Monday, May 02, 2005

Et tu, PBS?

The Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is aggressively pressing public television to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias, prompting some public broadcasting leaders - including the chief executive of PBS - to object that his actions pose a threat to editorial independence.

In late March, on the recommendation of administration officials, Mr. Tomlinson hired the director of the White House Office of Global Communications as a senior staff member, corporation officials said. While she was still on the White House staff, she helped draft guidelines governing the work of two ombudsmen whom the corporation recently appointed to review the content of public radio and television broadcasts.

Mr. Tomlinson also encouraged corporation and public broadcasting officials to broadcast "The Journal Editorial Report," whose host, Paul Gigot, is editor of the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. And while a search firm has been retained to find a successor for Kathleen A. Cox, the corporation's president and chief executive, whose contract was not renewed last month, Mr. Tomlinson has made clear to the board that his choice is Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee who is now an assistant secretary of state.

Mr. Tomlinson's tenure has brought criticism that his chairmanship has been the most polarizing in a generation. Christy Carpenter, a Democratic appointee to the board from 1998 to 2002, said partisanship was "essentially nonexistent" in her first years. But once Mr. Tomlinson, a former editor in chief of Reader's Digest, joined in September 2000 and President Bush's election changed the board's political composition, the tenor changed, she said.

"There was an increasingly and disturbingly aggressive desire to be more involved and to push programming in a more conservative direction," said Ms. Carpenter, who is now a vice president of the Museum of Television and Radio. One of the more disturbing developments, she added, was a "very vehement dislike for Bill Moyers."

Mr. Tomlinson said he understood the need to reassure liberals that the traditions of public broadcasting, including public affairs programs, were not changing, "that we're not trying to put a wet blanket on this type of programming."

But his efforts to sow goodwill have shown that what he says he tries to project is sometimes read in a different way. Last November, members of the Association of Public Television Stations met in Baltimore along with officials from the corporation and PBS. Mr. Tomlinson told them they should make sure their programming better reflected the Republican mandate.

Mr. Tomlinson said that his comment was in jest and that he couldn't imagine how remarks at "a fun occasion" were taken the wrong way. Others, though, were not amused.

"I was in that room," said Ms. Mitchell. "I was surprised by the comment. I thought it was inappropriate."

Such a twisted view of "balance," I don't even know how to respond to this Orwellian horseshit.


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