ON OCT. 18 President Carter nominated Irby Turner Jr., the former chairman of the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (MAET), to a seat on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The public hearing on Mr. Turner's nomination one week later before the Senate subcommittee on communications was attended by only two witnesses: Mississippi Democrats Sen. James O. Eastland (who had recommended Mr. Turner to the President) and Rep. G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery. Not surprisingly, both praised Mr. Turner's abilities and accomplishments at the state public-broadcasting system. But since that brief hearing those who oppose Mr. Turner's nomination have raised questions that, in our view, demonstrate the need for a more thorough examination of his qualifications.
The allegations about Mr. Turner's past activities put forth by the Congressional Black Caucus and a coalition of civil-rights and communications groups (who claim they weren't notified of last month's hearing in time to appear) fall into three categories:
First, his opponents charge that Mr. Turner, as the city attorney in Belzoni, Miss., and as a state legislator from 1960 to 1968, actively resisted civil-rights efforts in the state, including helping establish a private segregated school in order to circumvent public school desegregation.
Second, it is alleged that in this decade as city attorney he has worked in various ways to dilute the voting strength of blacks in Belzoni.
Finally, opponents contend that Mr. Turner, during his tenure at MAET, opposed efforts to increase black employment there and to develop programs aimed specifically at the state's black population. A coalition of Mississippi groups is opposing the renewal of MAET's license before the Federal Communications Commissions. Documents filed there show that 10 per cent of MAET's employees are black. The state's population is 40 per cent black.
Some of the allegations against Mr. Turner are demonstrably true. Although he has declined to comment generally, Mr. Turner has acknowledged that he once belonged to the segregationist White Citizens' Council. But he says he was a member in name only and quit the group in 1964. Also certain is Mr. Turner's sponsorship of several anti-civil-rights bills during his tenure as a state legislator. Whether Mr. Turner has changed can best be judged by examining the employment records and programming of MAET while he was chairman (1972 to 1976) and, more peripherally, his record as Belzoni city attorney during this decade. These records and his views on the role of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should be the matters on which his nomination ultimately is approved or rejected.
The quality of the confirmation process for Mr. Turner has left much to be desired. It is puzzling how knowledge of the still-unresolved complaints against MAET under Mr. Turner's stewardship, which are on file with the FCC, could escape even a cursory White House background check. Or how Mr. Turner's past membership in the White Citizens' Council could have been missed, yet, a question about it seemed to surprise President Carter at his Thursday press conference. Apparently these matters were overlooked in the rush toward Mr. Turner's confirmation. That is one more argument in favor of reopening the public hearing on his nomination. To do so would allow Mr. Turner and his opponents a chance to address the charges against him.