PBS Chairman Cites Partisan Pressure


The Chairman of the Board of PBS has weighed in on the debate over a new CPB president, and she doesn't want it to be former Republican National Committee Co-Chair Patricia de Stacy Harrison.

Neither do a dozen-and-a-half legislators (Democrats and an independent), who also sent a letter to Tomlinson Friday asking him to delay the search.

PBS Board Chairman Mary Bittterman didn't name Harrison, said to be one of Corporation for Public Broadcasting Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson's top candidates along with acting president, Ken Ferree. But in a letter to Tomlinson Friday, Bitterman said that in the highly charged political atmosphere in which public broadcasting finds itself, "the appointment of a CPB president with a history of national political party leadership, no matter how highly qualified or respected that individual is, would compromise that independence both in perception and in reality."

When Kathleen Cox exited the CPB presidency suddenly last April, PBS President Pat Mitchell lamented the loss of an executive she said had understood the role of the corporation as a heat shield between politicians and noncommercial broadcasting.

Bitterman made a similar point, saying that CPB's charter in 1967 was to provide "maximum protection from extraneous interference and control."

"Growing concern is being registered about the damage being done to public broadcasting's independence by the application of partisan political pressure," she wrote Tomlinson. "In that light, we [the board] are worried that the appointment of a former national political party chair to the post of President and CEO of CPB will further damage the prospects of public broadcasting serving our nation as it intended to do."

Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and company were not nearly so collegial in their tone to CPB, calling out Harrison by name, the said:

"We are writing to urge you to democratize your presidential selection process for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and to delay the process until you do so," they said. "Thus far, your search process reeks of secrecy, cronyism, and partisanship that take the "public" out of public broadcasting.

"Such a critical process deserves a fair and transparent review. We ask you not to appoint a political activist to the CPB presidency next week and begin a new, transparent, and non-partisan search process for a new president."

Other signatories included John Conyers (Mich.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Maurice Hinchey and Louise Slaughter (both New York), Bernie Sanders (an independent from Vermont) and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Bitterman's and the legislators' letters follow calls earlier in the week by media activist groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy, for an investigation into the CPB president's search. CDD isn't happy with either de Stacy or Ferree, who was Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell's Media Bureau Chief.

But Tomlinson critics aren't just writing letters.

Representatives of CDD, Common Cause, and Free Press plan to deliver 150,000 e-mail petitions to CPB headquarters in Washington Monday that it says "call for an end to partisan meddling in CPB."