New CPB board member Warren Bell on hugging Pelosi: "[T]hat sort of thing leaves a stain"

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Warren Bell, a TV producer and National Review Online contributor named to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board of directors via recess appointment, is an avowed conservative and Bush contributor with a record of inflammatory remarks regarding Democrats, women, minorities, and underprivileged people.

On December 20, President Bush installed via a recess appointment TV producer and National Review Online contributor Warren Bell on the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Bell's appointment only intensifies the widespread and longstanding concerns regarding the partisan makeup of the CPB leadership under Bush and their apparent efforts to compromise the political independence of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), and other public broadcasting outlets. Indeed, while Bell appears to have no experience in public broadcasting, nor interest in the service, he is an avowed conservative and Bush contributor with a record of inflammatory remarks regarding Democrats, women, minorities, and underprivileged people. For instance, in May 2005 he wrote, "I could reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi, and I would, except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain." Remarking on using a TiVo to shield his children from birth control ads on television, Bell said, "A little vigilance is all it takes -- well, that and a couple hundred bucks for a TiVo. Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms."

On June 26, Bush nominated Bell to the CPB board along with two other individuals, former Sen. David H. Pryor (D-AR) and Bay Area public broadcasting official Chris Boskin. The public broadcasting community quickly objected to the White House's action on Bell. Many cited Bell's divisive comments as well as the recent controversy surrounding another partisan Bush appointee -- former CPB board chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, whose efforts to apply political pressure on PBS and NPR were extensively documented by Media Matters for America. Following Bell's nomination, Association of Public Television Stations president John Lawson told the Los Angeles Times: ''We are definitely concerned about Warren Bell's nomination. After the damage caused by Ken Tomlinson's activities, the last thing we need on the CPB board is another ideologue of any stripe.'' NPR spokeswoman Andi Sporkin -- quoted in the same July 16 Times article -- responded: ''So far as we can tell, Mr. Bell only brings a history of questionable comments about women, minorities and the media, and no discernable relevant achievement, involvement or commitment to public broadcasting.'' Chellie Pingree, president of the watchdog group Common Cause, said: ''Public broadcasting is just beginning to recover from the missteps of Ken Tomlinson. The CPB cannot afford to replace Tomlinson with Warren Bell. He is the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time.''

Common Cause and the weblog Think Progress quickly publicized Bell's numerous inflammatory and partisan comments in his writings for National Review Online (NRO):

  • Bell on Democrats: "I could reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi, and I would, except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain." [5/11/05]
  • Bell on using TiVo to keep his children from viewing birth control ads on TV: "A little vigilance is all it takes -- well, that and a couple hundred bucks for a TiVo. Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms." [6/2/05]
  • Bell on reproductive choice: "I am thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues. I support a woman's right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one." [5/11/05]
  • Bell on Touchstone Television's alleged request that he hire more minorities for the TV sitcom he produces, ABC's According to Jim: "Of course, the conservative in me wants to say we should just find the best damn performers available, and judge them on the content of their character-acting, not their color. Ultimately, I will face a situation at some point this year where I say, 'Well, X was the funniest white actor, but we should probably go with Y'." [8/10/05] (Touchstone Television officials issued a statement that Bell's claim ''reflects no one's opinion connected with According to Jim other than his own.'')

In a December 20 post on NRO's blog The Corner, Bell wrote of the Pelosi remark: "I want to apologize for that joke. Here's why: some pretty nasty things were written about me in the last few months, and I didn't like it one bit. I took a totally unprovoked swipe at Ms. Pelosi for no good reason, other than I thought it might be funny. Now that I know how it feels, I'm not going to do that again."

Common Cause further pointed out that Bell had advocated in early 2006 for more films depicting "the heroism of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq":

Urging in February 2006 that filmmakers make more pictures about "the heroism of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bell wrote that sports hero Pat Tillman, who gave up football to enlist in the Army in 2002 and died in Iraq, deserved "at least, a cable TV biopic." Bell seems to have never known, or to have forgotten, the widely reported facts that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, that the Army took weeks to investigate and report its findings, and that Tillman had grave doubts about the war in Iraq, although he believed the U.S. fight against terrorism in Afghanistan was justified. (Reminded of these details, Bell asserted, "I am calling for Hollywood writers and directors to make movies and TV shows depicting the heroic stories of the War on Terror, not for a whitewash of history.")

Think Progress also noted that Bell has bragged about his large contributions to Bush's presidential campaigns. In a March 31, 2005, NRO column, he wrote: "I have met President Bush twice. I have no powerful political connections -- both times were the result of sizable checks written by me to support his campaign." According to the Center for Responsive Politics campaign finance database, Bell gave Bush $1,000 for his 2000 bid for the White House and $3,000 for his 2004 re-election campaign.

Bell's support for public broadcasting has also been called into question. A September 21 Los Angeles Times article reported that several of Bell's former colleagues had sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee in which they claimed he had previously described public broadcasting as a waste of taxpayer dollars and proposed "dismantl[ing]" CPB:

In a letter sent Tuesday to the committee's ranking members, a married writing-and-producing team that worked with Bell for two years on "According to Jim" stated that they often heard him say that federal money should not be "wasted" on programs like public broadcasting.

Jeffrey B. Hodes and Nastaran Dibai said the topic came up during political discussions that frequently arose in the show's Studio City production offices. They served as executive producers on the ABC comedy before leaving in 2005.

At one point, "We said to him, 'How would you change CPB?' " Hodes said in an interview. "He said, 'I would dismantle it.' "

Further, in the July 16 Times article on his nomination, staff writer Matea Gold reported that "Bell admitted that he has 'limited' familiarity with NPR, adding that he usually listens to sports talk radio."

The Senate Commerce Committee subsequently approved the nominations of Boskin and Pryor in September, but removed Bell from the list of nominees in consideration. The White House then announced on December 20 that Bush had installed Bell at CPB using a recess appointment. As of 3 p.m ET on December 21, the Associated Press and Reuters were the only major news outlets to report on this development.

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