CPB Memos Indicate Level of Monitoring
Last year, the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting secretly hired a consultant with conservative ties to conduct an analysis of the political ideology of guests on four PBS and NPR public affairs shows.
CPB has declined to release the report. But NPR has obtained the consultant's study. And those documents show the consultant graded guests not just on ideology, but on whether they explicitly supported policies of the Bush White House.
Kenneth Tomlinson is the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson says news coverage on NPR and PBS is often biased. And his opinion matters a great deal to both of them. The Corporation distributes nearly $400 million to public broadcasters in federal funds each year. It is an especially important source of money for PBS and NPR member stations.
Current and former staffers at CPB say NOW With Bill Moyers repeatedly angered Tomlinson, who believed Moyers was unfair to President Bush.
NOW blended aggressive, point-of-view reporting with Moyers' populist, liberal commentary.
For example, Moyers assailed Condoleezza Rice during a show in November 2004:
"So we are to have a new Secretary of State who dreadfully misjudged the terrorist threat leading up to 9/11 -- and then misled America and the world about the case for invading Iraq."
That wasn't unusual for Moyers, when it came to the Bush administration.
Last year, Tomlinson hired a consultant named Frederick W. Mann to examine Moyers' shows from 2003 and 2004. Mann also conducted less extensive surveys of guests appearing on three other shows -- The Tavis Smiley Show and The Diane Rehm Show, both on NPR, and Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered on PBS. Tavis Smiley is considered a political liberal. Carlson is a conservative commentator. Smiley left NPR this year after a dispute over the marketing of his show. Carlson recently left PBS for MSNBC.
Through a spokesman, Tomlinson declined detailed requests to be interviewed for this story, citing an inquiry into his actions by the corporation's inspector general. The spokesman released a statement that said, "The report by Fred Mann is part of the investigation being conducted by CPB's Inspector General and CPB is cooperating fully with the IG investigation. Because the IG investigation is ongoing, we are not in a position to comment on the report."
Tomlinson is a former editor in chief of Reader's Digest magazine. He told NPR last month that news reporting is fair game for scrutiny.
"I hope we never have a situation where journalists perceive intimidation in all this," Tomlinson said in an interview. "But I know when I was a journalist, I had to accept the fact that after the story was published, I would have to face my critics."
The consultant hired by Tomlinson -- Fred Mann -- sorted people who appeared as guests on the shows into three camps: conservative, liberal and neutral. For the program NOW, he also defined each guest as a supporter or opponent of the Bush administration.
Mann labeled many reporters as "liberal," such as Robin Wright of The Washington Post. She appeared on The Diane Rehm show in June 2004. On what grounds did Mann make his assessment? He wrote: "Ms. Wright's viewpoint was that U.S. intelligence was geared to fight the Cold War and did not adapt to the new threat of terrorism."
Chuck Hagel was also judged to be a liberal. That's Nebraska's Republican Senator. Last year, Hagel earned a 100 percent voting record from two conservative organizations -- the Christian Coalition and the Eagle Forum.
But Hagel has disagreed with President Bush on some issues. And the senator acknowledged misgivings about the administration's handling of Iraq on The Tavis Smiley Show in June 2004.
"I think we are still on the edge in Iraq. It will depend on whether are able to bring the United Nations, our allies, other Arab countries into this soon enough, and if we are able to define this in a way that the Iraqi people will trust our leadership, have confidence in our leadership, trust our purpose," Hagel told Smiley. "If we do that, we'll win. If we don't, we will not win."
On all the shows -- including that of the conservative Tucker Carlson -- Mann found more liberal guests than conservatives. And he found far more critics of Bush than supporters.
The report took in 136 segments on the PBS show NOW. Ninety-two were found to oppose the Bush administration. There were 67 guests deemed to be liberal or Democrats; only 23 as conservatives. And most of those conservatives were seen to be opposed to Bush policies.
But Mann does not have the kind of journalistic accomplishments that typically command respect within the profession -- or that would give him the stature to assess two national news outlets with clear-cut authority.
Tomlinson did not consult with the CPB board in arranging a contract with Mann, according to CPB sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified. Nor did Tomlinson inform the senior staff, according to The New York Times, which reported Mann was paid more than $14,000 by CPB to conduct the study.
Mann himself remains something of an enigma. NPR could not reach him for comment. His past address, telephone number and even e-mail address no longer work. Efforts to find him through past colleagues were not successful.
For years, Mann was an official at the National Journalism Center in Virginia, which has trained many aspiring journalists. He handled the job bank until last year. The center is an offshoot of the Young America's Foundation, which describes itself on its Web site as "the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement."
Diane Rehm says she hadn't known she was being monitored by CPB until recent press reports disclosed Mann's activities. In an interview, Rehm says the message she hears should be chilling to all journalists:
"If I investigate you, Diane Rehm, you will tone down your program and you will make sure that there are more conservative opinions on the air than there are liberal opinions -- because we want to make sure that the conservative perspective is out there."
Rehm says she works fiercely with her producers to provide balanced panel discussions. And she says the ability of listeners to call into the show allows for all views to be heard.
"I am stunned that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be spending money to monitor my program," Rehm says.
Tomlinson is a Republican first appointed to the CPB board by President Clinton. He became chairman in 2003 and has ties to many prominent Republican political figures.
Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, says Tomlinson is injuring public broadcasting.
"Obviously, when you have a partisan, who is chairman of the board, hiring a partisan to create some sort of a study to confirm his feelings about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- I think that does no service to public broadcasting," Dorgan said in an interview.
In past remarks, Tomlinson said he's checked his party affiliation at the door. He has argued that he is strengthening support for public broadcasting with the public and lawmakers by pushing for new points of view -- such as a PBS program featuring the conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.
"Bill Moyers may have given me many tummy aches in many different ways, but he's also capable of doing some great broadcasting," Tomlinson said in an interview with NPR last month. "It would be a great mistake for us to take Bill Moyers away from liberal supporters of public broadcasting."
Tomlinson's not alone in his beliefs. Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, opposed recent efforts in the House of Representatives to cut federal spending on CPB deeply. But Stevens told reporters from his home state that public broadcasting is too liberal.
Bill Moyers left NOW last fall. The show's been scaled back from 1 hour to 30 minutes each week. Last week, Moyers appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. When Stewart asked about Tomlinson's decision to pay Fred Mann to audit the PBS show, Moyers pounced.
"They hired right-wingers to do it -- you know, go looking for bias with bias," Moyers said. "I thought it was amazing. He didn't tell his staff -- he didn't tell his board of directors. And nobody’s seen the report."
Senator Dorgan says he's distrustful of Tomlinson's intentions because of the appointment of Patricia Harrison as the new president and CEO of CPB. Harrison was a State Department official who earlier served as co-chairwoman of the Republican party for four years. Dorgan intends to hold a press conference this morning to criticize Tomlinson for the Mann report.
But Tomlinson has said the appointment of a Republican to lead CPB -- and his other actions -- are designed to ensure deeper public trust in public broadcasting.
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