Gee, I wonder. How much more?

    I mean to say, we're running a trillion annd a half dollar deficit now, how much bigger does old Ken want to make it.

    Subsidies to the arts are as necessary as subsidies to religion and a consistent reading would pretty much guide a person to say the same amendment to the COTUS bans both.

  • Michael||

    Gee, I wonder. How much more?

    Isaac, please don't ask questions like this. Progressives are shockingly adept at pulling large, perfectly round numbers out of their asses at the slightest provocation. For example, see: $250K/year = fabulously wealthy.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    "In a perfect world," says legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, "we'd want government support [for the arts] and a lot more of it."

    Ironically, the greatest works of art were sponsored by rich people and the Catholic church.

  • Matt||

    And that's why all the art produced up until now is classist, racist and just plain wrong. How can we possibly condone living in a society where art is not democratized?

  • Mad Magazine||

    We're doing fine without a subsidy.

  • Matt||

    Woosh.

    Maybe I'm too convincing as a lefty.

  • ||

    Get in touch with you inner Bastiat, and shake it off.

  • Old Mexican||

    "In a perfect world," says legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, "we'd want government support [for the arts] and a lot more of it."


    In this imperfect world, you have to purvey your shitty art to stingy consumers of questionable taste, instead of having the super duper patron in the government (in lieu of wealthy aristocrats and princes.)

    Oh, you poor baby.

    "When I grew up, there were four or five channels and people basically shared a common canon of knowledge....Now people can seek their own self-satisfying sources of knowledge [which] is hugely dangerous."


    Translation: "Competition is yucky and icky! Yeech!"

  • Michael||

    I actually kinda-sorta halfheartedly hoped that the "perfect world" comment was leading into some kind of Zen koan about the dangers of funding arts with public money, but I pretty much lost whatever respect I had for Burns once his second statement you cited made clear his true intention. What a fucking asshole.

  • ||

    Its not the competition he doesn't like he doesn't like the lose of control over the content of the information.

  • ||

    if you want to control your content, don't ask people to underwrite its production. This is no different than a business taking funding from an outside source; when someone gives you their money, they will surely also give you their input.

  • Old Mexican||

    ^^ This ^^

  • ||

    Yes. Frederick Wiseman is a perfect example of this.

  • Apogee||

    he doesn't like the lose of control over the content of the information.

    Which might be fine from his first project, but at some point you have to wonder why he doesn't feel a need to put his own skin in the game.

    After all, his production company must have made a tidy profit off of the Civil War series.

  • cmoney||

    whenever someone waxes nostalgic about how awesome it was when life had less choices, you can just dismiss them entirely.

  • Juice||

    fewer

  • ||

    Everyone knows that "art" that nobody is willing to pay for by choice is always the best.

  • ||

    How can you insult and piss on your audience if you then have to ask them for a check? Better to get uncle Sam to take the money from the by force first.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Old Soldier,

    Everyone knows that "art" that nobody is willing to pay for by choice is always the best.


    Besides this, the government does not have the greatest record when it comes to subsidizing art - if one remembers "Ode to the Tractor" and scores of ugly statues of dead politicians as evidence.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Oh how I dearly love my tractor
    My wife got jealous, but I just smacked her.
    I get all excited when my field gets plowed
    And I do stuff with my tractor that ain't strictly allowed.

  • BakedPenguin||

    In addition to not looking to closely at the source, it's sad that those who argue for government support for art can't see what that would do to free speech. They really believe it would be a blank check "here, go create some art."

  • Michael||

    Burns also makes the completely uncritical claim that private sources of funding for arts are the ultimate arbiters of said artistic content, as if those sources were completely impervious to market pressure themselves.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Also, the idea that corporations allow no latitude in artistic discretion is not believable.

  • cmoney||

    look at the TV show Louie. He basically went to FX and said "if you let me do it my way, I'll do it really cheaply." So they just cut a check and he does his thing. It's been a wildly critical success. Plenty of ups and downs, sure, but it's unlike anything else on basic cable, it's critically acclaimed, and it's not gov't funded.

  • ||

    Also, the idea that corporations allow no latitude in artistic discretion is not believable.
    -----------------------------
    which brings us to reality television and the old saw that no one went broke by overestimating the intelligence of the average viewer.

  • Old Mexican||

    Do they call themselves Yellow Dog Democrats because of the color of the shit they leave everywhere?

  • ||

    I think there's an urban legend that conservative Southern Dems used to say they'd vote for a yellow dog before they voted for a Republican.

  • Black Lab||

    vote for a yellow dog

    RACIST!

  • ||

    I've lived with a conservative Southern Dem. I've fetched for a conservative Southern Dem. I've even gone on walks with a conservative Southern Dem. You sir, Ken Burns, are not a conservative Southern Dem!

  • cynical||

    So, basically they're the shittiest possible candidates imagine from one party, whose sole virtue is not belonging to the other party? Well, I guess a lot of politicians deserve that label.

  • Sudden||

    Admittedly, throwing a few bones at Ken Burns' projects doesn't quite rile me up. If we could actually gain some appropriate legislative progress on repealing the entitlement state and considerably reducing the department of defense and the global empire, then we would lower taxes by orders of magnitude and still throw a few bones at the Ken Burns' of the world (not that I'd advocate that, but still wouldn't be all that rage-inducing).

  • ||

    I wonder how much PBS funding Burns would get if he made a movie called "The New Deal" where he exploded the FDR myth?

  • Apogee||

    Exactly. He pretends that his funding comes with no strings.

    It's just different strings.

  • ||

    I don't think Burns has made a decent film since the admittedly great Civil War. His overwrought and mawkish style worked great for a tragic topic like the Civil War. But when you move on to less tragic subjects like Jazz or Baseball, it comes across as way to heave and over done. His later films are just not that good.

    And if it wasn't for David McCullough's incredible narrative voice, Burns wouldn't be shit. I am not kidding. Have anyone else narrate the Civil War and it just wouldn't be the same. McCullough's voice is literally the voice of America. It is just amazing.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Others have done similar documentaries on the topic that are just as affecting.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    To be fair, I really liked the episodes of "Baseball" that focused on the period up to the 1940s.

    At heart, Burns is a nostalgist--even though he purports to show a more nuanced view of American history, his preference for the cultural sensibilities of the pre-WW2 United States are glaringly obivous. When he covers the US in the more recent era, his disgust for the garishness of modern American culture really shines through.

  • ||

    I did like the first few episodes of baseball. I wonder if Burns is nostalgic for Jim Crow and Eugenics too? And lots of stuff pre World War II was garish. If he really thinks like that, he doesn't know much about history.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    I wonder if Burns is nostalgic for Jim Crow and Eugenics too?

    "Shadow Ball" from Baseball and the "Unforgiveable Blackness" doc are his attempts to mask the nostalgia.

    I think he's more fascinated with the idea of the "polite society" from the early 20th century--especially considering how much social upheaval was taking place back then.

    I think he'd be right at home as a Boston dandy from the late 1800s--the genteel social liberals who had gobs of money and a lot of time on their hands for cocktail parties.

  • ||

    Tragic topic? That doesn't fit with the freed slaves.

  • ||

    "In a perfect world," I would have an 8 inch penis. Warty would be mowing my lawn, naked. Sugarfree would cast about rose petals in my path as I walked around my mansion full of porno stars.

    The more this douchebag talks, the more I think he is just your typical liberal windbag.

  • Robert||

    He's your typical Anointed One: If the state funded arts & humanities more, they would have more money for people like me. I know this because they've already chosen me, and are holding back only because of a lack of their resources. Since the market has rejected me, it must be inferior.

    If society were structured to have less pluribus and more unum, I would have more influence, because the centralizing force of the state has already favored me, therefore they would continue to favor me and even more so. And of course this is a good thing because it is of me.

  • ||

    When I grew up, there were four or five channels and people basically shared a common canon of knowledge....Now people can seek their own self-satisfying sources of knowledge [which] is hugely dangerous.

    A girl could die of irony poisoning. I'm pretty sure there was a damning segment somewhere in his new documentary about the temperance movement's powerful influence on public education at every level: the forced purchases of texts that made outrageous claims about alcohol consumption, bribes made to Mary Hunt, president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union to wink as complete, fabricated crap made its way into the forced curriculum; the compulsory "temperance instruction" forced on millions of school kids.

    Sounds to me like Burns has drunk so much liberal Kool-Aid that the dangers of governments forcing people to consume a single source of knowledge--credibly exposed in his own damned program, FFS--can't even penetrate the bright blue tint of his indoctrination.

  • Tony||

    It's an interesting point and not so easily dismissed. Having one "canon" of knowledge surely has its dangers, but so does there being no canon at all, and it being OK for people to invent their own realities.

  • ||

    Tony, let's hear your five-year plan for stamping out the tendency for people to "invent their own realities." I'd also like to hear you explain, as a basis for it, why it's necessary for all people to share the same reality, and who you believe the arbiter of the "one true reality" should be. How does it cause you harm or loss, or cause your neighbors harm or loss, if some members of your community choose to get their news from sources of which you do not approve?

    (Well, this oughtta be good.)

  • Crickets||

    *chirp chirp chirp chirp*

  • Tony||

    A world without one set of facts is one in which people will gravitate toward pockets of dogma. More than a few of these will be comprised of utopian absolutists who think it's their duty to impose themselves on others. I believe societies have every right to suppress this tendency given the likelihood of harm to others and possibly more importantly the harm to new children born into the sects.

    The arbiters should be experts. Scientists, historians, and others with sufficient credentials are generally the people who are most trustworthy for deciding what's as close to factual as we can get.

    People can choose to consume whatever they want, but government should firmly stick to reliable sources. I'm not saying it's a better world with only 5 TV channels, but having a buffet of worldviews in the media isn't necessarily the perfect world either.

    People should be free to believe what they want, but I think it's a legitimate public policy goal to disseminate and promote factual education.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Yes, we can't have people going around believing the earth is round, or is not the center of the universe, or that blacks are equal to whites, or that corporations aren't evil, can we?

  • Tony||

    Pretty sure I just argued in favor of facts.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    "The arbiters should be experts."

    And who should be the arbiters?

  • ||

    the experts, of course. Which brings us back to the arbiters. Isn't circular logic fun....

  • marlok||

    Whoever Tony approves of. My guesses for his selections: Al Gore controlling the spigot of science news, Paul Krugman on economics, salon.com's editoral staff for politics.

    Am I right, Tony?

  • Tony||

    I'm all for vigorous debate among the experts, I just think we ought to be able to tell the difference between reliable sources and snake-oil cranks.

  • George V||

    Speak for yourself.

  • cynical||

    Have you ever taken a Thomas Friedman article seriously?

  • Radioactive||

    I much prefer vigourous masterbation among the experts...much more useful (not to mention demeaning)

  • ||

    utopian absolutists who think it's their duty to impose themselves on others. I believe societies have every right to suppress this tendency

    Oh the irony, in a post pining after a mediasphere under the control of credentialed experts.

  • ||

    [People should be free to believe what they want, but I think it's a legitimate public policy goal to disseminate and promote factual education.]

    Advocating such is enough to absolve the Sons of Liberty when they kick down your door and lynch you in the front yard.

  • Jordan||

    Good god, you are a totalitarian caricature.

  • ||

    This reminds me of the reason why I stopped posting/reading another board I used to frequent.

    There was this one pretentious auto-cocksmoker on there who'd find a way to slip into nearly all of his posts that his wife was French. And of course, she was superior in every possible way, not in the least because she was a bitchy elitist-socialist with a sense of entitlement that could knock a planet out of orbit. (IOW, like I just said, she was French.)

    One day, he posted that his French wife, after watching a few minutes of Fox News, glared at him and demanded to know why her host country (the U.S.of A.) didn't "ban lying media" and "force its media to tell the truth" like they do in...guess where. The point of his post was that this was SUCH A SMART IDEA it was simply amaaaaaazing that we stupid, base, ugly Americans hadn't thought of it before.

    Immediately, the board's overwhelming majority of bobblehead, nannyist liberals responded with kudos and applause for this notion, that it's better for the state and its "experts" to decide what is truth and what's not, and to fine/ban/cripple any voice or outlet that doesn't speak the state-approved truth.

    I responded that were America to enact such a law, Fox News would simply restyle itself as "Fox Nooz-Flavored Commentary" or some such evasive euphemism, and go right on broadcasting the evil lies, 24-7-365, from which our French deliveress could not seem to escape with her apparently paralyzed remote-control-pressing finger.

    The bobbleheads responded that I was wrong, that law was all that would be needed, and Fox News would instantly be shut down and go out of business for good, and Dorothy would come along and steal its ruby slippers and there'd be great rejoicing in Munchkinland forever 'n' ever. And that's the moment I decided I have a minimum IQ requirement for boards/forums, and that board wasn't meeting it.

    What censorship is ever done that isn't "for the common good" or "to prevent lies from corrupting the people."? What government's suppression of "pockets of dogma" isn't done to "disseminate and promote factual education?"

  • Tony||

    I didn't advocate for censorship. I err on the side of absolutism with respect to free speech.

    That doesn't mean I can't recognize the dangers of the vulgar relativism of dogmatic belief. It's like pulling teeth getting you guys to even admit there's such a thing as fact.

  • Britt||

    Burn strawman burn!

    For real though, you stuttering shitstain facts win out because they are true, not because a federal Department of Facts declares things to be true.

    It is a fact that you're an idiot. This is true because you are incapable of using rational thought, completely impervious to information which contradicts your own point of view, and ceaselessly assert that your skewed world view is in fact the true one.

  • cynical||

    Good canon is like good government -- it's founded on the agreement and consent of a supermajoritarian group, not on coercion and control. In fact, in both cases, the same concept is at play: legitimacy, which is in the eye of the beholder.

    If there is no source of information that the vast majority of people trust (more or less), you could just as easily argue that it is a condemnation of media producers as media consumers.

  • Ed Zacharias||

    I thought Ken got pretty bitchy with Nick when they were talking about funding.

  • iamtheeviltwin||

    Guilty conscious I guess...sounded like my teenager arguing when he knows he did something wrong, but needs to justify it to himself at the least.

  • Ben||

    What is it with Democrats and their canine fetish. Yelow-dog Democrats, blue dog Democrats, the fact that the congressional democrats are Obama's lap dogs etc.

    I mean the first time I saw a bestiality porn on the internet involving a woman having sex with a dog, I thought it was some NEA-funded performance art about the state of the Democrat party.

  • Realist||

    Burns is just another big government liberal.
    He admits that nobody will, willingly, pay to see his bullshit.

  • Zeb||

    I do. Or at least I would if they would stop putting on such awful shit during fundraisers.

  • Kristen||

    Yeah - why does PBS put its worst crap on during fundraising? I'm sorry, but I'm not going to donate during an all-day Ed Sullivan marathon, no way no how. But if it were a high-gloss docu like Cosmos, then you'd get a few bucks from me.

  • Robert||

    It's because they're too much stuffed shirts to do wacky stunts and stuff like WFMU's annual marathon, which is he highlight of their year's programming.

  • Realist||

    Great that's one.....with an excuse not to.

  • Seamus||

    "When I grew up, there were four or five channels and people basically shared a common canon of knowledge....Now people can seek their own self-satisfying sources of knowledge [which] is hugely dangerous."
    - If Goebbels had survived, I imagine he would have had the same opinion in his later years.

  • marlok||

    Try to imagine Ken Burns in full-on Braveheart warpaint screaming "RESTRICTIOOOOOONS!" instead of freedom.

  • ||

    Instead of blue, he uses red wode? Instead of a honking big claymore he is swinging a letter opener, like the pansy, candy-ass that he really is.

  • Radioactive||

    He's also ridiculously short...I've seen him in person roaming the streets of Brattleboro VT.

  • Realist||

    Nick,
    Why did you let that little shit for brains keep interrupting you?

  • ||

    An on-topic song from my favorite unrepentantly communist musician.

  • ||

  • George V||

    I didn't know cats can smoke on their own. I thought you had to shotgun them!

  • Joe||

    Well, I suppose he took a very impartial view of Prohibition during filming, since he apparently didn't take away any lessons about government control and intervention. He validates his projects by referring to the public reception, talking about how popular the Civil War series was when the evil corporations supposedly laughed. But, you know, there either isn't a mechanism (PBS? Viewers like you?) or people just don't realize how much they need Ken Burns. There's no way you can fight someone with that thinks you'll love whatever he's got, and it was pretty clear from the interview this guy will never change his mind.

    Also, he seems like the kind of guy who makes the point in the first sentence or two, then keeps talking and continues to drill that same point over and over. Those are the guys that are actually harder to stand when you've been drinking.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure he was suggesting if your house is on fire, pop in the baseball documentary.

  • Zeb||

    I do generally like Burns's documentaries. But I still have a dream that one day I will get drunk and start a fight with Ken Burns. Several people who I know have met him and all say that he is a self-important little prick.

  • ||

    I have a similar dream, only mine involves finishing a fight with Ken Burns.

  • Robert||

    How long have you been fighting? Or do you mean a dream of starting a fight with someone else and finishing it with Ken Burns, tag team style?

  • ||

    The words "Ken Burns" and "tag team" should never, ever, be used in the same sentence.

    Ever.

  • ||

    ^^THIS!^^

    This is the first time I've ever thought "There oughta be a law. . ."

  • Robert||

    I find it a lot easier to even disagree with him when I'm listening down here in the comment thread and not looking at him on video, because he looks too much like Dave Barry and Robert Morse.

  • cynical||

    I thought he meant that the words "FINISH HIM!!!" would pop up at the conclusion of the fight.

  • George V||

    I thought the camera covered that adequately.

  • Yrgal Tidge||

    Nick was mean, LEAVE KEN BURNS ALONE!
    /sarc

  • Joe M||

    "Now people can seek their own self-satisfying sources of knowledge [which] is hugely dangerous."

    God that is some serious bullshit right there. Another liberal pining for the days when the media gatekeepers ruled the world. I mean, is he even listening to himself? Knowledge is dangerous. To whom?

  • ||

    don't you see? it has to "sources of knowledge" that are properly vetted, peer reviewed or something like that...

  • J_L_B||

    Now people throughout history have sought their own self-satisfying sources of knowledge [which] is no more dangerous now than it was in any previous era

  • Robert||

    How can you get mad at someone who looks so much like the guy...you know...who on TV played the Miami Herald humor columnist...you know...and also a lot like Robert Morse?

  • Robert||

    I got mixed up. He looks like the real Dave Barry, not like the guy who played him on TV.

  • ||

    Ken Burns thinks in a really simple minded fashion. I wonder if he actually understands the implications of his belief that the govt should be supporting "art." He acts as though everyone agrees on not only which activities constitutes art, but also which artists should be on the govt payroll. I find the same faulty logic and fuzzy thinking in Burns documentaries, which go far beyond
    history and in the process become
    pedantic and maudlin in pushing their
    "lessons to be learned from knowing about ..."

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Leftists are violent. This is news?

  • Robert||

    He knows not everyone agrees, but he's confident they'll pick him, because the evidence he has so far tells him he's favored by gov't-influenced institutions.

    Think he's right? Or think he'd be one of the 1st they'd line up against the wall and pop goes the weasel?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "It [is] too easy to dismiss [Prohibition] as purely a retrograde, conservative attempt back to some good old days that never existed. It was a much more complicated dynamic."

    I would think that it would be very *difficult* to ignore history and label prohibition as a conservative movement. Yet progressives managed it. They have trouble seeing what's in front of their face, and when (like Burns) they finally realize what's been in front of them all along, they act like they've just discovered Fermat's last theorem. "Guess what, folks, prohibitionists were prohibitionists! What a shock!"

    If I had to guess, I'd say that it was urban leftists who put the word out that prohibitionists were conservatives. For one thing, Prohibition was embarrassing and there needed to be a scapegoat, and conservatives would do nicely (they often fill the scapegoat role). Also, the urban leftists wanted to write off rural and small-town leftists (the backbone of prohibition and several other progressive movements) as reactionary fascist hicks who never use their pitchforks except when they join a mob to lynch a minority or prevent the schools from teaching reading.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    let me try again:

    they finally realize what's been in front of them all along, they act like they've just discovered Fermat's last theorem. "Guess what, folks, prohibitionists were progressives kind of like us (only better groomed)! What a shock!"

  • Britt||

    Current progressives have a really hard time comprehending the political scene of pre-Depression America. For them the Democrats are leftwing and the Republicans are rightwing and that's all there is to it. Which is simplistic, but since 1932 is a generally accurate view of American politics.

    Before FDR drew the political lines we still work with today, party meant a lot less. Progressives could be found in both parties and themselves embraced a variety of causes that today get lumped in as the Progressive Movement.

  • Robert||

    It wasn't finished by FDR. The final lines weren't drawn until LBJ, plus a little momentum afterward.

  • Britt||

    No doubt. For example, free trade and segregation, foreign policy and a bunch of other things moved around a lot in the years after 1932, but 1932 was the year that the Democratic Party became America's social democratic party and completely jettisoned classical liberalism. Everything else is really just details. Up until FDR a Democrat could be a Bourbon Democrat. After FDR there weren't any.

    Which is one of the things that peeves me most about the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party's conservative wing is essentially composed of liberal hawks, or liberals who actually want to balance the budget. The Republican Party is composed of a variety of viewpoints ranging from Mitt Romney all the way to Ron Paul, from Giuliani to Mike Huckabee, from Gary Johnson to John Ashcroft. The Democrats have moderate centrists who, in the end, vote for the things they're supposed to vote for and say the things they're supposed to say.

    Which is why they will win. Every single member of the Democratic Party, from the rank and file to the President, is committed to building a federal government big enough to do the things they want done. By contrast, most of the Republican party wants the government smaller, but they want to keep their pet functions intact. Which in the end means nothing gets cut.

  • Apogee||

    Which is why they will win.

    The government will collapse because it is unsustainable. Their only hope is to be out of power when it occurs.

  • Audrey the Liberal||

    Progressive legislators ruin everything. Also, Ken Burns doesn't understand economics.

  • ||

    Errol Morris's on-the-side commercial work, of course, gave us the late 90s Miller High Life ads, which easily stand as the best ad campaign ever

  • Robert||

    You mean the "Real American Heroes" radio ads? Which became "men of genius" after the Terror made it impolitic to use the phrase "American hero" ironically?

  • ||

    I hate to be a manners nanny, but guests should not have to remind hosts that it is rude to interrupt.

  • Lamarck's Giraffe||

    And guests should let hosts finish the question before they go off for ten minutes answering the question that wasn't asked. Miss Manners says so.

  • Air Jordans 2011 Shoes||

    Here you can choose more new products, enjoy more discounts, so you get favorite products while saving money.

  • Robert||

    Yes, Hit & Run allows us to choose more products, and to discount a lot of what we see.

  • ||

    He lives on our dime, producing long, tedious, boring films. The entire prohibition deal, the many parts, could have been presented in 60 uninterrupted minutes. This is the problm with the public sector (he is like any u.S Gov. employee), money has no meaning, time, costs, of no concern-it works on one principals: They Pay! (They are you and me!)

  • Lamarck's Giraffe||

    Shockingly he makes films like he answers questions in an interviews. He needs a personal editor whose only job is to follow Ken around and cut him off after he's beaten every dead horse (yellow dog?) in sight. That and a barber.

  • ||

    Why doesn't Ken Burns remake Rollerball with Rutgar Hauer as a Bladerunner replacant funded by BofA as the good guy corporation?

  • ||

    Just caught this. Fuck him he's an asshole

  • ||

    It would have been cool if Nick asked Ken whether he considered PBS/CPB is neutral.
    I can't wait for Ken's docu on Holder injustice. That would go over well at CPB.
    I love that he describes his politics as if it's genetic. There's a profound thinker.

  • UGG boots classic||

    Your essay is good, I like it very much. Here I would like to share with you some things :
    Ugg Boots On Sale http://www.uggsukmall.com. ----ercai

  • Mr. Econotarian||

    PBS has had brief daliances with economic conservatism - Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose", "Commanding Heights", Tucker Carlson's show and the brief Wall Street Journal show.

    Moreover, PBS has had occasional whacks from the government, like when Buster the Bunny's visit to a girl with two moms in Vermont was canned during the Bush Administration.

  • ||

    I found it interesting in that he started talking (maybe in part 1) about how he wanted to tell history from the bottom up, but later he clearly prefers the system in which corporate, media elites told history-as-it-happened from the top down. He claims that Cronkite et al weren't spoon-fed, but as I recall, they reported the Gulf of Tonkin incident verbatim. To further underscore his elitism, he seems to have no faith in the common man to actually seek out opposing viewpoints. Not that I haven't witnessed this in action: left and right wingers seem to enjoy living in an echo chamber. But then I'm not claiming to be a value-neutral historiographer who deserves more government funding to continue my art of telling stories from the bottom up, either.

    I wonder if Ken could pass Caplan's ideological Turing test?

    I also thought it was quite funny that he mentioned firefighting as something the market doesn't provide as if "is" implies "ought". He could probably make an interesting mini-series out of the history of private firefighting. It could include sections about how companies would watch a building that was not insured with them burn down -- and then reflect on the fact that this happened quite recently with a municipal fire service, also.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement