In the Boston Globe, public radio host Tom Ashbrook considers it an “assault on NPR” to have two ombudsmen at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting look at complaints from the public. It’s an “assault” to listen and evaluate and question the idea that public broadcasting questions everybody. Public broadcasters want to hide behind the so-called “firewall” at CPB and never have to answer for their bias. That would be “political meddling.” They don’t get that many conservatives consider biased public broadcasting itself a case of unfair “political meddling,” using our tax dollars to trash our ideas and our leaders.
Ask the following question: which liberal icon or legislator or president or judicial nominee has had their career ruined or nearly ruined by public broadcasting? Conservatives can quickly cite Nina Totenberg sinking Douglas Ginsburg’s Supreme Court nomination in 1987 and her attempt to sink Clarence Thomas in 1991 with still-unproven sex harassment allegations of Anita Hill. But Totenberg sat on her notebook for months in 1994 when Paula Jones charged Bill Clinton with sexual harassment until Jones officially filed suit. Then she rushed onto NPR and said Jones was greedy: “One sister says she was interested in money. Anita Hill never asked for money.” She never mentioned that Hill, despite telling the Senate she had no plans to cash in, had landed a million-dollar book deal. When Juanita Broaddrick came forward in 1999 and said Bill Clinton had raped her, Nina Totenberg and “All Things Considered” aired nothing. (“Morning Edition” aired one story after Broaddrick appeared on NBC.)
In 1993, Nina went on NPR and bitterly complained that the Clinton White House wouldn’t let her interview her liberal “quota queen” friend Lani Guinier before her Justice Department nomination failed, because “they were interested in burying her.” (No editorializing there?) While Bill Moyers ran a “Frontline” cutely titled “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” to suggest Ronald Reagan should be impeached, does anyone remember how Nina Totenberg almost got Clinton impeached? She didn’t. She was busy suggesting Kenneth Starr shouldn’t have the Lewinsky portfolio because of his consultation with a lawyer for Paula Jones, the woman Totenberg usually ignored.
PBS president Pat Mitchell claimed at the National Press Club this week that “no one political party” has a hold on PBS. So would she like to explain how “Frontline” remembered the Clinton years with a two-hour 2001 documentary featuring only wistful Clinton aides? Or how it aired tough programs in the 1990s like “Hillary’s Class,” about the First Lady’s Wellesley pals? Never believe anyone who tells you public broadcasting has earned a reputation for fairness or balance.