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
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.
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.
Molly Ivins is the former editor of the liberal monthly The Texas Observer. She is the bestselling author of several books including Who Let the Dogs In?
© 2005 Creator's Syndicate