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PBS Stolen by Right Wing in Cunning Bait and Switch
Published on Wednesday, July 6, 2005 by the Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)
PBS Stolen by Right Wing in Cunning Bait and Switch
by Ed Garvey
What can we do about the hostile takeover of the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio by the right wing?

That they have taken over is beyond dispute.

Ken Tomlinson is chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and he has succeeded in placing former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman and fellow neocon Patricia Harrison into the position of president and CEO of CPB. While we were focused on draconian budget cuts proposed by a House committee, Tomlinson and Harrison were doing their inside magic.

Literally millions of Americans sent e-mails to Congress demanding that the 25 percent cut in funding be restored. And, voila! The money was restored almost without debate.

Self-congratulatory e-mails flooded our computer screens. Eager to prove the political power of the Internet, many groups took credit for restoring the funding. In retrospect, the back-pats were premature. The battle was too easy, the results unsatisfactory. It was a set-up. As Frank Rich of the New York Times put it, Tomlinson, Bush and Harrison "castrated" public television and NPR.

We are now faced with a CPB that will mimic Fox news with its "fair and balanced" theme.

What does that mean? We got our first hint last week. The leading advocate of the Iraqi invasion, Richard Perle, will be featured on the "new" and "balanced" PBS in a made-for-television movie produced by a good friend of Perle, Brian Lapping. Lapping said that Perle is correct that "quite a lot of the preconceptions about neocons are just wrong." And, as he explained in the New York Times, the Perle film will be "mostly a journey, through his life and experiences." It will show Perle, who called journalist Sy Hersh a "terrorist," interacting with his critics who, get this, "say he was overly optimistic about American prospects in Iraq."

Overly optimistic? Nah, c'mon folks, the president told us just last week that we are winning. Perhaps Richard Perle was not optimistic enough! But not to worry. At a dinner meeting in Provence, France, where Perle and his propagandist Lapping are neighbors, Perle won over critics of the war before the brandy helped settle the meal.

"He's a very gentle performer, a very persuasive performer," said producer Lapping.

Face it. They stole the Renoir while we focused on the milk money. If our e-mails and petitions helped restore the money, it will now go to the likes of Richard Perle's neighbor for Big Bird's sake. This isn't about Big Bird. This is all about the Big Heist. They stole "Frontline." They cut "NOW" to half an hour. They gave the editorial board of the most conservative newspaper in the nation, the Wall Street Journal, a program on PBS.

When the pledge drive rolls around, what will you do? Will you write out a check, call in with your credit card in hand, join in the fun of funding "your" public television? Or will the images of Richard Perle, Ken Tomlinson and Patricia Harrison appear on your mental screen and force you to ask yourself, where is my money going? Whatever your decision, "they" win.

This is a sad time. Not only do the neocons control both houses of Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court, they now are in full gallop at PBS and NPR. A prediction: Soon, NPR will force talk radio to become national. They will argue that "Talk of the Nation," "Fresh Air" and other nationally controlled and produced programs are "better" than those locally produced by Joy Cardin, Kathleen Dunn, Dave Berkman and others.

When that happens, where will our voices be heard? Two or three multinationals own most of the newspapers in Wisconsin; two companies own most commercial radio; commercial TV is hopeless.

Here is a modest proposal. It costs about $3 million to construct one mile of new highway. Could we put aside 10 miles of highway over the next two years out of the $4 billion Department of Transportation budget? Put the money in trust governed by prominent citizens who have demonstrated a commitment to independent journalism. The 10-mile plan would happen every budget cycle. Can we find honest and dedicated people to guard the integrity of our own public radio and TV? No problem. Public radio was born in Wisconsin. Let Wisconsin take the lead today in protecting this valuable asset. It is time for action, not hand-wringing.

Ed Garvey is a Madison lawyer, political activist and the editor of the Web site. E-mail:

© 2005 The Capital Times


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