In a June 18 letter to the editor, W. Kenneth Ferree, acting president and chief executive officer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), disputed a June 5 Philadelphia Inquirer article that had reported that CPB did not "publicly release" polling it had commissioned on perceptions of public broadcasting. "The information was released more than a year ago as part of the annual report to Congress and has been on the CPB Web site since May 2004," Ferree insisted. In fact, CPB has yet to release the full results of two separate public polls it commissioned.
While some data from a July 2003 poll is available on the CPB website, the data is incomplete. The poll's general finding -- that "the majority of the U.S. adult population does not believe that the news and information programming on public broadcasting is biased" -- is cited on the "Objectivity and Balance" page. In addition, a memo prepared by the polling firm The Tarrance Group, titled "Public perceptions of public broadcasting," is attached to the CPB's 2003 Objectivity and Balance report, one of five reports the CPB annually presents to Congress. But the memo appears to include only selected findings from the 2003 poll. Neither a complete text of the poll questions nor the survey data itself is publicly available.
Moreover, the memo refers to a second poll conducted on behalf of CPB in November 2002 with an identical objective: "to measure the extent to which the American public believes there is bias embedded in the news and information programming on public television and radio." A footnote explains that results from this survey are cited in the memo "when applicable." But additional information regarding the 2002 poll's overall findings is not included, and, as with the 2003 poll, the full questionnaire is unavailable. The memo does not explain why CPB found it necessary to conduct two surveys on the same issue within a nine-month period.
In addition, contrary to Ferree's claims to transparency regarding the polls, CPB chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson has repeatedly downplayed or avoided questions regarding the poll results, which appear to undermine his efforts to identify and eradicate alleged "liberal bias" in public broadcasting. On the May 13 edition of the Public Broadcasting Service's Tucker Carlson Unfiltered, host Carlson cited the CPB-commissioned poll and asked, "So is there really a problem?" Tomlinson replied, "Mark Twain said figures lie and liars figure." On the May 18 edition of National Public Radio's The Diane Rehm Show, Tomlinson dodged a similar question from host Diane Rehm.
In his letter to the editor, Ferree also took aim at the Inquirer for reporting that he had admitted in an earlier interview to neither watching PBS nor listening to NPR. He wrote in response, "I said no such thing. When asked about my favorite PBS shows, I listed several; when asked about my radio listening habits, I said only that I do not listen to the radio on my way to work because I generally commute on a motorcycle." But in an interview in The New York Times Magazine, to which the Inquirer apparently referred in its June 5 article, Ferree clearly stated that he is "not much of a TV consumer"; that he finds the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer "slow"; and that he does not listen to "a lot of public radio." From the April 24 New York Times Magazine interview with Deborah Solomon:
What PBS shows do you like?
I'm not much of a TV consumer. I like ''Masterpiece Theater'' and some of the ''Frontline'' shows. I like ''Antiques Roadshow'' and ''Nova.'' I don't know. What's your favorite show?
It would probably be the ''NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.''
Yes, Lehrer is good, but I don't watch a lot of broadcast news. The problem for me is that I do the Internet news stuff all day long, so by the time I get to the Lehrer thing ... it's slow. I don't always want to sit down and read Shakespeare, and Lehrer is akin to Shakespeare. Sometimes I really just want a People magazine, and often that is in the evening, after a hard day.
For the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, you don't sound like much of a PBS viewer. Perhaps you prefer NPR, which your organization also finances?
No. I do not get a lot of public radio for one simple reason. I commute to work on my motorcycle, and there is no radio access.
Media Matters for America runs the Hands Off Public Broadcasting campaign, an effort to ensure that public broadcasting remains independent and free from political pressure and to highlight conservative misinformation in and about public broadcasting.