Wednesday, April 27, 2005

PBS = Republican Broadcasting Corporation

Republican Broadcasting Corporation
Ari Berman

A conservative coup is underway at PBS.

The new head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the gatekeeper between lawmakers and public broadcasters), Ken Ferree, is a staunch Republican proponent of media deregulation and a former top adviser to FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Three top CPB officials, all with Democratic affiliations, departed or were dismissed in recent months. For the first time in its 38-year history, the CPB ordered a comprehensive review of public TV and radio programming for "evidence of bias." All new PBS funding agreements are conditioned upon the network following "objectivity and balance" requirements for each of its programs.

Last January, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced the cartoon rabbit Buster, of "Postcards from Buster" fame, for visiting a lesbian family in Vermont. The decision to slash in half the popular investigative show NOW after Bill Moyers' departure, and the addition of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Tucker Carlson (who has since left for MSNBC) to the programming line-up proves just how far right PBS has moved in an attempt to appear fair and balanced. "This is the first time in my thirty-two years in public broadcasting that CPB has ordered up programs for ideological instead of journalistic reasons," Moyers told The New Yorker last year.

A majority of the CPB's eight-member board--chaired by Ken Tomlinson, a good friend of Karl Rove--are now Republican appointees. Two of the newest, Gay Hart Gaines and Cheryl Halpern, have donated more than $800,000 to the Republican Party since 1995. Gaines once ran a political action committee for Newt Gingrich, who as speaker of the House pushed to "zero out" all of PBS's federal funding. In 2003, PBS President Pat Mitchell offered Gingrich a town-hall style show. It would've happened if Gingrich wasn't already under contract with Fox News.

Ironically, the CPB was created to shield PBS from political pressure, just as PBS was intended to address the "needs of unserved and underserved audiences." One can hardly argue that the WSJ edit page or Tucker Carlson fit into that category. "To find the same combination of conviction, partisanship and ideological extremism on the far left," wrote my colleague Eric Alterman, "A network would need to convene a 'roundtable' featuring Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, Vanessa Redgrave and Fidel Castro."

These days, PBS is more likely to give James Dobson his own special on religion.