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Who Framed Buster Rabbit? The Fallout Continues

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, February 18, 2005; Page C07

Letters continue to fly over "Postcards From Buster."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has fired off a scathing one to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings addressing a letter she sent to the head of PBS last month in which she condemned an episode of the children's program because it showed actual children who live with their lesbian moms.

Buster "poses" with the two Vermont families, both headed by lesbian couples, that are featured in the "Postcards" episode causing all the fuss. (Karen Pike -- Wgbs Via AP)

Meanwhile, Corporation for Public Broadcasting President and CEO Kathleen Cox says that, contrary to the word from PBS chief Pat Mitchell's camp this week, she did not talk with Mitchell about the "Buster" episode between the time Mitchell publicly stated her support of the episode and the time she announced PBS would not distribute it.

Let's review, shall we?

Friday, Jan. 21: PBS rep Lea Sloan tells the Boston Globe that Mitchell reviewed the episode and "we now feel comfortable" with it.

Tuesday, Jan. 25: Spellings pens stern letter, telling Mitchell of her department's "strong and very serious concerns" about the "Postcards From Buster" episode. She writes that "Congress' and the Department's purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children."

Wednesday, Jan. 26: PBS announces it will not distribute the episode.

Wednesday, Feb. 16: The TV Column asks Sloan specifically what caused Mitchell to change her mind between Jan. 21 and Jan. 26. Sloan responds that Mitchell changed her mind after having conversations with a number of PBS stations and "national leadership." Sloan names Cox, as well as John Lawson, who lobbies for public TV stations on Capitol Hill and who is Spellings's brother-in-law.

Yesterday, Cox told The TV Column, "I absolutely had no conversation with [Mitchell]" between the time "she spoke to the Globe and then made the decision."

CPB has no funds in the "Buster" series, Cox said, and "I did not have any conversation with her where I was weighing in one way or the other. She in passing mentioned the Buster situation some weeks ago. . . . We have weekly calls where we talk about a lot of things, and I at that point in time understood she and [WGBH President] Henry Becton were going back and forth as to what appropriate edits there might be."

Cox said, "My understanding is she did have conversations with people, but the first I heard from her was after she made that decision, explaining that she had made the decision after receiving the Spellings letter."

(Interestingly, on the day PBS announced it would not distribute the episode, PBS programming co-chief John Wilson insisted to The TV Column that the decision had nothing to do with the Spellings letter. See what it's like trying to cover PBS?)

We called Sloan yesterday morning for a response to Cox's comments. She said she'd get "clarification" and got back to us later. "It is true that Pat and Kathleen talked, and talked about 'Buster,' " Sloan said. "Pat has been traveling so much I can't pin down exactly when they spoke."

Since then, Rep. Frank has written a humdinger of a letter to let Spellings know "how deeply I resent your profoundly degrading comments about me and millions of other Americans."

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