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Redirecting focus and content of, and interpretation by, the nation's captive news


Part 4

(3) Interference in Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS

The efforts of then chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, to reshape the corporation, PBS and its programming was an effort to "aggressively [press] 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." The CPB is a "private, nonprofit entity financed by Congress to ensure the vitality of public television and radio. Tension is hardwired into its charter, where its mandate to ensure "objectivity and balance" is accompanied by an exhortation to maintain public broadcasting's independence."

Disclaimer: I am on record in Shouters and charlatans that "In an environment where… broadcast anchors admit to self-censorship in an effort to avoid commercial attack, the only TV news that I seek out is PBS (Lehrer, Moyers, Frontline et al), [otherwise relying] on primary source materials -- the stuff from which the high street press is crafted, and a broad spectrum of offshore sources."

Tomlinson frequently spoke of the need for "objectivity and balance," yet he increased partisanship on the CPB board to the point of polarization, repeatedly "criticized public television programs as too liberal overall" with a "tone deafness to issues of tone and balance," urged appointment of a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee as CPB president and chief executive, hired the director of the White House Office of Global Communications as a senior staff member while "she was still on the White House staff [to] review the content of public radio and television broadcasts," contracted an outside consultant, without the knowledge of his board, to track the political leanings of guests on "Now With Bill Moyers," and was instrumental in securing Paul Gigot's "The Journal Editorial Report" to offset Now:

Public television executives noted that Mr. Gigot's show by design features the members of the conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, while Mr. Moyers's guests included many conservatives, like Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition; Richard Viguerie, a conservative political strategist; and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

PBS refused to sign a contract with CPB when it argued that PBS's own journalistic standards were not sufficient to achieve the "objectivity and balance" language in the charter, arguing that agreement could give CPB "editorial control, infringing on its First Amendment rights and possibly leading to a demand for balance in each and every show." Tomlinson's comments that "that we're not trying to put a wet blanket on this type of programming," were offset by public comments to broadcasters that "they should make sure their programming better reflected the Republican mandate."

Tomlinson resigned in the wake of a CPB IG report that alleges that "Tomlinson violated federal law" and "violated statutory provisions and the Director's Code of Ethics." Gigot has moved to Fox. Although it has scrolled off C-SPAN to their paid tapes, it is very much worth listening to Bill Moyers' 9 December 2005 keynote speech for the 20th anniversary of National Security Archives Conference on Secrecy and National Security. It is remarkable on many levels, spanning forty years from the Johnson administration, the Tonkin Gulf decision and the creation of the FOIA, a very nip and tuck affair as it turned out, concluding with his relating of the Gigot-Tomlinson back channel cooperation.

Gigot to Tomlinson: "[T]hank [you] for defending the importance of balance and diversity on public television"
Media Matters for America
Dec 6, 200512:25pm EST

Media: The PBS Paradox
By A.B. Stoddard, CQ Columnist
Congressional Quarterly WEEKLY
July 4, 2005 – Page 1800

A Battle Over Programming at National Public Radio
New York Times
May 16, 2005

Republican Chairman Exerts Pressure on PBS, Alleging Biases
by Stephen Labatan, Lorne Manly and Elizabeth Jensen
New York Times
May 2, 2005
Fee archive

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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