I choose my words carefully when I tell you there's a war on, a war for the soul and integrity of National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

At stake is our right to know the truth from sources who don't have to pay homage to the bottom line, and whom we've trusted for years.  Just yesterday, we learned in the New York Times1 that the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), along with its chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, told its staff that it should redirect money for NPR away from national newscasts and public affairs programming towards music programs.  Tomlinson is also considering a plan to monitor Middle East coverage on NPR programs for evidence of bias, an issue particularly sensitive for the Administration. 

Without citing any evidence, Tomlinson has decided that "Big Bird" leans left, despite evidence from two CPB-funded polls2 that suggest that an overwhelming number of Americans are happy with NPR and PBS programming.

We are committed to fighting back and we need your help.  Please sign our petition to protect NPR and PBS from partisan meddling and preserve what many Common Cause members consider to be a highly valued source of news and public affairs coverage:

http://www.commoncause.org/protectpublicbroadcasting

The CPB board of directors is meeting June 2 in Washington and we want to demonstrate to Chairman Tomlinson and the rest of the CPB Board that we will not allow their attacks on NPR and PBS to go unchallenged.  We have set a goal of 100,000 signatures to present at the board meeting.  That is more signatures than we have ever collected on any issue, but with your help we know we can do it.  So please sign our petition today to stop Tomlinson and rest of the CPB Board from playing politics with public broadcasting:

http://www.commoncause.org/protectpublicbroadcasting

It's ironic that the threat to the editorial independence of public broadcasting is coming from the very people entrusted to protect it from political influence.  After all, shielding public broadcasting from political influence is what the CPB was designed to do when it was created almost 40 years ago. 

But over the past several months, Tomlinson and his Republican colleagues on the CPB have betrayed their duty to protect public broadcasting by:

  • Hiring Partisans.  Tomlinson is pushing the CPB board to replace outgoing CPB President Katherine Cox with Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.3
     
  • Directly Seeking to Influence Programming Decisions.  Tomlinson hired two "ombudsmen," reportedly representing conservative and liberal points of view to work for CPB, and helped them hunt down "bias" in public radio and television shows.  The dueling-ombudsmen format is "unprecedented in mainstream journalism."4
     
  • Working with the White House to sabotage efforts at reform.  Tomlinson used his relationship with Karl Rove to sabotage a proposal that would have made the CPB board more professional and less partisan.5
     
  • Targeting Journalists.  Tomlinson hired a consultant to track the political ideology of guests on the PBS program NOW with Bill Moyers.  The Moyers program was singled out without informing the public, members of the CPB Board, or Mr. Moyers.6

Moreover, Bill Moyers has been one of Tomlinson's major targets.  This past Sunday he and I both spoke at the Media Reform Conference in St. Louis.  Mr. Moyers told the crowd why this fight was so important to him and us.  He said the following:

[O]ne reason I'm in hot water is because my colleagues and I at NOW didn't play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism.[]

Those rules permit Washington officials to set the agenda leaving the press to simply recount what officials say instead of subjecting their words and deeds to critical scrutiny.  Instead of acting as filters for readers and viewers and sifting the truth from the propaganda, reporters and anchors attentively transcribe both sides of spin invariably failing to provide context, background, or any sense of which claims hold up and which are misleading.7

This is the journalism Tomlinson wants to destroy at public radio and public television.  Mr. Tomlinson has said he is willing to speak to Common Cause, and we will meet with him.8  But words are not enough.  We need the pressure of your help, your voices, and your views.  You represent the core audience of public broadcasting and we need you to send Tomlinson's CPB a very strong message:  Hands off NPR and PBS.

http://www.commoncause.org/protectpublicbroadcasting 

Sincerely,

Chellie Pingree
President & CEO
Common Cause

(1) http://www.commonblog.com/story/2005/5/16/113648/547

(2) http://www.cpb.org/about/reports/objectivity/03_obj_balance.pdf

(3) http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/21914/

(4) http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/05/17/cpb_ombudsman_controversy/index_np.html

(5) Stephen Labaton, Lorn Manley and Elizabeth Jensen, Chairman Exerts Pressure on PBS, Alleging Biases, N. Y. Times, May 2, 2005, at A1

(6) http://www.commonblog.com/story/2005/5/2/18922/94745

(7) http://www.commonblog.com/story/2005/5/15/225042/181

(8) http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-et-pbs9may09,1,566877.story