Bozell Column: Back to Bias Basics at PBS
A few years ago, the Left pulled several muscles exerting itself with the strange theory that the Public Broadcasting Service was lurching dangerously to the right. When Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman Kenneth Tomlinson had the audacity not only to speak internal profanities (“fairness” and “balance”), but to try and build on them, it became clear to them that he was out of control and needed to be stopped.
Tomlinson made several small but significant steps toward balance on our taxpayer-subsidized airwaves, nudging the creation of two right-leaning talk programs – “Tucker Carlson Unfiltered” and “The Journal Editorial Report” – and both suffered from the TV equivalent of crib death. Liberals really erupted when they learned Tomlinson secretly hired someone to assess the political balance of some PBS and NPR programs. This initiative was doomed, not only because the internal bureaucracy would never tolerate it, but because proving liberal bias at PBS is beyond easy. It’s like proving Rosie O’Donnell has a liberal bias: is it really necessary to conduct a study?
The Left maintains an iron grip on PBS with all the maturity and sophistication that a four-year-old hangs on to a Happy Meal toy. The motto of their public and private campaign against Tomlinson’s alleged transgressions should have been “Mine! Mine! All Mine!”
Tomlinson is long gone and Democrats now control Congress. But another step was necessary for the reemergence of classic PBS propaganda: the return of Bill Moyers. He was back to full-time fulminating duties on April 25 with a special titled “Buying the War.” The entire thesis of this 90-minute taxpayer-funded lecture? The national media were willing cogs in the neoconservative machine that took America to war. How is this for PBS balance: Moyers didn’t allow a single conservative, neo- or otherwise, to challenge this ludicrous idea. Oh, there were assorted clips of conservatives (yours truly included) speaking in the months after 9/11, but only to “prove” his case for a noxious “patriotism police” which would not allow dissent.
He did invite far-left media critics like Eric Boehlert and Norman Solomon to echo his conspiracy theory that the major media were stuffed with sticky pro-Bush saps. But then, Moyers also added major media players, from disgraced CBS anchor Dan Rather to former CNN boss Walter Isaacson, to agree with him that they were all woefully lacking in anti-war fervor.
In the same week, defense expert Frank Gaffney was telling a far different story – in fact, the opposite story. Unlike Moyers, Gaffney had proof. Back in the Tomlinson era, CPB pursued the idea of a broad-based documentary series on how America would respond to the post-9/11 world. Gaffney’s documentary proposal on “Islam vs. Islamism,” focusing on moderate Muslims’ efforts to challenge Islamofascists, was given a green light as one installment in the 11-part series called “America At The Crossroads.”
But once Tomlinson was out, the permanent liberal bureaucracy kicked into gear. The series was shipped to PBS D.C. superstation WETA. They promptly expressed horror that anyone would allow Gaffney anywhere near a PBS production because of his “day job” with a conservative advocacy group. They wanted Gaffney fired as an executive producer. When that didn’t happen, they censored the film, refusing to air it.
This is a clear double standard. Take Moyers as Exhibit A. Even as he constantly produces PBS programming, he has an advocacy-group job as well, as president of the leftist Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, and no one inside PBS has ever cared.
There was one “neocon” film that did air in the series, titled “The Case for War,” which starred conservative theorist Richard Perle. The PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler – who, to be fair, has occasionally faulted shows for a liberal tilt – came unglued that Perle was allowed so much access to PBS viewers.
“I personally find the decision to produce this film, as it has turned out, to be a stunning avoidance of the real crossroad that we are at and an abdication of journalistic principal [sic] on the most crucial issue of our time and our future,” Getler protested on the PBS website. “This was not the subject or the time, in my opinion, on which to have a ‘point of view’ film controlled by an advocate.” Getler added that the film had a “propaganda tone” and “it is structured so that Perle always has the last word and controls the flow.”
To Getler, it is an abdication of journalism to allow antiquated and disproven conservative arguments on PBS. But how could Getler watch the Moyers propaganda special and not see how that spectacle was obviously structured so that Moyers always had the last word – the only word!
There is only one journalistic principle and one standard for the liberals who dominate PBS. It’s mine. It’s not yours.