CPB’s grinch who stole
Christmas…& NPR news
(credit: Jamie Rose/NYT)
First, Ken Tomlinson (CPB chair) set his sights on PBS and specifically Bill Moyer’s wonderful Now with Bill Moyers program saying it was "unbalanced." Now he’s trying to lower the boom on NPR. Ken is threatened by NPR flagship news programs (All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition) probably because they present some of the most lucid, engaging news coverage available either on air, on screen or in print. Even though NPR’s news coverage is carefully calibrated not to slant too much one way or the other…that’s not good enough for Ken. What he’d like to see is NPRR, National Public Republican Radio.
So what DOES Ken want to spend money on? Music. That’s right. Since the news is so slanted toward a liberal perspective, let’s defund news and fund nice milquetoast music programming (keep in mind I love music and see nothing wrong with funding it–but not at the expense of news). Let’s get NPR out of the news business altogether and let its listeners get their news where they should–from Fox News.
One particular area of NPR’s news coverage especially offends Ken: the Mideast.
Mr. Tomlinson contacted S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for
Media and Public Affairs, a research group, about conducting a study on
whether NPR’s Middle East coverage was more favorable to Arabs than to
Israelis, Mr. Lichter said.
Mr. Tomlinson had heard complaints about the coverage from a board
member, Cheryl Halpern, a former chairwoman of the Republican Jewish
Coalition and leading party fund-raiser whose family has business
interests in Israel. The corporation has also heard complaints from
Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California.
I bet he’s hearing from two constituencies that are pushing this agenda. Groups like AIPAC and their supporters (if not farther to the right) and evangelicals. Those are the groups who would take offense if they heard news reporting anything less than fulsome in its praise of Israel. If I’m right, then this further proves the pernicious influence that pro-Israel politics exerts within the American polity. If the Republican hard right wants to set off on its crusade to make America pure and righteous, I wish they’d leave the Mideast out of it. Israelis and Palestinians are having a hard enough time solving their own problems without being the cause of ideological crusades at home as well.
Ken proposes appointing two "ombundsmen" to review NPR’s coverage, one conservative and one liberal:
At a meeting in February, Kevin Klose, NPR’s president, was told by Mr.
Tomlinson that the corporation would have a liberal ombudsman and a
conservative one, participants in the meeting said. They said Mr. Klose
told Mr. Tomlinson that this idea showed a fundamental misunderstanding
of both journalism and the role of an ombudsman.
I should say so, Mr. Klose. How is this supposed to help NPR produce better news? All it will do is bring a Crossfire type approach to managing the news. We’ll do a liberal story here, we’ll do a conservative story here. Who wants that kind of news coverage? It will send listeners to their down comforters snoring away in no time. And perhaps that’s what Ken wants. Under the guise of ensuring "balance," he’ll set NPR in such a straitjacket that no one will want to hear its news anymore. That in turn will bring about the demise of a nationally treasured news resource without him having to have his fingerprints on the corpse.
[NPR] executives say they are concerned that having two [ombundsmen] at the agency
that provides funds for programs could lead to editorial interference.
Gee, ya think so??
And in case any of you were wondering whether there’s any sort of empirical basis for CPB’s proposed programming changes for NPR or PBS listen to this doozy of an item from the Times story:
Gay Hart Gaines [a CPB board member], talked about the need to change programming in light
of a conversation she had had with a taxi driver about his listening
habits. Ms. Gaines, a Republican fund-raiser and the head of the
political action committee of Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker,
did not return a call to her office seeking comment.
All I can say is God bless Joan Kroc and the Ford Foundation for putting their money on NPR and PBS respectively. Now, if we could just get Ken Tomlinson off their backs. Since CPB provides such a minuscule percentage of each’s funding (1% in NPR’s case) wouldn’t it be nice if their level of control matched the level of their financial support? I’d be in favor of something I never would’ve favored in the past: severing the connection between government, NPR and PBS. Make them a quasi independent entity responsible for raising and spending their own funds something like the Postal Service. Or perhaps even cut the cord completely.