Accuracy in Media

“Road Bill Reflects The Power Of Pork” was the headline over a page-one August 11 article in the Washington Post. It was about the transportation bill passed by Congress and signed by the President. And it was full of pork-barrel spending. But when the House of Representatives restored $100 million to the budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, bringing its annual appropriation up to $400 million, there were no headlines in the Post, New York Times or other media about wasting taxpayer dollars on “pork.”

In the classic sense, however, spending on public broadcasting qualifies as pork. It represents members of Congress returning money to their districts, in the form of grants to local public TV and radio stations. 

But a lot of pork still remains in Washington, D.C. On the Q&A program on C-SPAN on July 24, host Brian Lamb disclosed that Kevin Klose, president of National Public Radio, makes $377,000 a year, while PBS president Pat Mitchell made $540,000. The guest, Kenneth Tomlinson of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, piped in that lobbyists for the Association of Public Television Stations make over $400,000.

Lamb was astounded: “Why? I mean, there’s a public in all of that. And why is there so much money involved in public television?”

“That’s a good question,” replied Tomlinson, especially when the New York Times and other papers made so much out of the fact that he had spent $10,000 on a study to document bias in PBS programs

Not only are PBS and NPR officials very well paid, but David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, charges that federal tax dollars were used, in effect, to lobby for more federal funding of public TV and radio.

The restoration of the money came when NPR and PBS used their “tax-funded airwaves to reach their millions of affluent, influential fans,” he noted. Boaz pointed out that local stations affiliated with public broadcasting ran 30-second ads over and over urging their listeners and viewers to call members of Congress. Their websites offered instructions on how to “call, fax, or e-mail Congress.” He explained, “With some 800 radio and television stations running these ads, this is a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign.”

“It’s simply wrong for tax-funded broadcasters to use our tax dollars to lobby on behalf of getting more tax dollars,” said Boaz. “When government money is used to influence the government, it’s like putting a thumb on the scales of public debate. Government itself is tipping the scales in one direction.”

That’s right. That’s why AIM has argued for an investigation of this practice on the grounds that it violates the law against using federal dollars to lobby the federal government.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Congressman Ralph Regula said the $100 million was put back because House members were “bombarded” with calls and e-mails from constituents unhappy with his proposal to cut the money. He noted that the $100 million was put back through cuts in programs for youth job training and higher education.

The CPB’s Tomlinson, a conservative, supports spending more federal money on public TV. He was responsible for spending $5 million on a PBS program featuring members of the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

But during that July 24 interview on C-SPAN, he essentially admitted that the show has been a bust.

He said that when he was asked by a reporter whether the Journal show would dominate the Friday night PBS schedule, he replied that the liberal Now program “is carried in primetime on something like 80 percent of public television stations,” while the Journal show “is carried primetime by less than 20 percent of public television stations.” Lamb asked Tomlinson about a report that CPB had given $1 million to the Pacifica Radio Foundation.

Tomlinson replied, “Pacifica has been supported in the past by CPB. I would have to check to see what the current status is.”

Lamb asked, “What would happen if you support a right wing radio network like that?”

Tomlinson: “There would an absolute revolution in public broadcasting ranks.”

Lamb: “But why do you support a left wing organization?”

Tomlinson: “In the past we did so because we traditionally did so and no one wanted to pull it back. Once again, we had been very genteel in our approach to the system. I’ve not sought to wipe out funds that are channeled to independent producers. I’ve not sought to reduce funds for any elements of traditional public broadcasting.”

That’s a big mistake. What’s more, it turns out that the CPB still funds Pacifica. In fact, Tomlinson’s CPB provided information to us showing that the Pacifica radio network, a far-left operation known for extremist political propaganda, gets over $1.4 million a year.

Tomlinson should do his duty-act now to terminate the money. If he has to take on the Bush administration and Congress to get the job done, so be it. This is pork just as much as those items in the highway bill.

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