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Destroying PBS

Bush political operative says he'll erase bias at PBS... by inserting bias by Molly Ivins

I was watching the PBS science program "Nova" the other night and spotted the liberal bias right away. I knew it would be there because Ken Tomlinson, the Bush-appointed chairman of the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), says the network is riddled with leftist leanings. Sure enough, in a program on tsunamis and what causes them, the show blamed it on shifting tectonic plates in the earth's surface. Then the graphic shows these two tectonic plates grinding against each other -- suddenly, the one on the left sort of falls down, and the big, aggressive plate on the right jumps on top of it, causing a killer tsunami. See? Wouldn't have happened on Fox.

I have listened patiently to years of right-wing bull about liberal bias in the media, but let us be perfectly clear about what is happening at PBS. Big Bird is not in favor of affirmative action. Bert and Ernie are not gay. Miss Piggy is not a feminist. "The Three Tenors," "Antiques Roadshow," "Masterpiece Theater," "Wall Street Week" and nature programs do not have a political agenda. "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" is biased in favor of boring, old, white guys who appear on painfully well-balanced panels. "Washington Week in Review" is a showcase for "Inside the Beltway," conventional wisdom, power-parroting, political-geekhead, Establishment journalism -- there is nothing liberal about it.

But there is a plot to politicize public broadcasting. It is plain as a pikestaff, and it is coming from the Right. It is obvious, undeniable and happening right now. The Bush administration is introducing a political agenda to public broadcasting. They are using the lame pretext that PBS is somehow liberal to justify it into a propaganda organ for the government. That is precisely what the board of CPB was set up to prevent 40 years ago; it is there to be a firewall between public broadcasting and political pressure. Ken Tomlinson is a disgrace to the purpose of that board, he has a political agenda and is engaging in a raw display of ideological bullying. The right-wingers in the House of Representatives are backing his power play with a threat to cut off funding for PBS entirely.

Tomlinson's claim of liberal bias at PBS is based on the program "NOW with Bill Moyers," even though Moyers' program frequently featured guests on the Right. Moyers is now retired, and the show has been cut to half an hour. Tomlinson "balanced" it with a weekly program by the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, who don't even bother to pretend to be objective: They are right-wing beyond argument. Tomlinson actually spent $10,000 of the taxpayers' money to pay some consultant to find bias in Moyers' program but has never released the results of that "study."

Tomlinson, himself a former head of Voice of America in the Reagan administration and a retired editor Reader's Digest, has been an active right-winger since I first met him in 1974. He is also the Bush-appointed chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other official arms of the government's propaganda machine. He is a Bush information apparatchik. It is quite clear he believes PBS and NPR should also function as cheerleaders for the government.


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His choice for president of the CPB is Patricia Harrison, who is such a Republican activist she was elected co-chair of the Republican National Committee, where she was particularly noted for attacking Hillary Clinton. This is beyond open partisanship. Harrison is currently at State, where she oversees that department's propaganda arm, including the production "news segments" openly intended to support Bush administration policy. She has testified before Congress about the value of such "news segments" in swaying public opinion.

When Richard Nixon attacked PBS 35 years ago, the Republican chairman of CPB resigned in protest over the political interference. The impeccably Republican Ralph Rogers of Dallas led a nationwide effort to stop the malicious meddling. Where's a decent Republican when you need one?

I've read all those studies that show people on the Right lack the gift of empathy. I can see they have a real hard time imagining themselves as people on welfare or as blacks in East Texas -- that's quite a stretch even for white bleeding hearts like me. What I don't get is their inability to do the simplest exercise in elementary fairness -- how would you feel if the shoe were on the other foot?

Let's pretend Hillary Clinton wins the 2008 election. Who do you want her to appoint chairman of CPB? James Carville? Noam Chomsky? Or should she show how much she understands the importance of the independence of public broadcasting by naming an esteemed Republican, say John Danforth or Alan Simpson or Richard Lugar? How about anyone who understands that the function of journalism is not to toady to those in power but to challenge them? Is that too much to ask?

The ideological Republicans are destroying a fine public institution.

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Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins (August 30, 1944 – January 31, 2007) was an American newspaper columnist, liberal political commentator, humorist and author. From Americans Who Tell the Truth: "To honor a journalist as a truth teller is implicitly to comment on the scarcity of courage and candor in a profession ostensibly dedicated to writing and speaking the truth. Molly Ivins is singular in her profession not only for her willingness to speak truth to power but for her use of humor to lampoon the self-seeking, the corrupt and the incompetent in positions of public trust. Her wit and insight place her squarely in the tradition of America’s great political humorists like Mark Twain."

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