Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman Kenneth Tomlinson has been under relentless fire by the New York Times for trying to assure that federally-funded public broadcasting programs be objective and balanced, as required by federal law. Times reporter Steven Labaton claims that the CPB “is supposed to be a political buffer between lawmakers and public television and radio.” Therefore, we are being led to believe that Tomlinson is supposed to do nothing when the evidence shows that CPB-supported programs have a liberal bias.
The trouble is that Labaton never cites any factual basis for the claim that CPB is supposed to be a “political buffer,” whatever that means. Where does this statement come from? The CPB mission statement, available at www.cpb.org, says nothing about acting as a political buffer. Instead, the CPB was established by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which is quite explicit and makes it clear that Tomlinson is within his rights to insist on objectivity and balance in programming.
Under the section of the act entitled, “Purposes and activities of Corporation,” we read that the CPB is authorized to develop programs “with strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature?”
Tomlinson has come under fire by the Times for spending CPB money on various studies intended to document the bias on public TV programs such as NOW, previously hosted by liberal partisan Bill Moyers. But if Tomlinson had attacked the bias without having those studies in hand, the Times would have attacked him for being uninformed. Our problem with the Tomlinson approach is that the additional spending was unnecessary because the bias has already been documented by other sources, including Accuracy in Media.
The fact remains that Tomlinson is correct to insist that public broadcasting programs obey the law requiring objectivity and balance, as long as they receive federal money. Tomlinson is not violating the law or the mission of the CPB. Instead, biased programs on PBS and NPR have constituted violations of the law under which the CPB was formed and the programs were funded. Once again, the New York Times has gotten the story almost completely wrong.