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Alexander Cockburn’s devastating 1982 critique of PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, as it was then called, included several historical parodies of the show’s signature “two sides to everything” approach, such as this “transcript” of a pre-Civil War “broadcast.”

ROBERT MACNEIL (voice over): Should one man own another?


MACNEIL: Good evening. The problem is as old as man himself. Do property rights extend to the absolute ownership of one man by another? Tonight, the slavery problem. Jim?

LEHRER: Robin, advocates of the continuing system of slavery argue that the practice has brought unparalleled benefits to the economy. They fear that new regulations being urged by reformers would undercut America’s economic effectiveness abroad. Reformers, on the other hand, call for legally binding standards and even for a phased reduction in the slave force to something like 75 percent of its present size. Charlayne Hunter- Gault is in Charleston. Charlayne?

HUNTER-GAULT: Robin and Jim, I have here in Charleston, Mr. Ginn, head of the Cottongrowers Association. Robin?

MACNEIL: Mr. Ginn, what are the arguments for unregulated slavery?

GINN: Robin, our economic data show that attempts at regulation of working hours, slave quarters, and so forth would reduce productivity and indeed would be widely resented by the slaves themselves.

MACNEIL: You mean, the slaves would not like new regulations? They would resent them?

GINN: Exactly. Any curbing of the slave trade would offer the Tsar dangerous political opportunities in western Africa, and menace the strategic slave-ship routes.

LEHRER: Thank you, Mr. Ginn. Robin?

MACNEIL: Thank you, Mr. Ginn and Jim. The secretary of the Committee for Regulatory Reform in Slavery is Eric Halfmeasure. Mr. Halfmeasure, give us the other side of the story.

HALFMEASURE: Robin, I would like to make one thing perfectly clear. We are wholeheartedly in favor of slavery. We just see abuses that diminish productivity and reduce incentives for free men and women to compete in the marketplace. Lynching, tarring and feathering, rape, lack of holidays, and that sort of thing. One recent study suggests that regulation could raise productivity by 15 percent.

MACNEIL: I see. Thank you, Mr. Halfmeasure. Mr. Ginn?

GINN: Our studies show the opposite.


LEHRER: Charlayne?

HUNTER-GAULT: A few critics of slavery argue that it should be abolished outright. One of them is Mr. Garrison. Mr. Garrison, why abolish slavery?

GARRISON: It is immoral for one man …

MACNEIL: Mr. Garrison, we’re running out of time, I’m afraid. Let me very quickly get some other points of view. Mr. Ginn, you think slavery is good?

GINN: Yes.

MACNEIL: And you, Mr. Halfmeasure, think it should be regulated.


MACNEIL: Well, I’ve got you to disagree, haven’t I? (Laughter) That’s all we’ve got time for tonight. Goodnight, Jim.

LEHRER: Good night, Robin.

MACNEIL: Did you sleep well last night?

LEHRER: I did, thank you.

MACNEIL: That’s good. So did I. We’ll be back again tomorrow night. I’m Robert MacNeil Good night.

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