More Public Broadcast Programs Monitored
A consultant hired by the Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to monitor the political leanings of guests on PBS’ “NOW with Bill Moyers” last year also tracked the content of programs hosted by NPR’s Diane Rehm and public broadcaster Tavis Smiley, according to a Democratic senator who obtained a copy of the analysis.
The consultant, Fred Mann, provided Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, CPB chairman, with a report classifying guests interviewed by Smiley and on “The Diane Rehm Show” on National Public Radio as “liberal” or “conservative,” according to a spokesman for Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.).
For the record:
12:00 AM, Jun. 29, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 29, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
National Public Radio -- An article about the monitoring of public broadcasting programs in Tuesday’s Section A misspelled the last name of National Public Radio President Kevin Klose as Close.
The expanded scope of the analysis was first reported Sunday by the New York Times.
Dorgan, who received a copy of the 50-page report from Tomlinson, has declined to release it, and Mann’s conclusions about the programs remain unclear. The senator did not return calls for comment.
As the chairman of the nonprofit charged with distributing federal funds, Tomlinson has declared his intention to right a perceived liberal tilt at PBS, but has publicly singled out only the show anchored by Moyers -- who retired in December -- as an example of lopsided programming.
The corporation’s inspector general is now examining Tomlinson’s hiring of Mann, who was previously employed by a conservative journalism education group, as well as other contracts given to GOP lobbyists.
A spokesman for Tomlinson declined to comment Monday on Mann’s report, citing the investigation. But Smiley and public broadcasting officials said they were troubled to learn their programs had come under scrutiny.
“It is disappointing to know that my work was being monitored in this way, particularly at the taxpayers’ expense,” said Smiley, who currently hosts a late-night PBS talk show and a weekly two-hour radio program.
“An unpaid intern using Google could have determined our guest list and found very easily that we do a very balanced show every single night.”
It remains unclear if Mann analyzed Smiley’s radio or television show -- or both. Smiley, based in Los Angeles, had a public affairs program on NPR for three years until December and now hosts a similar program on Public Radio International geared toward a black audience.
His 30-minute late-night program on PBS began airing in January 2004.
“The ultimate irony is that what Mr. Tomlinson says he wants, we deliver every night,” said Smiley, noting that he had sought to showcase diverse opinions.
His PBS program’s first political guest was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who attempted to end federal funding for public broadcasting in 1995. An interview with then-Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie in February 2004 was followed with a segment featuring Afeni Shakur, mother of the late rapper Tupac Shakur.
Neal Kendall, executive producer of Smiley’s television program, said the show had done 52 segments with Republicans or conservative guests and 64 with Democrats or liberals since its inception. He said the larger number of guests from the left side of the spectrum was due to the contested Democratic primaries last year.
Smiley said neither of his programs got CPB funding, except for a small grant his television program received to cover last year’s political conventions. However, his NPR program did receive start-up money.
Rehm’s program does not receive CPB money, according to an NPR spokeswoman.
Kevin Close, president of NPR, which has distributed Rehm’s show for 10 years, said Monday he was “deeply concerned” that Tomlinson did not disclose the monitoring activity.
“We also question the purpose and nature of this effort, its extent and its goal,” Close said.
His sentiment was echoed by Caryn G. Mathes, general manager of Washington public radio station WAMU, which produces Rehm’s show.
“We’re perplexed and disturbed as to what circumstances might have led the CPB chairman to supposedly monitor the program and, more significantly, why he would not choose to raise any questions with us first,” Mathes said.
Tomlinson actually praised Rehm’s program during a May 18 appearance on the show, during which he discussed his concerns about “NOW” and his desire for balance in public broadcasting.
Calling himself a “longtime admirer” of the show, the chairman heralded it as an example of the kind of program taxpayers want to support.
“You achieve balance on this show regularly, but it’s not by accident,” he said.
Little is known about Mann, the consultant that Tomlinson hired to evaluate the programs.
One of Mann’s last jobs was at Virginia’s National Journalism Center, a media training organization whose alumni include Ann Coulter. Founded by conservative columnist M. Stanton Evans, the center is a project of the Young America’s Foundation, which describes itself as “the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement.”
Mark LaRochelle, an associate editor at the center, said Mann oversaw alumni relations and seemed more interested in journalism education than political partisanship.
“He never struck me as being all that political,” LaRochelle said.
Times staff writer Jube Shiver Jr. contributed to this report.