Fox News host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed in his July 7 syndicated column that the management of public broadcasting had been liberal for "decades," and therefore, "isn't it fair to give some conservatives a shot?" In fact, even before the current Republican leadership of chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson and president Patricia Harrison, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which oversees the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), has often been led by Republicans, most recently by Richard Carlson, who served as CPB president from 1992 to 1997. In addition, federal law mandates that no more than five members of CPB's nine-person board of directors be from the same political party, which ensures that the board includes directors with different political leanings.
O'Reilly's column mentioned only PBS by name, but appeared to be referring to recent leadership changes at CPB. O'Reilly wrote that "every far-left crank in town is in a frenzy over a couple of Republicans moving into management positions." But the recent high-profile management changes have taken place at CPB, not PBS. Tomlinson pushed the CPB board of directors to hire Harrison, a former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman, as CPB's new president [The Washington Post, 6/24/05]. Tomlinson himself was elected CPB board chairman in September 2003.
CPB has, in fact, not had "decades of liberal leadership" or lacked "some conservatives," as O'Reilly claimed, but has had both Republican and Democratic appointees as its leaders. Previous Republican chairpersons include Sonia Landau, who served in both of President Reagan's presidential campaigns; and Thomas B. Curtis, a former Republican congressman. Curtis resigned in 1973 to protest the Nixon White House's interference with CPB and PBS. CPB has also previously had Republican presidents, including Richard Carlson, father of conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. Another notable Republican CPB president was former U.S. Information Agency Deputy Director Henry Loomis, who led the organization from 1972 to 1978 [Facts on File World Digest, 10/6/78]. Loomis attended the Nixon White House's "public broadcasting working group," which "consider[ed] developing an Administration position on public broadcasting." He was hired to carry out the administration's goal of eliminating federal support for public affairs and news programming.
In addition, the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 formally ensures that no one political party dominates. The law requires that "[n]o more than 5 members of the [nine-member] Board appointed by the President may be members of the same political party." The board elects its own chairperson. The law has recently ensured the appointment of Republicans by President Clinton, including Tomlinson, whom Clinton appointed in 2000; and Katherine Milner Anderson, whom Clinton appointed in 1997. She had previously served as the associate director of the White House's Office of the Cabinet in 1983 and 1984 under Reagan.
From O'Reilly's July 7 syndicated column:
Because I am a simple man, I have but one simple question: If PBS is politically balanced as Bill Moyers says it is, why, then, are only liberal Americans objecting to impending changes at the network? I mean, every far-left crank in town is in a frenzy over a couple of Republicans moving into management positions. After decades of liberal leadership, isn't it fair to give some conservatives a shot? After all, the tax dollars of right-wing Americans also pour into the Public Broadcasting trough. So, hey, let's be fair about things.
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.