The New York Times seems highly upset that anyone would question the existence or objectivity of what they call the Public Broadcasting "Service." Last week, the paper put PBS's internal worries on Page One, concerned that pressure from conservatives threatens to send PBS lurching -- horrors! -- to the right.
Liberal lobbyists inside and outside PBS, including the Times editorial page, are once again trying to convince the Congress to allow them to create a massive $5 billion endowment so they may achieve "financial independence." When PBS stations go digital, requiring less space on the broadcast spectrum, they want to sell their surplus spectrum and keep the profits. Fiscal conservatives should insist that PBS stations should return any proceeds from spectrum sales directly to the U.S. taxpayers, who massively subsidized the network in the first place.
The Times news report on PBS claimed even "conservatives" support an endowment, and then cited Norman Ornstein, whose latest "conservative" claim is that House Speaker Dennis Hastert is an autocrat, "the Vladimir Putin of American Politics." If that were true, Vladimir Hastert would have first had his soldiers seize the state-funded liberal press at PBS.
Creating a PBS endowment was a terrible idea 10 years ago, and it still is. We need a public broadcasting system that is held more accountable to the taxpayers who fund it, not less. An endowment would only make PBS more insular, and the PBS bureaucracy is already as insular as the Harvard faculty lounge.
Check out the new panel PBS has just created to study their editorial "integrity" and "independence." It's chock full of liberal media establishment types, including former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw, former CBS reporter Marvin Kalb, former Washington Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser, and former NBC reporter/Janet Reno spokesman Carl Stern. Their consultant is snooty former Los Angeles Times media reporter Tom Rosenstiel, who's never found a liberal-bias debate he didn't despise. There's not one recognizable conservative in the whole "independence" crusade.
But the New York Times gets even sillier on its editorial page, deriding PBS critics as "ultraconservatives" for objecting to taxpayer funding of Bill Moyers. "When conservatives attacked the respected Bill Moyers, labeling him a dangerous liberal, PBS offered Tucker Carlson and Paul Gigot. Whatever slight liberal flavor might be dug out of the Moyers broadcasts, those are openly ideological conservative editorialists."
Saying Bill Moyers might have a "slight liberal flavor" is like saying 200-proof alcohol is slightly intoxicating. Carlson and Gigot are conservatives on most issues, but their level of rhetorical aggression on the PBS airwaves is no match for Moyers. They're mild milquetoasts in tone compared to Wild Bill. It's not coincidental the Times had no outrageous quotes from Carlson or Gigot on PBS to prove their point.
One of the first things PBS President Pat Mitchell did when she arrived was offer Moyers a weekly hour to fulminate against conservatives, and fulminate he did. Moyers defined the Bush administration as "partisan predators and crony capitalists indulging in a frenzy of feeding at the troughs in Baghdad and Washington." They "feed on the corpse of war." One night, he put on a flag pin in protest: "When I see flags sprouting on official lapels, I think of the time in China when I saw Mao's "Little Red Book" on every official's desk, omnipresent and unread." He said he put it on "to remind myself that not every patriot thinks we should do to the people of Baghdad what bin Laden did to us."
Most famous was what even PBS insiders have called "The Speech," a jeremiad delivered after the Republican victories in the 2002 midterms about how Republican domination of Washington would "force pregnant women to surrender control over their own lives," and "transfer wealth from working people to the rich," and give corporations "a free hand to eviscerate the environment and control the regulatory agencies meant to hold them accountable."
Only the New York Times could characterize these rants as being "slightly liberal" and not "openly ideological."
Any reasonable look at the daily or weekly public-affairs content of public broadcasting is still going to find a liberal tilt. Even Mitchell, the PBS president, told the Los Angeles Times she was upset at all the content criticism she's taken from left-wing groups, since "They are our natural allies and friends ... I'd expect them to be more understanding. The sad thing is, the people who want to see public television get better resources are hardly helping by participating in this kind of debate."
Notice how PBS would rather not have "this kind of debate," a debate about bias. They just want their billions from the government, and save the bias debate for someone who gives a damn.