Who knew that political arch-conservatives loved the music on NPR so much? We always thought that they were more Toby Keith-types. But lo and behold, last week the Bush appointees on the board at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were making a strong and vocal push for more CPB funds to be dedicated to music, and less to ... you guessed it, news programs.
This ongoing battle between conservative administrators and Public Broadcasting programmers has reached a fever pitch, with CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson announcing his mission of "eliminating the perception of poltical bias"-namely, that PBS and NPR are too liberal in their Middle East coverage-and PBS mainstay Bill Moyers making blunt accusations of the White House meddling in journalism.
"I simply never imagined that any CPB chairman, Democrat or Republican, would cross the line from resisting White House pressure to carrying it out for the White House," Moyers said on May 15. "And that's what Kenneth Tomlinson has been doing." Moyer went on to add that he might return from retirement in order to help preserve the political independence of PBS.
Idaho Public Television's programming director Ron Pisaneschi, who is also the vice president of the PBS Programmers Association, admits that our local affiliate has heard from "a number of our viewers and members" who are concerned about the debate. Pisaneschi has also personally felt the brunt of conflict with conservative legislations, when in 2001, Idaho legislators Robert Lee and Stan Hawkins insisted that public broadcasting, as a tax-supported entity, should not help to "normalize" behaviors like homosexuality and sex out of wedlock.
However, Pisaneschi feels strongly that public broadcasting is OK as-is. "The American public overwhelmingly thinks that public broadcasting is the most trusted, fair and balanced organization when it comes to their news and public affairs programming," he told BW. "I think it's not surprising that during the presidential campaign that just took place, who did the candidates ask to have moderate the debates? Of the four debates, two were done by public broadcasting people, because they think we'll be honest and trustworthy."
Pisaneschi and Moyers' claims of impartiality are backed up by a recent Roper poll, which found that more Americans-41 percent-rank PBS as their "most trusted" source for news, over 10 percent higher than the second place network, CNN. Indeed, the poll found that Americans rank PBS as the second most valuable service taxpayers receive, outranked only by military defense-and only by two percentage points. Eighty-two percent of Americans, the poll concluded, also believe that the public and private funding given to PBS by the government, corporations and individuals is "money well spent."
However, the CPB announced on May 12 that it would conduct an internal investigation into the activities of Tomlinson and others, with specific focus on how political leanings may have influenced the funding of certain programs.