CPB Liberal Bias Study Flawed, Critics Say
Friday, July 1, 2005
A consultant who monitored news and talk programs on public radio and TV found that liberal and anti-administration views were widespread, but critics said the consultant's work was itself biased and riddled with errors.
The consultant, Frederick W. Mann, was secretly hired last year by Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the agency that disburses about $400 million in federal tax funds to public broadcasters. In recent months, Tomlinson has criticized National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service for an allegedly liberal bias and has pushed PBS to add programs with a more conservative tone.
CPB hasn't released Mann's $14,000 study, which is the subject of an investigation by the CPB's inspector general as a possible abuse of taxpayer funds. It's still not clear what the purpose of the study was, although its conclusions comport with Tomlinson's view that liberal comments and ideas dominate news shows on public broadcasting.
Tomlinson, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, has never mentioned Mann's work in any of his public statements about public broadcasting. Mann, who reportedly lives in Indiana, remains something of a mystery; efforts by news organizations to reach him have been unsuccessful for weeks.
Mann's work was released yesterday by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who had requested a copy from the CPB. It details the views of guests on four public radio and TV programs -- "Now With Bill Moyers" and "Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered" on PBS, "The Diane Rehm Show" and "The Tavis Smiley Show" on NPR -- that aired between October 2003 and June last year.
The report labels guests on these programs "liberal," "conservative" or "neutral," or categorizes them by such descriptions as "pro-Bush," "anti-Bush," "support administration," "oppose administration." It found "Now" (hosted by Moyers and in part by David Brancaccio) to be rife with liberal views; of 136 segments reviewed, it said 92 "clearly opposed" administration policy, while the balance were "neutral" or "not about policy." It also found that when "conservatives/Republicans" were guests, they "mostly opposed" the administration. Tomlinson has often cited the Moyers show in his public critiques.
Of 46 guests on Rehm's program, "liberal" viewpoints outnumbered "conservative" viewpoints by 22 to 5, according to Mann.
But Mann never explains his labeling criteria or indicates in any detail which specific comment or comments earned a guest a particular characterization.
Dorgan pointed out that "red-blooded" conservatives such as Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and former congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.) were classified as "liberal" and "anti-administration" apparently for briefly expressing views that differed from administration policy. Dorgan called the report "kind of a nutty project" and an "amateurish attempt to prove a liberal bias," noting Mann had apparently faxed his findings to Tomlinson from Mary Ann's Hallmark, a card store in Indianapolis.
People in public broadcasting and some of those mentioned in the report expressed both indignation and confusion yesterday.
Rehm called Mann's findings "unprofessional and simplistic." She added, "I've been booking shows for 25 years. I don't think they have any idea what it takes to achieve the professionalism and expertise and the right people to express a variety of points of view. . . . What he's doing, I think, is trying to scare public broadcasters" into presenting a more one-sided and favorable view of the administration.
Tomlinson himself was a guest on Rehm's program on May 18. During that appearance, he said, "I'm a longtime admirer of you and this program."
Kevin Klose, president of NPR, said he found the report "impulsive" and asserted there was no evidence of systematic bias on NPR's news programming. "If there are questions and concerns about what we do, the first place to start is with a thoughtful, respectful and substantive discussion with [us]," Klose said. "We have yet to have that conversation."
Mann labeled as "liberals" three Washington Post reporters -- Dana Priest, Robin Wright and Walter Pincus -- who had appeared at various times on Rehm's show to discuss their news articles. Each said yesterday that he or she had reported aggressively on several administrations, both Democratic and Republican, and did not play favorites. "I stand on more than 30 years of reporting on U.S. foreign policy, in which I have traveled to 140 countries," said Wright. "I have criticized both Republicans and Democrats equally."
Said Priest, "My mission as a journalist is to hold this administration, like the Clinton administration, accountable for what it says it's doing, and I don't think that has a label."
Pincus likened the CPB report to the Nixon administration's efforts to pressure newspaper columnists. "I don' t think it's about labeling a political philosophy," he said. "What they were really doing is determining, 'Are you with us or are you against us?' "
The CPB issued a statement yesterday saying it could not comment on Mann's study while it is being investigated.