We thank Sen. Larry Pressler for revealing the real reason behind the efforts of some politicians to scuttle federal support for public broadcasting. Forget all the high-minded rhetoric about privatization and deficit reduction. What is really going on is something like a witch hunt against public broadcasting employees considered too liberal.
That is the only credible interpretation of the weird 16-page questionnaire the South Dakota Republican sent to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting the other day. It demanded information on the sex, ethnic backgrounds, previous employment and even political leanings of all people employed by CPB-funded television and radio stations. "Please provide a list of all political contributions over $250 made by individuals employed by or working under contract for CPB-funded entities," the letter commanded. Talk about excessive governmental intrusion into people's lives.
The letter also demanded details of editing decisions by the Public Broadcasting Service for such shows as "Campus Culture Wars," "The Liberators" and "Journey to the Occupied Lands." And the letter targeted "Frontline" and "The American Experience," implying they lacked "balance and objectivity," which means they are too liberal. Public TV and radio do deserve more scrutiny, particularly in regard to allegations of financial laxity and of undue influence by corporate and institutional underwriters. And public TV and radio should strive for ideological balance. But Pressler's letter is so bizarre that one must ask who wrote it for him and why a competent senator such as he would actually sign his name to it. Did he not read it first?
After protests, Pressler late last week wisely withdrew 10 questions about individual employees, most of them probably illegal invasions of privacy. In the end, his letter is useful because it underscores the need for Congress to devise a new funding mechanism for public broadcasting to insulate it in the future from this kind of clumsy political interference.