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Saturday, December 23, 2006,11:10 PM
Attacks Against Journalism?
Journalists Amy Goodman and David Goodman unpack the politics of public broadcasting.
By Amy Goodman and David Goodman

In public broadcasting we need to get back to the revolutionary spirit of dissent and courage that brought us into existence in the first place, and this country does, too.
—Bill Moyers

There is a war on, but it’s not just in Iraq. The Bush administration has launched a full-scale assault on independent journalism. This regime has bribed journalists, manufactured news, blocked reporters’ access to battlefronts and disasters, punished reporters who ask uncomfortable questions, helped ever bigger corporations consolidate control over the airwaves, and been complicit in the killings of more reporters in Iraq than have died in any other U.S. conflict.

In this global attack, one area has come under especially heavy fire: public broadcasting. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which disburses about $400 million per year for public television and public radio networks such as National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), was established in 1967. “In authorizing CPB, Congress clearly intended that non-commercial television and radio in America, even though supported by federal funds, must be absolutely free from any federal government interference beyond mandates in the legislation,” according to the CPB inspector general.

CPB is often described as the “heat shield” designed to insulate public broadcasting from political interference. This posed a problem for the Bush administration, which wanted to turn up the heat on public broadcasting. Instead of a shield, they installed a right-wing blowtorch to run the CPB: Kenneth Tomlinson. His mission as CPB chairman, until he was forced to resign in scandal in November 2005, was to transform public broadcasting into an extension of the White House propaganda machine. What Fox News is to TV and the Washington Times is to newspapers, the Bush regime has hoped to make of public broadcasting: just another outlet for government spin.

The Crusades

President Bush famously warned the world in September 2001, “Either you are with us, or with the terrorists.” In this simple frame, journalists, whose job it is to be skeptical (well, at least that’s the theory), are a natural enemy. And in Kenneth Tomlinson’s eye public enemy number one at PBS was Bill Moyers, who hosted the popular PBS show “NOW with Bill Moyers,” a weekly public affairs and investigative news hour.

Tomlinson secretly paid more than $14,000 to an outside consultant to monitor and rate the political leanings of the guests on 38 episodes of “NOW.” The consultant, one Fred Mann, also monitored National Public Radio’s “The Diane Rehm Show” 15 times, and the PBS talk shows “Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered” (twice) and “Tavis Smiley” (23 times).

Mann wrote a secret report for Tomlinson in which he classified the political views of the guests. Any guest who questioned the Bush presidency was labeled “anti-administration,” and others were rated L for liberal or C for conservative. There were subcategories too, such as “anti-DeLay.” It didn’t take much to get pigeonholed: Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel was branded with a scarlet L for expressing doubts about the Iraq policy. Hagel is so Liberal that the Conservative Christian Coalition and the Eagle Forum both gave him a 100 percent rating in 2004. Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, who helped lead the effort to impeach President Clinton, was labeled “anti-administration.”

“[Mann’s report] appears to have been cobbled together by an armchair analyst with little or no professional preparation for the task,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N. Dak.). “The report is itself steeped in deep political bias.” The report was also widely ridiculed because it was filled with typos and faxed from a Hallmark card store in Indianapolis.

It turns out that before Fred Mann was tapped to be an arbiter of objective journalism, he worked for the American Conservative Union and for a right-wing group called the National Journalism Center. At the Center, Mann didn’t work as a journalist—he helped students find employment (including placing interns at Reader’s Digest) and set up networking social events. The Center’s director, M. Stanton Evans, wrote a book, Blacklisted by History: The Real Story of Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies, to burnish the reputation of that unfairly pilloried former senator from Wisconsin.

The parallels to McCarthy’s witch-hunts are eerily appropriate. Eric Boehlert revealed in Salon.com that Tomlinson and William Schulz, an ex–Reader’s Digest editor, both once worked for Fulton Lewis Jr., a well-known radio personality who was an infamous ally of McCarthy. Lewis’s son, who took over his father’s radio broadcast, recalls Tomlinson as “a very good journalist, a hard worker, and as someone who was very responsibly Conservative.”

As Tomlinson marshaled his witch-hunters and assembled his blacklists, he consulted with the White House about who to hire to fill key positions at CPB. Turns out it was illegal for him to do this, but he had a mission to rout out Liberals, and laws were not going to get in his way.

By mid-2005, with Tomlinson sniffing for Liberal bias in the back alleys of Sesame Street, CPB was in turmoil. At a Senate hearing in July 2005, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) confronted Tomlinson about his “crusade”:

Sen. Richard Durbin: It strikes me as odd, Mr. Tomlinson, that we’re on this crusade of a sort here, this mission to change what’s going on. I don’t quite get it, understand what your agenda is here and what you’re trying to achieve.
... I think Bill Moyers’ program “NOW” was a balanced program. And I think most people would agree with it. Now, Mr. Mann that you hired, or someone hired, to monitor this program came up with some rather strange conclusions about who’s a liberal and who’s a Conservative and who’s a friend of the president and who isn’t.

... It’s been reported that you have championed the addition of “Wall Street Journal Editorial Report” to the PBS lineup and that you’ve raised money for that purpose. . . . What was your purpose in bringing in the Wall Street Journal, which has been noted is a publication owned by a company that’s been very profitable and would not appear to need a subsidy to put on a show?

Kenneth Tomlinson: I think Sen. Stevens hit the nail on the head. No bias—no bias from the left, no bias from the right. If we have programs like the Moyers program that tilt clearly to the left, then I think it’s to—according to the law, we need to have a program that goes along with it that tilts to the right and lets the people decide.

Durbin: Let me ask you about this “clearly to the left” bias on the Moyers show. How did you reach that conclusion? Did you watch a lot of those shows?

Tomlinson: I watched a lot of those shows, and I think Mr. Mann’s research demonstrates that the program was clearly Liberal advocacy journalism. ...

Durbin: You have perceived a problem here which the American people obviously don’t perceive.
... Can we expect you to do the same for The Nation magazine? Are you going to raise $5 million to make sure they have a show?

In November 2005, a damning report from the CPB inspector general charged Tomlinson with breaking federal laws and violating ethics rules. The White House’s hatchet man at CPB resigned under a cloud of scandal. But the apparatchiks he left behind in the top positions at CPB ensure that loyal Republican soldiers will continue to wage war on independent journalism, while hiding behind the smokescreen of “balance.”

“We Are in Danger of Losing Our Democracy”
It’s a pretty good bet that a journalist loathed by the Bush White House must be doing his job well. Bill Moyers has been an icon of American journalism for the last three decades. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, was special assistant to Lyndon Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS News, produced numerous groundbreaking shows on public television, has won more than 30 Emmys, nine Peabodys, three George Polk Awards, and is the author of three best-selling books. Since retiring from “NOW” with Bill Moyers in 2005, Moyers has been speaking out forcefully in defense of journalism in general and public broadcasting in particular. He challenged Kenneth Tomlinson to debate him on PBS; the former CPB head declined. In June 2005, in the thick of the right-wing attacks against him, Bill Moyers spoke on “Democracy Now!”

Moyers observed that packing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with partisans is both mistaken and unprecedented. “All the attacks on public broadcasting in the past have come from outside,” he said. “They’ve come from the Nixon White House, from Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker of the House, and they’ve been rebuffed because the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was led by principled Democrats and Republicans who took seriously their job of resisting pressure from Congress and the White House to influence public broadcasting.

“Now this is an inside job. Kenneth Tomlinson is there as an ally of Karl Rove to help make sure that public broadcasting doesn’t report the news that they don’t want reported.”

Moyers noted that CPB president Patricia Harrison and Kenneth Tomlinson “both would like to see public broadcasting be an arm of government propaganda—in particular, the administration’s propaganda.” The veteran newsman accused Republican operatives of having “intimidated the mainstream media so that you don’t get much reporting of what is contrary to the official view of reality.” Their dream is to have “state-manipulated media: media that may not be owned by the state, but is responsive to the state.” He says that Tomlinson, as overseer of the U.S. government–backed Voice of America, “thinks like a propagandist.” Moyers was appalled at the revelation that Tomlinson had secretly hired a Conservative “consultant” to monitor his show. Tomlinson “could have just watched the broadcast. He could have called me and asked me who was on. He did not tell his board he was doing this. He did not tell his staff he was doing this. He did it arbitrarily on his own.”

In an interview with the Washington Post, Tomlinson said that the turning point for him came while watching a show that “NOW” did about a town in Pennsylvania:

It was November 2003, and [Tomlinson] was watching Bill Moyers, host of the Public Broadcasting Service show “NOW,” talk about how free-trade policies had harmed small-town America. Tomlinson knows small-town America—he grew up outside tiny Galax, Va., in the Blue Ridge Mountains—and Moyers’ presentation of the issues struck him as superficial and one-sided. Indeed, it struck him as “liberal advocacy journalism.” Right then, Tomlinson said, he decided it was time to bring some “balance” to the public TV and radio airwaves.

Moyers explained that the show Tomlinson watched was done by journalist Peter Bull. He traveled to Tamaqua, Penn., “looking at what was happening economically in this town as a result of downsizing, outsourcing, loss of jobs, people losing $20-an-hour jobs for $9- or $6-an-hour jobs. It was really good reporting about the losers in the class war.

“And Kenneth Tomlinson, a right-wing Republican, couldn’t take that because it was contrary to the party line. The party line is: Globalization, NAFTA, CAFTA—all of this is really good for people, and if we just have the patience, we’ll see that. Well, we were reporting from the front lines of what’s happening on globalization to American workers, and he became furious ...Why? Because we were reporting what was contrary to the official view of reality.”

Moyers mused, “It’s not my opinions he opposes. It’s journalism that is beholden to nothing but getting as close as possible to the verifiable truth.” One problem for Tomlinson as he tried to recast PBS into a house organ for the Bush administration was that Moyers was one of the founding fathers of public broadcasting. Moyers has pushed back against partisan operatives by invoking the original mission of public media.

“I was a young policy assistant in the White House of Lyndon Johnson. I attended my first meeting to discuss the future of educational television in 1964 when I was 30 years old. I was present at the creation,” Moyers recounted.

“We established public broadcasting back in the 1960s because we believed there should be an alternative to commercial television and to commercials on television. We thought commercial television was doing pretty well at what it was doing, but it was even then beginning to dumb down its programming to satisfy the largest common denominator. It had made its peace with the little lies and fantasies of merchandising. It treated Americans as consumers, not as citizens. Congress approved public broadcasting as an alternative to corporate and commercial broadcasting.” Moyers concedes now, “Public broadcasting has failed in many respects. We’ve not been enough of an alternative. We need a greater variety of voices on public broadcasting: Conservative, Liberal, and beyond Conservative and Liberal. But it’s still the best alternative we have for providing the American people with something other than what is driven by commercials, corporations and the desire constantly to sell, sell, sell.”
posted by R J Noriega
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