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How PBS’ ‘The Open Mind’ Plans to Thwart Disinformation Ahead of Election: ‘There Are Not Two Sets of Facts’

Host Alexander Heffner tells TheWrap why his PBS program is all the more important today than when it launched in 1956

“The Open Mind,” PBS’ longest-running series, kicked off its latest season Monday, and host Alexander Heffner explained to TheWrap how the 64-year-old show is working not to let any person or group “hijack media” during this election cycle.

Heffner, whose grandfather founded the program, explained, “When he launched the program, television was newborn. The emphasis was on keeping an open mind. Now my focus is on making sure our brains don’t fall out– and the Republic doesn’t descend into despotism. In 1956 there wasn’t the same temptation as today to hijack media for nefarious disinformation and incitement of violence. Our country had just saved civil society from the brink.”

Civil society is one thing, but civility is subjective. Heffner isn’t afraid to be strong in his opinions about the current state of media and politics: “Still not enough folks have recognized the fatal false equivalency of 2016. There are two political parties, but there are not two sets of facts. Trump and the GOP’s only public policy is to lie. The bigotry Trump spewed on the airwaves begot Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and now Portland. Many broadcasters were so accustomed to the meaningless dribble of talking points that they forgot that rhetoric is the starting point of authoritarianism.”

Monday’s premiere discussed re-imagining justice in a post-pandemic America. Other episodes slated for the season include discussions on whether the 2020 election will be legitimate and on personal and political accountability. That one features former Rep. Katie Hill, who left her newly-won position in 2019 under a cloud of ethics investigations, then released a video statement on YouTube criticizing the right-wing media and vowing to take on the issue of “revenge porn,” which she said led to her political downfall.

Another episode earned the to-the-point title, “Calling Bull____ and the Threat of a Show Vaccine.”

“It’s up to we the people to ensure a legitimate election–and vaccine, too. Our upcoming episode with Carl Bergstrom on the threat of a ‘show’ vaccine is essential viewing,” Heffner said, noting, too, that a show focused on preserving democracy is so vital in 2020 “because it’s all up for grabs right now.”

“The Open Mind” airs on local PBS stations and has a podcast, too.