One of the funniest things to watch in Washington is the spectacle of the news media going after conservatives and Republicans for doing nothing wrong. “Panel Puts Public Broadcasting Chair in Hot Seat” was the headline over a Los Angeles Times article by Matea Gold about Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, appearing before a Senate subcommittee. The third paragraph disclosed that “the CPB chairman maintained that he had simply sought to follow a federal law requiring the corporation to ensure objectivity and balance in public broadcasting programs.”
This is the way Washington works. Tomlinson was under fire for doing his job.
The coverage of the general controversy over public broadcasting has been just as one-sided. We have commented on Stephen Labaton’s articles in the New York Times about Tomlinson. They are so extreme as to be laughable. He is careful to ignore any citation of the provisions of the act establishing public broadcasting which mandate objectivity and balance in programs.
But what is most objectionable is the failure to cite evidence that public TV and radio stations violated the law against lobbying with federal dollars when they defeated a congressional cut of $100 million in their $400 million annual subsidy.
We have sent a letter to Tomlinson asking him to investigate this matter.
The law is clear. 31 USC, Section 1352 prohibits the use of federal funds for lobbying efforts directed at the federal government. This law clearly explains that you may not use federal funds to influence or attempt to influence any member of the Executive or Legislative branches of government for the purpose of securing a grant or contract. But CPB-funded stations and entities engaged in lobbying designed to restore $100 million in funding for the CPB that had been cut by a House committee. The Washington Post noted that at least 90 of the 175 licensed public TV stations, as well as “almost all” of the 780 public radio stations affiliated with NPR, posted appeals for the money on their websites or aired ads in favor of the funding.
On the website of Maryland Public Television (MPT), people were told to “Save Federal Funding for Public Television” and “Call Congress today.” They were led to believe that shows like Sesame Street, NOVA and Antiques Road Show would go off the air if Congress cut the public broadcasting budget.
As a result, the House voted 284 to 140 to add back $100 million to the CPB’s budget that had been cut by a House committee. PBS CEO Pat Mitchell boasted that the House vote was the result of “unprecedented mobilization” of PBS supporters.
Several commentators noted that the high-profile campaign was improper and inappropriate. But it also appears to be illegal. Public TV and radio stations may claim that their federal funding was somehow kept apart from the money and resources used in the lobbying campaign. If that is the case, they should be able to prove it.