PBS Political Monitoring Sparks New Review

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting will begin an internal review of political monitoring of PBS (search) programming in response to Democratic complaints, the CPB's inspector general said Thursday.

Reps. David Obey (search) and John Dingell (search) have asked for the review into several actions by CPB board chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson (search), a Republican, including the hiring of a consultant to review the guests on the show "Now With Bill Moyers."

The New York Times reported last week that the consultant kept track of "anti-Bush," "anti-business" and "anti-Tom DeLay" guests on the show. Moyers has left the show and now hosts "Wide Angle" on PBS.

"We are committed to performing a review and looking at the record and giving them the information they asked for," CPB Inspector General Kenneth A. Konz told The Associated Press.

Moyers was on vacation Thursday and unavailable for comment, his representative said. He is scheduled to address the issue Sunday in speech to the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis.

In their letter to Konz on Wednesday, Obey, D-Wis., and Dingell, D-Mich., said Tomlinson's actions may have violated the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which bans interference by federal officials over public programming. The CPB, a private, nonprofit corporation funded by Congress, provides funds for PBS.

"Congress intended that the CPB serve as a shield rather than a source of political interference into public broadcasting," they wrote.

The lawmakers also questioned Tomlinson's decision to secure corporate money to fund the "Journal Editorial Report," hosted by the editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and pressing PBS into distributing it.

The actions have attracted criticism not only from Democratic lawmakers but from PBS' president and chief executive, Pat Mitchell.

In a statement issued Thursday, Tomlinson said, "I welcome the call by Congressmen Dingell and Obey for the inspector general to examine issues related to my efforts to encourage public broadcasters to take more seriously the need that our current affairs lineup reflect objectivity and balance.

"I look forward to working with the inspector general and with the Congress to clear up with finality distortions in press reports and elsewhere about our work to bring more diversity to public broadcasting."

Tomlinson did not specify what those distortions were, and he declined through a spokesman an interview request. Earlier this week, he told the Los Angeles Times that he would reach out to liberal advocacy groups to reassure them.

"Public broadcasting is a very fragile institution," Tomlinson told the paper. "If I cause liberals to lose support for public broadcasting, I will have done the system harm."

The Public Television Programmers Association, which represents local PBS programmers, said an investigation is warranted.

"It is a serious situation we're facing," said Ron Pisaneschi, the group's vice president and the broadcasting director for Idaho Public Television. "The decisions to fund certain programs, such as the 'Journal Editorial Report,' appeared to have political motivations."

Obey said he was glad the inspector general had agreed to launch a review. "We need to get to the bottom of this," he said.