During an interview on National Public Radio (NPR), Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), made a number of misleading statements about his efforts to correct perceived liberal bias in public radio and television broadcasts.Tomlinson initially stated he wanted to "turn down the temperature" on the ongoing debate over the future of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and NPR. But over the course of the hour-long interview he proceeded to provide numerous misleading and insufficient answers on a range of topics: public opinion of bias in public broadcasting; his decision to commission a consultant to monitor NOW, the PBS program formerly hosted by Bill Moyers, for bias; his role in funding a new PBS program featuring members of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board; and his appointment of two CPB ombudsmen that have conservative ties.
In the interview on the May 18 edition of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, responding to an email from a listener who cited "numerous conservative figures" appearing on Moyers' program, Tomlinson responded in jest, "Am I gonna have to go back and hire another consultant and demonstrate this is incorrect?" The reference was to an outside content review study of NOW he reportedly commissioned in 2004. The study is reported to have cost taxpayers $10,000, but Media Matters for America has been unable to determine the identity of the firm conducting the study. Further, Tomlinson never sent the results to the CPB board, and he has yet to release them to the public [The New York Times, 5/2/05].
The identity of the firm conducting the study would be relevant for a number of reasons, including Tomlinson's apparent willingness to engage the services of a conservative firm that employs questionable methodologies. Tomlinson has reportedly contacted S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), "about conducting a study on whether NPR's Middle East coverage was more favorable to Arabs than to Israelis." As Media Matters has noted (here and here), CMPA, which has received funding from right-wing organizations, has conducted numerous flawed studies purporting to confirm liberal bias in media and academia, and Lichter himself has misrepresented those findings in media interviews.
Early in Rehm's interview, Tomlinson dodged a question concerning the ramifications of a 2003 CPB-commissioned poll that measured public opinion of bias on PBS and NPR. After Tomlinson confirmed the poll's findings -- that a plurality of Americans see no bias on either PBS or NPR, that just one in five respondents detected a liberal bias in public broadcasting, and that one in 10 detected a conservative bias -- Rehm asked, "[H]ow does that lead us to believe that we must have something to balance a program like Bill Moyers'?" Tomlinson answered obliquely, "Well, do you agree that the Bill Moyers program was liberal advocacy journalism?"
When Rehm inquired whether Tomlinson planned to monitor the PBS program The Journal Editorial Report, hosted by Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul A. Gigot, for bias, he answered that such oversight had only been necessary when "the question of balance was an issue." He went on to say, "There's no question that the NOW program is essentially liberal advocacy journalism."
Tomlinson also asserted that "he did not participate" in CPB's decision to provide $5 million in funding for The Journal Editorial Report. "The decision to fund the show was done by our professionals within CPB," he said. But "public broadcasting officials said Mr. Tomlinson was instrumental in lining up $5 million in corporate financing and pressing PBS to distribute [The Journal Editorial Report]," The New York Times reported on May 15.
In response to a listener question about CPB's recent hires of ombudsmen Ken Bode and William Schulz, Tomlinson denied that he had previously asserted that CPB would hire a liberal and a conservative: "I didn't choose Ken [Bode] for his, quote, liberal views, but I had seen him as coming from that general part of the spectrum. These people in the end were hired because they are professionals," he said. To the contrary, the May 15 New York Times article reported: "At a meeting in February , Kevin Klose, NPR's president, was told by Mr. Tomlinson that the corporation would have a liberal ombudsman and a conservative one, participants in the meeting said." In fact, as Media Matters has noted, while Schulz is clearly a conservative, Bode is hardly a liberal; an adjunct fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, Bode endorsed Indiana Republican gubernatorial candidate Mitch Daniels in an October 15, 2004, Indianapolis Star commentary.
From the May 18 edition of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show:
TOMLINSON: This debate has gotten a little hot in recent days, and I think we need to turn down the temperature, while answering proper questions.
REHM: Was there consultation throughout this system? Or was it simply an agreement between you and [PBS president and CEO] Pat Mitchell that this Wall Street Journal program would be funded by $5 million out of CPB funds?
TOMLINSON: All of the above. Pat made the initial contact with Paul Gigot and The Wall Street Journal. The decision to fund the show was done by our professionals within CPB. I do not participate in those decisions.
REHM: Am I incorrect in inferring from what I have read that the studies demonstrate that a majority of the U.S. adult population does not believe that the news and information programming on public broadcasting is biased? In fact, the plurality of Americans indicated there is no apparent bias one way or the other, while approximately one in five detects a liberal bias, and approximately one in 10 detects a conservative bias.
TOMLINSON: That is a proper reflection of the poll.
REHM: Well, then, how does that lead us to believe that we must have something to balance a program like Bill Moyers'?
TOMLINSON: Well, do you agree that the Bill Moyers program was liberal advocacy journalism?
REHM: Well, my own perception is much less important than what I now have in front of me, which is an email from a listener in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He says, "I'd like to know why Mr. Tomlinson targeted the Bill Moyers show. It was really the only place on television where liberals and conservatives talked civilly with one another about issues of the day. Conservative guests on the show included Grover Norquist, Larry Klayman, former congressman Bill [sic: Bob] Barr, the late Bob Bartlett, editor of The Wall Street Journal, and others. The exchanges were always respectful and informative."
TOMLINSON: Am I gonna have to go back and hire another consultant and demonstrate this is incorrect? But the Bill Moyers NOW program represented outstanding broadcasting. He's a very talented and gifted man. It's just that -- you know, Bob Dylan said you don't need a weather vane to tell which way the wind is blowing -- it was not a balanced program. I think there is a residue of positive feeling for public broadcasting in this country reflected in that poll. And I don't want to do anything to effectively undermine that.
REHM: Here's an email from Christine in Valparaiso, Indiana, who says, "While I have high regard for Paul Gigot, I do not expect the new PBS program to be anything but one-sided, because as editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, he countenances no opposing opinion." Do you plan to monitor the Wall Street Journal show for balance as you did the Bill Moyers show? What actions do you envision in the event of bias on the Gigot show?
TOMLINSON: We monitored the Bill Moyers show only in a time period when the question of balance was an issue. There's no question that the NOW program is essentially liberal advocacy journalism. And it's good journalism. The Wall Street Journal show is conservative advocacy journalism. And it's good journalism. And you will from time to time hear various points of view on both of those programs. But why don't we offer those two programs side-by-side and let the people decide.
REHM: How unusual was it that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting funded the Wall Street Journal program?
TOMLINSON: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds all sorts of new broadcasting endeavors, but after that initial funding --
REHM: Of five million --
TOMLINSON: We expect these programs -- we demand these programs find their own sponsors, and that's the way we'll move forward.
REHM: And that's after one year of broadcasting?
TOMLINSON: That's after one year, yes.
REHM: So will you be monitoring the Wall Street Journal program?
TOMLINSON: I'll be watching both NOW and the Wall Street Journal program, and I will enjoy them both. If you have two programs which the broad general public understands represent points of view, you don't have to monitor them.
REHM: Here's an email from Tom in Jacksonville, Florida. "Can Mr. Tomlinson please explain why both the ombudsmen he's chosen for PBS are conservative? Ken Bode wrote an endorsement wrote of Mitch Daniels, GOP candidate for governor of Indiana, last year. William Schulz is an avowed conservative.
TOMLINSON: Well, I knew Ken Bode in another period of his life. I knew him when he was with The New Republic. I knew him when he was in D.C. I didn't choose Ken for his, quote, liberal views, but I had seen him as coming from that general part of the spectrum. These people in the end were hired because they are professionals. And I think that they will respond to professional criticisms. And the success of the ombudsmen will be weighed by the public based on the quality of their work.
JEFF CHESTER (Center for Digital Democracy): But my question is, isn't there a conflict, Mr. Tomlinson, between your role as what I call America's chief propagandist, the fact that you're also the chairman of the board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. government agency which oversees Voice of America, Radio Sawa, Radio Marti, which has to advance a U.S. government line, and your role as chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is supposed to be independent from government.
TOMLINSON: As to the question about my other job, I am the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees international broadcasting. That is a presidential appointment. The president appointed me as chairman. But there, too, we engage in journalism. We are charged by law to reflect all shades of American point of view, and I think we do an excellent job of that.