{ An Autopsy of Democracy }

Friday, June 24, 2005

Public Broadcasting Chief Is Named, Raising Concerns - New York Times

Public Broadcasting Chief Is Named, Raising Concerns - New York Times

Published: June 24, 2005
WASHINGTON, June 23 - The Corporation for Public Broadcasting on Thursday appointed Patricia S. Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, to be its next president and chief executive.

Patricia S. Harrison, the new president of public broadcasting.
In acting, the corporation board brushed aside concerns from many public television and radio stations and Democratic lawmakers that choosing Ms. Harrison threatened to inject partisanship into an organization that is supposed to shield public broadcasting from political pressures.

Later on Thursday, the Republican-controlled House, by a vote of 284 to 140, approved a measure to restore $100 million that had been cut from the corporation's $400 million budget last week by the House Appropriations Committee.

The selection of Ms. Harrison comes at a time of political strife over the direction of public broadcasting. The corporation's chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, has taken steps to correct what he and conservative critics see as liberal bias. Television and radio executives have responded by accusing Mr. Tomlinson of threatening their editorial independence.

Ms. Harrison's backers said her Republican credentials would help her win new support for public broadcasting. In a statement accompanying the announcement of her selection, Katherine Anderson, one of the Republican members of the board, praised Ms. Harrison, saying she "has demonstrated great strength in coalition building."

"She knows Capitol Hill and is devoted to public broadcasting and the mission," Ms. Anderson said.

Ms. Harrison, an assistant secretary of state, has no significant broadcasting experience, however, and her selection instantly met with new political criticism as broadcast executives and Democratic lawmakers called her too partisan for the post.

Among the Democratic critics were Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both of New York, and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota.

"I think this is a huge mistake," Mr. Dorgan said in an interview. "My sense is that this is going to do real injury to public broadcasting."

Mr. Schumer said the decision "to turn PBS into a political mouthpiece is disgraceful and contrary to its years of distinguished public service."

As president of the corporation, Ms. Harrison will oversee the distribution of federal money to thousands of public radio and television stations and producers of programs. The previous president, Kathleen Cox, stepped down in April.

The selection of Ms. Harrison was not unexpected; Mr. Tomlinson said in an interview in April that she was his top choice. Scores of stations around the nation, as well as some Democratic members of Congress, urged the board to find another candidate, particularly in light of decisions by Mr. Tomlinson that are now under investigation by the inspector general of the corporation.

Investigators are looking at Mr. Tomlinson's decision to retain a consultant to monitor the political leanings on the "Now" show with Bill Moyers, his decision to retain two Republican lobbyists last year and his use of a White House official to set up an corporation office of ombudsman that is supposed to judge the political balance and objectivity of shows on public television and radio.

Beth Courtney, one of the three members of the eight-member board who is not a Republican, said she voted against Ms. Harrison.

"I was asked by hundreds of colleagues in public broadcasting not to select someone who was in a partisan position," said Ms. Courtney, the president and chief executive of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, and a registered independent. "The stations are very upset."

The House vote to restore financing that had been cut at the committee level came after days of public outcry, especially from Democrats. Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the Democrat who sponsored the amendment to restore the money, said it was a bittersweet victory coming on the day that Ms. Harrison was elected - and as part of a larger bill that, in his view, shortchanged other labor, education and health programs.

In the floor debate, some Republicans continued to call for a trimmed-down public broadcasting budget. Representative Ginny Brown-Waite, Republican of Florida, said "Americans should be shocked" by how profitable the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is through its marketing of popular programs.

A sign propped at Ms. Brown-Waite's side said, "Big Bird is a Billionaire."

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