Conservative Savages at the PBS Gates

The "nuclear option" as it pertains to TV news is the approaching day when Public Broadcasting System member stations -- part of the nationwide network of the not-for-profit producer and distributor

May 25, 2005 at 2:06 pm

The "nuclear option" as it pertains to TV news is the approaching day when Public Broadcasting System member stations — part of the nationwide network of the not-for-profit producer and distributor of news, talk and entertainment TV programming — stops reporting on escalating deaths and chaos of the Iraq War and becomes a conservative mouthpiece for President Bush and the extreme right-wing interests of the Republican Party.

Many people claim there's a liberal bias on most PBS news programs —Frontline, NewsHour and Now with David Brancaccio — but the days of public broadcasting's editorial independence are coming to an end. The left is losing PBS, and there's no mystery about their defeat.

Minority status for Democrats means no longer being in control of anything politically, not even PBS. In a world where you can't count on Now being critical of Bush policy, just as one expects Bill O'Reilly to support Bush policy, it's hard to know up from down.

An oft-repeated question begins a current PollingPoint survey on media bias: Do you think that most reporters tend to favor one of the major political parties? The survey informs us what we always suspected — Democrats like CNN and PBS, and Republicans like Fox.

There's one surprise from the poll. Republicans think PBS is fair, while they hate CBS. (That will probably change now that Dan Rather is gone.)

Do PBS and its radio arm National Public Radio (NPR) lean left? Haven't they always been liberal?

Well, that's a problem with a conservative White House and Congress, and they have the power to change things. A May 15 New York Times article explained what's underway at the public broadcasting organizations.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson is the Bush-appointed head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the funding arm for public radio and television, and his mandate is to push the organizations toward the right.

Congress established the CPB in 1967 to bankroll PBS and its member stations. The Federal Communications Commission's Fairness Doctrine to broadcast opposing viewpoints goes back 35 years, but one wonders if it was ever meant to work.

Tomlinson has announced plans for White House-approved ombudsman to look at NPR news coverage for signs of bias or, more accurately, signs of coverage critical of Bush.

If PBS runs a story about the Downing Street memo or Operation Truth, a nonprofit Iraq veterans group, will the White House accuse it of bias? Clearly, White House intimidation will come to an end once they take control of PBS.

This week, Newsweek continues to receive heat for its story about U.S. soldiers flushing the Quran down a Guantanamo Bay Prison toilet. For Republicans, this episode is the top reason for distrusting the media. (Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce of suburban Columbus is asking people to cancel Newsweek subscriptions.)

At the same time, Republicans look away from faux journalists planted by the Bush White House and its practice of releasing agricultural department briefs as legitimate news releases. It's a vicious cycle.

Some media strive for balance within their borders. The New York Times might showcase liberal columnists like Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman on its editorial pages, but they share space with conservative writers David Brooks and John Tierney.

Taking up the cause, this week ranking House Judiciary Committee Democrat Rep. John Conyers of Michigan is sponsoring a Capital Hill forum on media bias.

Media in America is about balance among the players. Democracy Now and Air America flaunt their liberal bias. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is expected to be conservative.

But the barbarians at the PBS gate have their eyes on a longtime liberal institution. It's a media strategy, a political ploy.

They have Fox News, and now they want NPR. At least in this case they have good taste.