Thursday, July 14, 2005

The CPB and Tomlinson; Reading Between the Lions

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, CPB, has a new chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, and he is at least as frightening as the lions in the PBS's children's reading program "Reading Between the Lions", who will shortly be reading Bible stories if Tomlinson has his way.

The whole story is absolutely fantastic, from the very beginning when Tomlinson got the power to really make the PBS "fair and balanced", worthy of being made into a fairy tale for children. Tomlinson started by hiring, in secret, a wingnut researcher to do a study of the possible political bias in public broadcasting. This researcher, one Frederick W. Mann, then charged us all almost 15,000 dollars for a study of four programs in which he categorized the program guests by such deep and meaningful labels as "liberal", "conservative" or "neutral", or by their being "pro-Bush", "anti-Bush", "in support of the administration" or "opposing the adminstration". Without ever really explaining how he came up with these classifications. As examples of "liberal" and "anti-administration" guests can be mentioned Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and former congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.)!!!
This because these stalwarts of the pro-Bush camp said something in the interviews that wasn't completely uncritical of the government.

What an idiotic way of trying to define bias. A real study would have tried to see whether a particular topic for discussion elicits all the relevant facts from both sides of the political aisle. But such a study might not have been able to establish the great prevalence of liberals in public broadcasting. Funny, if one of those programs had contained a clip of Bush saying something self-derogatory, Mann would have labeled him "anti-Bush".

Tomlinson has not been discouraged by the hilarity his little study has provoked, or the recent questions in the U.S. Senate about how Patricia Harrison, a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee was chosen to be the new CPB president. Maybe he knows that the wingnuts are firmly behind him and that they really don't care if the PBS dies or becomes a wingnut echo chamber. In both cases they have won. Right now they seem more intent to cut PBS's budget than to support Tomlinson's efforts to make it into a clone of Fox News, but things may change in the future, so Tomlinson continues to lead the charge against all and any thing liberal.

His new frontier might be the Voice of America, which Tomlinson also supervises. In any case he has ordered all sorts of management studies to be carried out about the practices of Voice of America. If there is also a study about any potential anti-U.S. bias, well, we wouldn't know about that yet, would we?
A postscript:
In today's news we learn that Tomlinson will be replaced, when his term runs out, by a major Republican fundraiser, Cheryl F. Halpern, who believes this

At the Senate confirmation hearing on her nomination to the CPB board in 2003, Halpern expressed agreement with Lott after he questioned the objectivity of PBS journalist and commentator Bill Moyers.

"There has to be recognition that an objective, balanced code of journalistic ethics has got to prevail across the board, and there needs to be accountability," she said at the hearing. She agreed with Lott that penalties were justified when balance fails, although she acknowledged that CPB rules prohibit interfering with programming decisions. Neither she nor Lott elaborated on what sort of penalties they favored.

She contrasted that lack of authority to her role on the federal Broadcast Board of Governors. "Going back to my BBG days, we were able to remove physically somebody who had engaged in editorialization of the news," she said, according to an account in Current, the public broadcasting newspaper.

It would seem that the gloves are off.