A battle is raging between Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who believes that PBS and NPR slant too far left and need to be brought into balance, and Bill Moyers and his ideological soul mates, who think public broadcasting is fine as it is.
Rather than debate the bias issue, lefties have taken to trying to smear Tomlinson. The New York Times carried a front page story June 21 that said evidence assembled by Tomlinson that produced his charge of bias was gathered by a researcher who once worked for the American Conservative Union. The story was meant to divert attention from the content of PBS and NPR programs onto the political pedigree of the one who gathered the evidence. Nice trick if you can get away with it.
Moyers, former host of the PBS series "NOW," wrote an essay published as a two-page ad in The Washington Post by an organization called "Free Press," which defines itself as a "nonpartisan citizen's organization working for a democratic and accountable media in America."
OK, how about some accountability? How do you know something is biased? You can count the ways.
According to a newspaper for PBS insiders called "Current" (not a conservative publication), writer Louis Barbash watched the "NOW" program and found that of the 19 segments Moyers did on the Iraq war, only four included a guest or interview subject who supported it.
In one nine-minute segment about the burden the war has brought to military families, the contrary point was just a 41-second sound bite from Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, saying that hard-pressed families receive help from neighbors and family members, as well as government. In only one of those 19 segments, writes Barbash, did anyone offer a substantial defense of the war.
It was the same with other topics on the show. According to Barbash, of the 75 segments he monitored over a six-month period that addressed controversial issues like the Iraq war, the condition of the economy and the corrupting influence of corporate money on politics, just 13 included anyone who took a view contrary to the thrust of the show.
A 17-minute segment, accusing the Pentagon of understating U.S. troops' injuries in Iraq, offered a Defense Department spokesman 90 seconds to reply. That's unbalanced by any objective standard.
In the Washington Post ad, Moyers wrote, "Deep down the public harbors an intuitive understanding that for all the flaws of public television, our fundamental assumptions come down on their side, and on the side of democracy."
Does this statement by Moyers on his Nov. 8, 2002, "NOW" program sound like it comes down on the side of the public? "The entire federal government - the Congress, the Executive, the Judiciary - is united behind a right-wing agenda for which George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate. That mandate includes the power of the state to force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives. It includes using the taxing power to transfer wealth from working people to the rich. It includes giving corporations a free hand to eviscerate the environment and control the regulatory agencies meant to hold them accountable. And it includes secrecy on a scale you cannot imagine. . And if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture."
Moyers is entitled to his views. What he is not entitled to is taxpayer money to promote them. If Moyers thinks he represents the public, let PBS and NPR be 100 percent privately funded by people who want to hear and see his ideas and those of his like-minded colleagues.
Tomlinson is addressing the bias that inhabits the minds of those who believe liberalism is truth. If PBS is to continue receiving public money, it should be required to do a better job of presenting diverse viewpoints on a more than token basis.
Moyers and company would not subscribe to tokenism when it comes to race and gender, but they appear to think ideological and political tokenism is fine when it comes to ideas that are counter to their own.
PBS can't hide, or even run, from the clear evidence of liberal bias. Neither should Congress, which is considering cutting its funding, nor Tomlinson, who is attempting to balance its ideological scales.