{ An Autopsy of Democracy }

Friday, June 24, 2005

CPB’s “Secrets and Lies”: Why the CPB Board Hid its Polls Revealing Broad Public Support for PBS and NPR

CPB’s “Secrets and Lies”: Why the CPB Board Hid its Polls Revealing Broad Public Support for PBS and NPR

Poll Data Show No “Bias” Problem

27 April 2005

The far-right-wing majority directors at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have a secret they don’t want to tell the American public. CPB board Chair Ken Tomlinson and his cronies have kept the results of two “National Public Opinion” surveys under wraps. These documents, buried in an annual report to Congress but neither released to the press nor shared with PBS and NPR, reveal that the overwhelming majority of the U.S. public is happy with PBS and NPR programming. Such conclusions are bad news for the GOP-led CPB board, which is pushing an agenda designed to reshape public broadcasting programming to suit their own ideological biases. Consequently, CPB has refused to make the poll data public.

Convinced that the American people were fed up with programming on PBS and NPR that is dominated by what Tomlinson and company believe to be "liberal" in nature, CPB hired the Tarrance Group, a GOP polling firm. Tarrance has worked for such clients as the Bush-Cheney 04 campaign, Republican National Committee, and Sens. Mike Dewine and Trent Lott. A Democratic polling firm, Lake Snell Perry and Associates, was also brought in to help with several focus groups funded by CPB.

Following its initial 2002 survey, CPB ordered Tarrance and Lake back into the field the following year. Their dismay at the results surely explains why this poll was deep-sixed. Conducted between June 29-July 2003 and surveying 1,008 adults, the National Public Opinion Survey #2 showed that public broadcasting had an 80 percent “Favorable” rating; only 10 percent of those polled had an “Unfavorable” opinion of PBS and public radio. PBS "News & Information 'consumers'” were highly supportive of such programs as the "Newshour," "Frontline," "Morning Edition," and "All Things Considered."

More than half of those surveyed believed that PBS news and information programming was more “trustworthy” than news shows on the commercial networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN (while between 6 and 15 percent found PBS programming less trustworthy). Similarly, more than half of those surveyed believed that PBS provided more "in-depth" news and information programming than the networks (compared to between 17 and 24 percent who thought such programming was less in-depth). Only about 8 percent thought that PBS’s Iraq war coverage was “slanted.” More than a quarter of those surveyed said the reporting was “fair and balanced” (while 63 percent had “no opinion” at all). NPR received similar results. Few respondents believed that PBS and NPR “coverage of the Bush Administration” was “slanted” (a result that no doubt disappointed those at CPB who had formulated the question).

Finally, more than half (55 percent) said that PBS programming was “fair and balanced," with strong support for its “high quality programming” and as “a valuable cultural resource.” NPR received an even higher approval rating for its programming, including perceptions that it is “fair and balanced” (79 percent of respondents). There was also strong support for government funding of public broadcasting (with only 10 percent of those surveyed believing that the annual $1.30 per capita funding was "too much").

The June-July 2003 poll was followed by four focus groups in September 2003--two groups in Louisville and two in Salt Lake City--selected from those who already "believed that news & information programming on PBS and/or NPR has a liberal bias.” The results once again must have disappointed the CPB conservative cabal. Most participants, according to the survey results, “could not cite specific examples of bias,” (although “a few participants mentioned bias in children’s programming”).

The overarching conclusion of the survey #2 report to CPB was that “public broadcasting is important and relevant.” There was also strong appreciation of the wide range of programming, such as documentaries and children’s shows, on public broadcasting.

The CPB board is on a content crusade against the programming now on PBS and public radio. Perhaps it’s time that a new poll be commissioned--one that asks whether CPB should be governed by a handful of political appointees who wish to destroy public broadcasting.


"CPB’s Commitment to Objectivity and Balance"

Open to the Public: A Report to Congress on Steps Taken by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Response to Section 19 of the Public Telecommunications Act of 1992 for the period January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2003.

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