Two Big Thumbs-Up For Public Radio, TV

CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson testifies on Capitol Hill.
CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson testifies on Capitol Hill. (Joe Raedle -- Getty Images)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Is public broadcasting a nest of left-wing biases? Ken Tomlinson of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds public television and radio, was so concerned about the alleged leftward drift of programs on National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service that the CPB chairman persuaded his agency to hire not one but two ombudsmen to review and critique NPR and PBS news segments.

So what kind of slanted reporting have Ken Bode and William Schulz uncovered since they began work three months ago?

As it turns out, not much. Actually, as it turns out, none at all.

Instead, Bode and Schulz have been positively glowing in their assessments of the journalism heard on NPR and seen on news shows distributed by PBS. So glowing, in fact, that Schulz and Bode's reports, which are posted on CPB's Web site could easily be excerpted in the shorthand style of a movie ad quoting favorable reviews. To wit:

"First-rate. . . . Insightful interviews. . . . In all, two excellent reports." -- Schulz on NPR's reporting from Mosul, Iraq, in late April.

"Excellent. . . . Informative. . . . These two reports gave a nuanced and balanced view of the situation. . . . Kudos to the producers, reporters and editors." -- Bode, on the same stories.

"An excellent curtain raiser!" -- Bode on an NPR report about an upcoming court-martial of a Marine accused of murdering two Iraqis.

"High praise to Mississippi Public Television for an important job well done, and for ably fulfilling its mission of public service to the state." -- Bode on coverage of the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, the former Ku Klux Klan member accused and convicted in the death of three civil rights workers.

"TV at its best." -- Schulz on the three-part PBS series "The Appalachians."

Neither ombudsman mentions a lack of "balance" -- a frequent Tomlinson criticism -- in the programs reviewed. Indeed, neither comments one way or the other about the political leanings of the few programs that were reviewed.

Tomlinson was so exercised by the supposed liberal leanings of the PBS show "Now With Bill Moyers" that he pushed PBS to create two conservative-oriented programs, "The Journal Editorial Report" (featuring Wall Street Journal editorial writers) and "Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered" as counterweights. He also advocated creating the two ombudsmen's positions, largely over the objections of NPR, which has its own ombudsman, and PBS, which said last month it would add its own. That makes four ombudsmen overseeing public broadcasting.

Schulz is a former colleague of Tomlinson's; they worked together for years as editors at Reader's Digest. Bode is a former CNN and NBC News reporter who hosted the PBS program "Washington Week in Review" for five years. The two men are paid $50,000 a year each for working 25 hours a month.

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