Bush administration subverting public broadcasting

Frank Rich hits the nail on the head once again. In his Sunday column in the New York Times (“The Armstrong Williams NewsHour“), Rich points out that the current Republican assault on public broadcasting is different from those in the past. Nobody’s trying to do away with PBS or NPR, so Big Bird is far from an endangered species. But…

That doesn’t mean the right’s new assault on public broadcasting is toothless, far from it. But this time the game is far more insidious and ingenious. The intent is not to kill off PBS and NPR but to castrate them by quietly annexing their news and public affairs operations to the larger state propaganda machine that the Bush White House has been steadily constructing at taxpayers’ expense. If you liked the fake government news videos that ended up on local stations – or thrilled to the “journalism” of Armstrong Williams and other columnists who were covertly paid to promote administration policies – you’ll love the brave new world this crowd envisions for public TV and radio.

Rich advises that if you want to understand the Bush administration’s intentions you must “follow the money”… not the $100 million the House threatens to cut from public broadcasting’s budget, but rather the $14,170 that Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman Kenneth Tomlinson secretly paid Fred Mann to monitor the political content of PBS and NPR shows.

Now, why would Mr. Tomlinson pay for information that any half-sentient viewer could track with TiVo? Why would he hire someone in Indiana? Why would he keep this contract a secret from his own board? Why, when a reporter exposed his secret, would he try to cover it up by falsely maintaining in a letter to an inquiring member of the Senate, Byron Dorgan, that another CPB executive had “approved and signed” the Mann contract when he had signed it himself? If there’s a news story that can be likened to the “third-rate burglary,” the canary in the coal mine that invited greater scrutiny of the Nixon administration’s darkest ambitions, this strange little sideshow could be it.

Mann’s report monitored the shows of Bill Moyers, Tavis Smiley and Diane Rehm.

Their guests were rated either L for liberal or C for conservative, and “anti-administration” was affixed to any segment raising questions about the Bush presidency. Thus was the conservative Republican Senator Chuck Hagel given the same L as Bill Clinton simply because he expressed doubts about Iraq in a discussion mainly devoted to praising Ronald Reagan. Three of The Washington Post’s star beat reporters (none of whom covers the White House or politics or writes opinion pieces) were similarly singled out simply for doing their job as journalists by asking questions about administration policies.

“It’s pretty scary stuff to judge media, particularly public media, by whether it’s pro or anti the president,” Senator Dorgan said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Not from this gang. Mr. Mann was hardly chosen by chance to assemble what smells like the rough draft of a blacklist. He long worked for a right-wing outfit called the National Journalism Center, whose director, M. Stanton Evans, is writing his own Ann Coulteresque book to ameliorate the reputation of Joe McCarthy. What we don’t know is whether the 50 pages handed over to Senator Dorgan is all there is to it, or how many other “monitors” may be out there compiling potential blacklists or Nixonian enemies lists on the taxpayers’ dime.

It turns out Mann is typical of CPB hires under Tomlinson. One of the two public ombudsmen Tomlinson recruited to monitor new broadcasts for PBS and NPR is William Schulz, “a former writer for the radio broadcaster Fulton Lewis Jr., a notorious Joe McCarthy loyalist.” Tomlinson also paid a $10,000 consulting fee to Brian Darling, the GOP operative who wrote the infamous Terri Schiavo memo instructing Republicans to milk the issue.

And now Patricia Harrison, a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee has been installed as CPB president. As an assistant secretary of state Harrison publicly praised the department’s fake news segments promoting America’s success in Afghanistan and Iraq… some of which have actually been broadcast by local TV stations as real news. Tomlinson’s hires represent a concerted effort to directly control the content of public broadcasting.

Mr. Tomlinson has maintained that his goal at CPB is to strengthen public broadcasting by restoring “balance” and stamping out “liberal bias.” But Mr. Moyers left “Now” six months ago. Mr. Tomlinson’s real, not-so-hidden agenda is to enforce a conservative bias or, more specifically, a Bush bias. To this end, he has not only turned CPB into a full-service employment program for apparatchiks but also helped initiate “The Journal Editorial Report,” the only public broadcasting show ever devoted to a single newspaper’s editorial page, that of the zealously pro-Bush Wall Street Journal. Unlike Mr. Moyers’s “Now” – which routinely balanced its host’s liberalism with conservative guests like Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, Paul Gigot and Cal Thomas – The Journal’s program does not include liberals of comparable stature.

THIS is all in keeping with Mr. Tomlinson’s long career as a professional propagandist. During the Reagan administration he ran Voice of America. Then he moved on to edit Reader’s Digest, where, according to Peter Canning’s 1996 history of the magazine, “American Dreamers,” he was rumored to be “a kind of ‘Manchurian Candidate’ ” because of the ensuing spike in pro-C.I.A. spin in Digest articles. Today Mr. Tomlinson is chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal body that supervises all nonmilitary international United States propaganda outlets, Voice of America included. That the administration’s foremost propagandist would also be chairman of the board of CPB, the very organization meant to shield public broadcasting from government interference, is astonishing. But perhaps no more so than a White House press secretary month after month turning for softball questions to “Jeff Gannon,” a fake reporter for a fake news organization ultimately unmasked as a G.O.P. activist’s propaganda site.

The Bush administration and the Republican leadership are intent on turning the US into a one-party state, and nothing is more crucial to their totalitarian vision than complete and utter control of the broadcast news media, either directly, or through their corporate patrons. It may or may not be possible to save PBS from becoming the domestic equivalent of Voice of America, but the very fact that Republicans are attempting to subvert its independence in such a calculated manner is evidence that we can no longer rely on public broadcasting alone to provide balance to the corporate media.

What can we do? We must all come to public broadcasting’s defense, but we also need to create an alternative that is not vulnerable to similar manipulation. So again, I urge you to go to the Independent World Television News website, watch the introductory video, and please make a tax-deductible contribution. We need an independent media that cannot be controlled by corporate interests and government propagandists. And we need it now.

Comments

  1. 1

    Janet S spews:

    This is why NO FEDERAL FUNDS should go to NPR, CPS or whatever. If the Bush Administation is paying the bill, they get to direct the content. I say get government out of it. Let them compete for viewers. If they have a decent product, they will be able to stay on the air.

  2. 2

    Chuck spews:

    PBS should fly on its own, presently it is kinda like the BBS, a government controlled entity. Give PBS the freedom to fly on its own without government intervention!

  3. 5

    David spews:

    C’mon, people, get your acronyms straight. CPS = Child Protective Services. CPB = Corporation for Public Broadcasting. BBS = Barbershop? Bulletin Board System? BBC = British Broadcasting Corporation.

  4. 6

    GeoCrackr spews:

    Chuck @4

    But you’re talking about funding… she was talking about competing for viewers. Yeah, they’re both related in that they’re fruits, but apples/oranges.

    g’night

  5. 7

    David spews:

    Janet S declares, “If the Bush Administation is paying the bill, they get to direct the content.” Bullshit. Public broadcasting is not Government broadcasting. Don’t forget that our airwaves are a publicly-owned resource, not just a commercial playground. The CPB, NPR, PRI, PBS and local stations across the country provide a valuable service: quality, independent news, analysis and non-commercial entertainment.

    If you want to argue that the federal government shouldn’t provide financial support for that, fine; but are you also going to argue the federal government shouldn’t pay for other public goods? Like forest and campground maintenance (why not make hikers pay for it all?), or highway subsidies (you want roads? hike up your gas taxes), or Head Start (kids can pay if they want to learn)?

    Don’t judge the worth of a public good to society by whether it pays for itself.

  6. 8

    David spews:

    You want to cut government subsidies, why don’t you start with where the money is being wasted: farm subsidies.

  7. 9

    David spews:

    Janet S and Chuck, do you understand what federal support for public broadcasting means?

    from npr.org: “NPR itself gets less than one percent of its budget from CPB. NPR member stations, however, receive an average of 15 percent of their budgets in grants from CPB that help support their local program production, program acquisition, community outreach and such day-to-day costs as paying the electric bill. If this funding were lost, it would certainly diminish the quality and depth of the stations’ service to their communities.

    Additionally, there are 221 stations in 43 states that specifically serve rural and minority communities; the latter includes numerous African-American, Native American, Latino and multicultural licensees. In many cases, they are the sole local broadcasting service available. These stations receive significantly higher funding from CPB – in some cases, as much as two-thirds of their budgets – since many of their listeners simply don’t have the financial resources to provide support. If this funding is cut, there is a good chance they will not survive.”

    But I suppose those people (and their stations) don’t really matter to you.

  8. 10

    demonrat spews:

    All the arguing about public broadcasting supporting itself is the tired nonsense of right-wingers who bought off on the superiority of radio and TV formats which deliver 10 minutes of programming for every 15 minutes of ads. To them, it’s good business. We should always maximize profits, right? It’s just that some of us would rather listen to something more stimulating than the latest cheez-its commercial.

    I find it amazing that so many people still do not “get it”. It’s like watching dear in the headlights. The national one party system is in place and now un-defeatable. 2006 will not change a thing. All that’s left to do is some clean up, folks. De-fanging NPR and PBS and turning them into propaganda organs for the neo-Christian state is almost an afterthought for the Bushites.

    They already have the corporate media propagandists working for them but this will be better because they can play their made up news items and patriotic victory music with no regard to audience share. How wonderful.

  9. 11

    headless lucy spews:

    re , Chuck: Do you think that Boeing’s special tax breaks and its military contracts(both at public expense and NOT repayable like the govt. start up loans to Airbus) put Boeing in a class of corporate welfarism that makes Airbus’ look like pikerism? Your self-willed denseness never ceases to amaze me!

  10. 12

    Janet S spews:

    The poor black family in rural Alabama is not watching Masterpiece Theatre or Sesame Street. Who is watching? The wealthy old folks in New York City, along with their grandchildren. We are subsidizing PBS so the rich mother can plant her child in front of the TV while she gets her nails done.

    There is now electricity in rural areas, along with satellites. I suspect that public TV is not their primary source of information. This is such a red herring, but it still lives in the minds of liberals.

    Public TV is not necessary. It is a waste of resources. Let the programming offered compete on the airwaves for viewers, and financing. If they don’t want to show commercials, except for the five minutes before and after the show for the large foundation that paid for the show, then they can continue to do so.

  11. 13

    prr spews:

    Honestly,

    When sesmae street took the liberal stance that cookie monster would no longer eat cookies, rather he would enjoy sensible snacks in moderate portions. The head of PBS should have first ben slapped for letting anyone seriously publicly announcing this BS, then all funding should have been cut immediately afterwards.

  12. 14

    bertisevil spews:

    Someone on some other blog pointed out that Bill Buckley’s Firing Line was on PBS for like, 30 years. And how long was NOW on before Bushco. and the Rethugs started turning the screws?

    Bill Moyers must really have gotten under their skin. The truth hurts, I suppose.

  13. 15

    Nelson spews:

    I’ve followed your lead to IWT and think it will come close to being an “Air America TV”, something that is desperately needed.

    However, I was upset when I saw the channel they plan to use is Link TV (which I currently have from my satellite feed). It’s far outside mainstream channel numbers and even a liberal like myself find it less than useful.

    Remember, the goal is to have viewers for something like this, with competitive ratings and attraction for ordinary Americans, not just preaching to the choir. I filled out their survey and wrote the suggestion that they have their own channel, like CNN and Fox and MSNBC, within the news channels venues. And more importantly, in addition to political news and commentary, that they cover NONpolitical news of all stripes — and yes, including sensationalism and entertainment — because the name of the game is ratings and entertainment.

    Air America learned that right off; their rogramming IS entertaining and their ratings in many markets are quite strong. So did Michael Moore; that’s why his movie grossed over $100 million! It should also be commercial, with sponsors, so it can be self-supporting. It’s easy to make rules that sponsors have ZERO input into programming — and could even be insulted by the programming. If the ratings are there, sponsors will come.

    If IWT depends only on contributions, it will fail. Nobody will be watching. If IWT becomes a Pacifica on TV (like Link is now) it will be a useless waste of time. If it emulates Air America for TV, and strives for high ratings and good commercial sponsors, then it will be a big winner and make a real impact.

  14. 16

    spews:

    Janet S @ 12:

    Your characterization that programming on PBS is somehow only watched by rich, white folks in the north is not only ignorant..frankly it smacks of racism and classism. Please go back to the 18th Century where you belong.

    Public television serves the public interest and the public good..something our network television has failed to do when the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned. Corporate television has slashed news budgets and put the American people on a diet of pap so watered down and vile that were it not for the internet, BBC, NPR and Jim Lehrer..we’d know nothing outside of our localities.

    The airwaves belong to the PUBLIC therefore must serve the public good. The rightwing claptrap about news “competition” is useless because the news isn’t and shouldn’t be about competition. It should be about informing the public.

    But conservatives don’t want an informed public. Hence their assault on PBS.

  15. 21

    righton spews:

    This is like Socialist heaven, this area on PBS

    a) Ok, airwaves are not owned by any one person, but it doesn’t mean we should fund someone to broadcast….by extension should we give free cell phones since that spectrum if also owned by the public?

    b) Of course NPR, PBS, CPB are historically pro-liberal, despite pockets of conservative content. Rather than “payback”, lets defund the whole thing and let it die… OR mandate real equal time (not the fake stuff in the past…where the tone, content, tenor is always left wing)

  16. 22

    bertisevil spews:

    righton@21 “b) Of course NPR, PBS, CPB are historically pro-liberal, despite pockets of conservative content.”

    Um, do you mean like the McLaughlin Group or Wall Street Week in Review?

  17. 23

    Janet S spews:

    Okay, Carla, you tell me the demographics of KUOW or other PBS stations. Last I heard they were averaging at around 60 years old, and primarily in urban areas. Is saying so make me racist? How absurd. Admit it: the average guy on the street, including me, has no interest in watching yet another stuffy British show on PBS. Or another rerun of an old movie. Or Tele-tubbies.

    If this is the stuff you spend your day watching, it would explain your ability to reason.

  18. 24

    righton spews:

    bertisevil; you named 2; is that your big proof? I mean, you wanna do this by number of shows? LIke shooting fish in a barrel for me.

  19. 25

    spews:

    Janet @ 23:

    I’m curious as to why you want the demographics of KUOW from me. You’ve stated you’ve seen them. Look them up yourself if you haven’t.

    Nationally, The News Hour with Jim Leher draws 2.7 million viewers each evening. That’s more than ANY show on Fox, including O’Reilly, their top rated show.

    I didn’t refer to your comment as racist because you stated “urban” areas, I refered to it as racist because you said “black”. While I realize that it’s characteristic for rightwingers to dodge their own points..please note that I did read your post @ 12 in it’s entirety. Perhaps you should do that as well.

    righton @ 21:

    Your contention that the airwaves being owned by the public doesn’t mean they shouldn’t serve the public good is ludicrous. It’s not socialism to have government serve the public. THAT’S WHAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO DO.

    The fact that you view programming on PBS as “liberal” is irrelevant. They’re either putting up informative programming or they aren’t. If you have proof that it isn’t serving the public good, pony it up. If not..back to the 18th Century with you…along with Interplanet Janet.

  20. 26

    Mark spews:

    Carla @ 25: “Nationally, The News Hour with Jim Leher [sic] draws 2.7 million viewers each evening. That’s more than ANY show on Fox, including O’Reilly, their top rated show.”

    Recent ratings:
    FOXNEWS GRETA: 2,803,000 viewers
    FOXNEWS O’REILLY: 2,735,000 viewers
    FOXNEWS HANNITY/COLMES: 2,549,000 viewers

    Doesn’t quite blow Fox out of the water (as you appear to imply), does he?

  21. 27

    Janet S spews:

    Oh, Carla, you are so pathetic. I can’t say that the demographic of black people in the rural South is not a strong market for PBS, and I’m considered racist? It is a fact, not an opinion. The viewership of KUOW is dying off. But they don’t care, because they depend on donations and the government for their money, not the market. It is total nonsense that PBS fills a void with the poor that won’t be served otherwise.

    The programming at PBS that is being watched would succeed in the private market. Just look at owners of Sesame Street. The franchise is a gold mine. Maybe Fox News would hire Jim Lehrer to cover the old folks living in New York City.

    Television news is not something that the government should be involved in, through producing it or paying for it. It is no longer a free and independent press if the gov’t has its hand in it.

  22. 28

    Suzie Cutie spews:

    IS SEAN HANNITY THE MOST DISHONEST TALK SHOW HOST EVER?

    I was listening to Sean Hannity on KVI this afternoon when a caller tried to take issue with Hannity on the Schiavo case. The caller tried to say Michael Schiavo has been unfairly maligned. Hannity didn’t want to hear it and overtalked him, cut him off, then after hanging up on the caller, labeled him “combative.” This man was given no chance to make his points. Then Hannity had the gall to say he isn’t pushing a point of view but only presents the facts and lets his listeners reach their own conclusions.

    What a crock of bullshit.

  23. 29

    David spews:

    Janet S, after making some sweeping (but unsupported) assertions about who watches public TV or listens to public radio, says “The programming at PBS that is being watched would succeed in the private market. Just look at owners of Sesame Street. The franchise is a gold mine.

    This is a perfect illustration of the value of having publicly supported non-commercial TV programming. Sure, a network would pay handsomely to buy Sesame Street—but then Sesame Street would just turn into another vehicle for selling kids overpriced toys, clothes and sugar cereals. You can bet that its shows would no longer be sponsored by the letter “A” and the number “4.” A lot of parents (and people who have raised kids or might want to in the future) care about having a safe TV option that is 100% about educating children—not selling them to advertisers. But I suppose those people also don’t matter to you, Janet S?

    They matter to a lot of us Americans. And to more and more of us all the time. You say KUOW’s audience is dying off (!), which just shows how out of touch you really are. In fact, the NPR and KUOW audience is growing (up 6-7% last year alone). Morning Edition is the most listened-to morning show in the entire country. And in a February 2005 Roper Public Affairs and Media poll, Americans cited PBS as their most trusted national institution and ranked it as the second-best value for their taxes, behind only military defense.

    In case you haven’t figured it out yet (do you understand the concept of a public good?), the free market is great for some things, in particular for making money; but it’s not good for other things, like doing what’s right for our children (social responsibility) as opposed to what’s profitable for shareholders.

    As Mark Lloyd has pointed out, “If the measure is civic discourse, public broadcasting is far and away more valuable than commercial broadcasting.”

    Just look at the reality of most TV today (excerpt from the “Pro-Life Activist’s Encyclopedia,” Chapter 95):

    Many of today’s youth are grossly overprivileged, committed to fashion, physically flabby and lazy, and mentally undisciplined. If they don’t want to do something, they simply will not do it. And if they want to do something to indulge themselves, no law or moral standard will hold them back.

    They feel that they are entitled to the “good things in life,” not as a reward for hard work, but as an expected gift, to be received without effort and even without asking.

    And where do they learn such slovenliness? Just spend two hours in front of a television watching a random selection of situation comedies to find out.

    But don’t spend your time watching PBS, or you might realize how good it is by comparison.

  24. 30

    righton spews:

    David; guess it was good for the Communist party to fund Isvestia and Prava? Having the government involved in publishing the news is a license to lie, or to push gov’t stuff ahead of citizen stuff.

  25. 31

    Another TJ spews:

    Recent ratings:
    FOXNEWS GRETA: 2,803,000 viewers
    FOXNEWS O’REILLY: 2,735,000 viewers
    FOXNEWS HANNITY/COLMES: 2,549,000 viewers

    Doesn’t quite blow Fox out of the water (as you appear to imply), does he?

    How about:

    For the third night in a row on Friday, Greta Van Susteren was the most popular host on cable news. According to Drudge, On The Record averaged 2,313,000 viewers, down from Thursday night but still beating The O’Reilly Factor, who had 2,044,000, and Hannity & Colmes, which had 1,904,000.

    Not quite as impressive as the numbers you posted.

    On an average night, Newshour gets about 2.7 million viewers and FNC’s top show got 2.8 on its highest night last week. Carla’s statement is precisely accurate (with the possible exception that B.O. has been hemorrhaging viewers and may not be the top rated show on FNC any longer); Newshour consistenly outdraws the highest rated cable “news” shows, and it does this outside of prime time.

  26. 32

    spews:

    As a republicans we need to pick our fights. I dont think we should make any waves about PBS. Just keep the budget small. We all know the donks cant compete in the arena of ideas. Give them NPR and Bill Moyers to keep them quite.. no one listens to it anyways (well maybe if your in public school your teacher may force you to listen). Just as long as there is no restriction of political speech the conservatives will be fine.

  27. 33

    headless lucy spews:

    Rufus, you can’t be serious. You think the Rep party is dominating on the strength of its “ideas”? You really need to find out more about Leo Strauss.

  28. 34

    spews:

    33

    There is no way else to explain the popularity of talk radio..follow the money. You cant make money if you dont have a market. The money doesnt make the market… the market makes the money!!!