Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ruth's thoughts regarding Ken Tomlinson's appearence on The Diane Rehm Show

This morning while doing quick read over the post with members comments on Daniel Okrent, an e-mail arrived from Ruth (her Ruth's Morning Edition Report). Her post went up (as it always will, we enjoy Ruth's posts) but I thought we might follow up with an interview to round it out. Ruth gladly agreed.

First, the community loves Ruth's Morning Edition Report.

Ruth: Thank you and thank you to all the members who write. I would like to do something on the e-mails in the next week again because I enjoy the feedback, the questions and the comments. I'll also say thank you for adding my correction this morning.

You'd heard "lewd" but then realized the guest on Rehm's show had used "food."

Ruth: Right. "Food fight" not "lewd fight." It was in my notes and when Tracey rad over it, she asked me what was "lewd" about Bill Moyers? That's when I realized I had used the wrong word.

And we'll thank our friend of the community who went and fixed that during the day because I'm not able to. And note that it first got fixed as "rude." I got a call and I was saying "Thank you, but it's 'food.'"

Ruth: I'm sorry if there was any trouble.

No, but I knew it was important to you and I wanted to get it fixed it ASAP. But if a mistake goes up in a post, it is corrected, if you catch it or a member does. But mistakes will happen and I wanted to be sure, after you contacted me about it, that you knew it's not a big deal. Mistakes will be made and as long as they're caught and corrected, it's not a problem. Let's jump into the thing Media Matters did this afternoon. We're talking about an interview that aired on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show.

Ruth: My granddaughter came by to pick up my grandson and she asked me if I'd seen it yet and I hadn't. So I immediately checked that out. It was very strong and covered a great deal. I hope people will read it. Instead of discussing the strong points that Media Matters already covered, I'd like to focus on some additional areas.

We discussed a few issues on this earlier, when we spoke of the correction. There was a frustration on your part with Ken Tomlinson, CPB chair, and you felt you weren't able to go into the interview on your own.

Ruth: It was so frustrating to listen to and, I think I noted this, I couldn't deal with it "straight" and I wasn't able to find a way to deal with it humorously, the way Tracey had suggested, because I just found Mr. Tomlinson so offensive and depressing because he's got the power to destroy NPR.

One thing that you'd mentioned was the comments on Israel and Palestine and since that wasn't in the Media Matters item, how about we start there?

Ruth: Well, obviously, I'm Jewish. A Congressman, Brad Sherman, felt that the Middle-East coverage was biased against Israel and Mr. Tomlinson kept returning to that allegation. Diane made the point of that being one complaint and asked is he'd spoken to anyone else? His reply was that there was a meeting with a lot of Jewish people who were offended by the coverage. I don't doubt that it happened. There are a lot of Jewish people in this country who are offended. But there are a lot more who aren't. Myself, I think we need more coverage of reality and I think NPR tries to provide that. Diane offered that, this is a paraphrase from my notes, "whenever we have done a program on what's happening in the Middle East we have always tried to represent the Palestinian perspective and the Israeli perspective and on each program they have been criticized from both sides of having favored one." Mr. Tomlinson wouldn't address specifics and resorted to terms such as case by case basis. He said let it be decided on a case by case basis. Diane asked for an example and he couldn't provide one, he fumbled around and started saying the examples would come later but that people needed to have their complaints heard and addressed. Which led to Diane pointing out something very basic, NPR already has its own ombudsmen doing that and yet he's assigning two ombudsmen in addition to that, to cover both NPR and PBS. Coming as it did in the conversation, it could be thought that the ombudsmen were being added in some part due to the Middle East coverage.

Mr. Tomlinson repeatedly cited a right-wing advocacy group for Israel. He wasn't interested, when Diane brought up the question, of whether or not some listeners might find the Middle East coverage anti-Arab. He also compared NPR to the NRA. Diane asked him if he'd heard any complaints that the coverage was anti-Palestinian and he didn't want to address that issue. He was very selective in what he cited and what he chose to discuss. So, when I was reading the Media Matters review, I thought this was something that didn't get mentioned that we could pick up here.

That segment really bothered you. When we spoke earlier in the day, that was the first thing you identified.

Ruth: It bothers me because I didn't enjoy my religious beliefs being lumped in with people I share nothing with. Mr. Tomlinson spoke as though all Jewish people, because they were Jewish, felt one way which is simply not true. He portrayed as a monolithic, right-wing group. There is a faction of that among Jews in this country but it's a small overall faction. In the larger picture, you do have people who are apethetic and you do have people who feel that the faction is knee jerk and not reflective of any consensus. Diane noted that he was citing the views of advocacy group. Mr. Tomlinson cut her off, as he did frequently, and the issue she attempted to raise was that this group was a sub-section of the American Jewish community. This may have been, it probably was, why I had so much trouble offering anything to the community other than what I did. Mr. Tomlinson stereotyped and traditionally stereotypes have harmed all Jews regardless of their political or personal beliefs.

What you offered was a kind of heads up.

Ruth: Exactly. But it troubles me, and I'm probably not addressing this correctly, that Mr. Tomlinson wanted to advocate a position and instead of honestly stating that he was utilizing a right-wing group of hawks to back up his opinion, he attempted to portray the divide as "The Jewish people are offended." That's not the case. He was using us for cover to hide behind. Then we had Congressman Sherman call in and make similar claims. This was an important part of the broadcast to me and the best I feel like I'm doing right now is going around circles.

Okay, let me offer something and you can respond to it. Tomlinson wants to argue that the coverage of NPR, the reporting, is anti-Jewish, he used that term repeatedly. To make the claim, he appears to equate support for the policies of the Israeli government's actions with being Jewish? Is that a correct reading of your impressions?

Ruth: That's it in a nut shell. Israel is foreign government, a government, not a religion, not a club. No government is beyond criticism. Somehow Mr. Tomlinson appears to feel that because I'm Jewish, my loyalties are with, automatically with, a foreign government. I am American and I am Jewish. I'm also a widow. My husband passed away several years ago. If I wanted to live in Israel, I'd live in Israel. It's not my home. The United States is my home and I felt offended that, because a group of right-wing hawks want to act in a manner similar to the way right-wing Cuban exiles in Florida might act, Mr. Tomlinson wants to equate my religion with some allegience to a foreign government. Mr. Tomlison is doing that to push his own agenda and may or may not be aware of it. But as an elderly Jewish woman, I am quite aware of the nonsense of "Jewish conspiracy" and the nonsense of "divided loyalties" and how both have been used historically to stigmatize Jewish people. He's using it to advance his own agenda and may or may not be aware of how offensive his stereotype is but it is offensive and, historically, that stereotype has resulted in actions that harmed all Jews. That a voice, with power on the CPB, wants to promote stereotypes that are in fact harmful honestly disgusts me.

We have a members in our community who are very intelligent, much smarter than I am, but we also get visitors every day and in case anyone's confused on this point, I'd like to you to elaborate on the "Jewish consiparcy" myths.

Ruth: Historically, they've been used to do harm to Jewish people. Whether it's that we control all the money in the world or that we're sacrficing babies or whatever nonsense has been put out there in this stereotype, it always creates the impression that we're not fully vested in the larger communities in which we live. We're, instead, according to the stereotype, attempting to control the world. The result is that a Hitler or whomever comes along and uses the stereotype to justify harm to all Jewish people. That's the extreme harm that can come, a loss of life, an extermination of a people. But the stereotype is harmful on a day to day basis as well.

There is a faction, of Jews in this country, with loyalties that might appear to lie partially or completely with the Israeli government. But it's a faction. When Mr. Tomlinson equates being Jewish with support for a government, a foreign government, he falls back on a dangerous stereotype that's brought great harm to all Jews. I find it offensive as a Jewish woman. I hope that the use of such a stereotype reveals Mr. Tomlinson's ignorance because I hope that he wouldn't engage in dangerous stereotypes he knew were false just for political gain.

And, while we're addressing the issue of the government of Israel, it should be noted that not all Israelies support the actions of the Sharon government.

Ruth: Correct. There are divisions within their own country. You can see it with the actions of the refuseniks who refuse to serve in the Israeli army or with the opinions regarding the wall that would act as physical barrier or border. I hope that this is just a case of Mr. Tomlinson being an outsider looking in that results in his reducing all Jewish people to a monolithic group sharing one set of opinions and beliefs. But regardless of why he's doing it, what he's doing is stereotyping and using a historically dangerous stereotype. As someone servince on the CPB board --

Corporation of Public Broadcasting.

Ruth: Corporation of Public Broadcasting, right. As someone serving on a public board, he has no business in engaging in stereotypes. I honestly feel he should be removed from the board immediately. He should be asked to step down because he has promoted a very dangerous stereotype that has been historically harmful. Public broadcasting, NPR or PBS, is a domestic organization that's meant to represent the American people. By equating my religion with a foreign government, he's cast me as less American than some. That is offensive to me and suggests that he is unable to represent the people of this country. He did not merely acknowledge that a segment of Jewish people in this country might feel a certain way. He repeatedly implied that this is how all Jews in this country feel, that to be Jewish was to subscribe to this one belief system. That is not the case. When Diane asked him for examples of bias in the reporting, he was unable to provide any. I bring that up again because he is going impressions and stereotypes and anyone doing that needs to be working at a private organization and not one responsible for serving the public.

You spoke earlier of National Congress Radio.

Ruth: Tomlinson only values the voices he wants to value. That's evident when he listens only to one group of Jews. It's also evident when he places so much weight on the opinions of Congressman Brad Sherman, for instance. The wall that CPB is supposed to provide between the Congress and the people at NPR or PBS is being torn apart. Congressman Sherman, who later called in to the program, was cited repeatedly by Mr. Tomlinson. I'm confused as to why a Congressman's opinion matters more than the public's. It is National Public Radio. It is not National Congress Radio. I believe they already have C-Span as their voice and NPR belongs to the public.

With e-mailers and callers, Mr. Tomlinson openly mocked their opinions. It is National Public Radio, not National Congress Radio. Jeff Chester made a similar point when he called in to the show.

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Ruth: Correct. Mr. Chester made the point that public broadcasting is for the public and not intended to be an arm of the government. Mr. Tomlinson fails to grasp that.

You spoke earlier of how the interview bothered you in terms of NPR's future. What is your
fear of what Tomlinson means to the future of NPR?

Ruth: This is a man, Mr. Tomlinson, who can't comprehend the difference between reporting, which is what NOW often does, and a talking heads show full of pundits offering their opinions. He thinks that NOW and Paul Gigot's show are equivalent. He even said they were both advocacy journalism which implies that he doesn't grasp what advocacy journalism traditionally entails.
Gigot's show is editorializing, it's op-ed, it's not reporting. Mr. Tomlinson equates opinion with reporting and that's a very dangerous misunderstanding. Diane addressed his spoken of desire to replace news programming with classical music. I'm unaware of any public cry for make classical music. But it's another step in removing actual reporting. When it aired, my hands were trembling as I made notes. I thought Diane did a great job. I thought she pressed him to answer questions and I think if it weren't for her earlier show, he wouldn't have even felt compelled to respond to the public criticism. She interviewed him and allowed to him express his opinions. What I heard was disturbing to me.

If we can, I want to return to a point you made earlier, when Tomlinson brought up the NRA.

Ruth: He referred to NPR's listeners as "liberal" and stated that they get aroused when they perceive NPR is under attack the same way that NRA members get aroused when they feel the Second Amendment is under attack.

Second Amendment being the right to bear arms.

Ruth: If he's attempting to suggest that NPR listeners are concerned with the free speech clause of the First Amendment, he's correct. Like the Bully Boy, he's attacking facts as "liberal." He sees "liberal" everywhere. NPR was liberal in its early days. But as Scott Sherman pointed out those days were some time ago. They have moved into the mainstream. Mr. Tomlinson is either unaware of that or he's pulling out a straw man. But when he speaks of Gigot's need to balance out NOW, he's unconcerned that PBS offers stock market programming on the economy but no weekly programs on the economy that address a working class perspective.

He is either unable to move beyond his very narrow views, full of stereotypes, or he's aware that he's being dishonest. Either way, he is a danger to PBS and NPR. I've listened to NPR my entire adult life. Morning Edition has suffered tremendously since the departure of Bob Edwards. But The Diane Rehm Show, Nina Totenberg and other old lions continue to make it worth listening to and continue to provide information and serve the public. I was, and still am, worried about what it means for NPR that the kiddie patrol lacks the skills of the old lions because when they retire or are forced out we're not left with much. The purpose of my contributions here was that by highlighting the current problems, a dialogue could be started and members could address this before it was too late for NPR. If Mr. Tomlinson is put in charge, I fear that there's no time to address it. By his statements, he's interested in destroying NPR as a news provider and he's interested in replacing news with opinion.

NPR's strength is a serious discussion with perspective and that appears to be the very thing that Mr. Tomlinson wants to destroy. When I started doing my contributions here, I assumed that there was time to plant some seeds in the minds of a few members who would plant seeds in their own circles. The hope was that the dialogue would allow for NPR to strengthen their best qualities and that my grandchildren would be growing up with a strong news source. With Mr. Tomlison on the horizon, I now worry that those hopes have been voided.

The community is split on NPR in terms of whether it's worth saving or not. We're a community of the left and we don't see the rampant liberalism at NPR that Tomlinson does. But, as you know from the e-mails that are forwarded to you, your earlier remarks on the importance you still see NPR having did touch some who were otherwise prepared to write NPR off. FAIR's latest action alert regarding the CPB provides contact information and we'll provide a link because I'm thinking that your remarks tonight will make some who haven't gotten involved want to take action.

Ruth: I understand why some would feel "What's the point?" You wrote about that and how you were sure you'd take part in an attempt to save NPR and PBS again but you were distressed by the impression that NPR and PBS stood on the sidelines during the battles. Has your opinion changed?

I think Diane Rehm has done a wonderful job. There's obviously a line she has to acknowledge, as a journalist, and she's done that. She's raised the issue and made sure that NPR listeners had access to information. I'm less impressed with what I've heard on other NPR shows. Rehm's one of the "old lions," as you call them. Media has a take action page on this issue and we'll provide a link to that. Media Matters' entry also includes contact information so members who are interested can go there as well. In terms of making a difference, I think to this community, you've made a strong case for activism on this issue. Rebecca (Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude) has noted that your remarks and calling attention to Diane Rehm's previous show on this topic made her decide to fight the fight one more time. Between her post and the e-mails that arrive, I think an impact's been made that wouldn't have been otherwise.
I do understand the attitude of why should we bother again and I do understand those who feel we'd be smarter to invest our time and monies into BuzzFlash, Democracy Now!, The Nation, The Progressive, Free Speech Radio News, et al. Speaking for myself and not the community, I'm willing to sign on for one battle to defend public broadcasting. And I'll give you and Diane Rehm equal credit for that.
Before we go, I'd like to touch on a non-public broadcasting issue. In your last two Ruth's Morning Edition Report, you included no Yiddish words. I wish you would include them. I was discussing that and some members reactions with a friend during a long phone call this weekend (the battery in her cordless phone went out). This week Francisco offered a comment on Daniel Okrent for the community and he used two Spanish words. One was for trash and I understood it immediately. The other I didn't know. That's fine. If I want to know it, I'll look it up and I feel that any member can do that. Type in the word in a search engine and I'm sure you'll be able to find a definition. I've always encouraged Francisco to use Spanish whenever he wanted to. I always harp on the need for more voices -- not less. Part of "more voices" includes not just opinions, but also expression. When you use a Yiddish term, members who know Yiddish, or some Yiddish, are delighted. Those who don't should be able to determine the meaning from the context or by looking it up online. So I hope you won't censor yourself.

Ruth: There have been a few e-mails, as you know, that have requested I stop using a Yiddish word here and there. Tracey, my granddaughter, also expressed her displeasure that none were used in two entries this week. I think, if I had used them in the last entry for instance, I wouldn't have felt so frustrated and unable to address my reaction to Mr. Tomlinson's statements and attitude. So they will be popping back up. If I could, I'd also like to address why it's always called Ruth's Morning Edition Report. That's the show I can always listen to in the morning while I'm getting ready for the day and waiting for my grandson to be dropped off. If I hear a promo for a show on later in the day that sounds interesting, I'll drag out all the toys and we'll be in the middle of the living room playing during that show. I still call it Ruth's Morning Edition Report because if I'm emphasizing Diane's show or another show, it's saying that I heard nothing on Morning Edition that moved enough to comment. When Bob Edwards hosted the show, I could always find something worth commenting on. But if I'm focusing on another show that means that either Morning Edition had nothing that I thought was worth commenting on or that
Nina Totenberg did a report and there's not much I could say to that other than, "Listen, she knows what she's talking about." For instance, this morning she gave a strong, historical report on Robert Bork. You're not going to get that sort of reporting on Good Morning America, The Today Show or whatever CBS is calling their latest attempt at a morning show.


Ruth: The statement was made, by Congressman Sherman when he called in, that an internal report by NPR was impossible for him to get ahold of. While he did have the report, he didn't have the research data. He was speaking of an internal study of NPR's Middle East coverage. Tomlinson never noted, as Media Matters does, that he's refused to release the study he commissioned with tax payer funds on Bill Moyer's Now. I'd like to quote two paragraphs from the Media Matters report:
In the interview on the May 18 edition of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, responding to an email from a listener who cited "numerous conservative figures" appearing on Moyers' program, Tomlinson responded in jest, "Am I gonna have to go back and hire another consultant and demonstrate this is incorrect?" The reference was to an outside content review study of NOW he reportedly commissioned in 2004. The study is reported to have cost taxpayers $10,000, but Media Matters for America has been unable to determine the identity of the firm conducting the study. Further, Tomlinson never sent the results to the CPB board, and he has yet to release them to the public [The New York Times, 5/2/05].
The identity of the firm conducting the study would be relevant for a number of reasons, including Tomlinson's apparent willingness to engage the services of a conservative firm that employs questionable methodologies. Tomlinson has reportedly
contacted S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), "about conducting a study on whether NPR's Middle East coverage was more favorable to Arabs than to Israelis." As Media Matters has noted (here and here), CMPA, which has received funding from right-wing organizations, has conducted numerous flawed studies purporting to confirm liberal bias in media and academia, and Lichter himself has misrepresented those findings in media interviews.
While Congressman Sherman complained that he'd only been able to see a report, not the research, on a study of NPR's Middle East coverage, Mr. Tomlinson refuses to release the report he had commissioned, at tax payer expense, on Bill Moyer's Now.

Good point. Diane Rehm's interview with Ken Tomlinson aired Wednesday, May 18th and people can listen to it online.

The e-mail address for this site is