Friday, July 01, 2005

Ruth's Morning Edition Report

Ruth: Thursday morning on Morning Edition, the following story was reported:

CPB Memos Indicate Level of Monitoring
by David Folkenflik

Below is Renee
[Montagne]'s introduction to this report:

Renee: The chairman for the Coporation of Public Broadcasting says news coverage on NPR and PBS is often biased. His opinion matters because the Corporation distributes federal funds to NPR and PBS member stations. And last year Kenneth Tomlinson secretly hired a consultant with conservative ties to analyze the political ideology of guests on four PBS and NPR shows. NPR has obtained the study which shows the consultant graded guests on whether they explicitly supported policies of the president. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

Online, you can find a transcript (more or less) of the story.

Listening to the report, several things came to mind. I was reminded me of Mr. Tomlinson's attempts at snake oil charm when he
appeared on The Diane Rehm Show. Speaking with Diane, Mr. Tomlison discussed, vaguely, the monitoring of Bill Moyers' NOW and bemoaned the fact that a report done prior, on Middle East reporting, was not released. Never once did he indicate that he had monitored The Diane Rehm Show. He did offer that he thought she did a great job: "I'm a long time admirer of you and your program" and "Well, as usual, you put it best in your introduction." Were those conclusions reached before or after you read the report, Mr. Tomlinson? Was that genuine?

Mr. Tomlinson also said to Diane, "I hope our conversation is constructive to the future of public broadcasting." Wouldn't that have required honesty? Did Mr. Tomlinson demonstrate any by conversing with a broadcaster and never telling her or the public that he had commissioned a study of her program for bias?

"I worked within the system," Mr. Tomlinson repeatedly said and apparently his system is rigged in his favor since he feels no obligation to disclose his own actions to the public.

Mr. Tomlinson also told Diane that "while sometimes the debate over balance is healthy, sometimes it gets beyond healthy." I would agree and put it to Mr. Tomlinson, was that a confession as to your own excess?

Mr. Tomlinson: My concern two years ago was the Bill Moyers show on Friday night.
Diane: Called NOW.
Mr. Tomlinson: And uh I saw to encourage uh the creation of other programs to balance uh that show. I don't want to encourage this uh, I don't want to continue this food fight between Bill Moyers and me. . . . If we're going to have a program with a liberal point of view, I think we should have a program with a conservative point of view.

Mr. Tomlinson, I think if you're going to use the public's money (both as tax payers and from donations some of us make to NPR and/or PBS) to create studies of programs, you should be open about how you've spent the public's monies. And when you're appearing opposite a broadcaster you've commissioned a study on that you should be open about it.

Mr. Tomlinson, are you aware that you don't work for yourself or for Congress, though their opinion matters greatly to you? Your words: "A single opinion, a member of Congress" was reason enough to set you on your course. It is a shame that the public's own opinions matter so little to you because, Mr. Tomlinson, your employer is the public and you have failed the public.

When Diane Rehm read an e-mail from a listener that was an e-mail from the public. Mr. Tomlinson dismissed and mocked the person.

Mr. Tomlinson: Do you agree that the Bill Moyers' program was liberal advocacy journalism?
Diane: Well my own opinion is much less important than what I now have in front of me which is an e-mail from a listener in Cleavland Heights, Ohio. He says, "I'd like to know why Mr. Tomlinson targeted the Bill Moyers show? It was really the only place on television where liberals and conservatives talked civily with one another about issues of the day. . . .
Mr. Tomlinson: Am I going to have to go back and hire another consultant to demonstrate that this is incorrect?

As my granddaughter Tracey said, "Keep your belt on." The public doesn't need disciplining by you. In fact, keep your coat on too because you clearly shouldn't hang around very long since you feel hectoring the public, your employers, mocking them is part of your job.

When another listener's e-mail, Christine's, was read by Diane Rehm, Mr. Tomlinson dismissed her question as to whether he would monitor The Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot's show because it wasn't necessary. He dismissed Diane's question when she followed up on it.

Why was that? Because, according to Mr. Tomlinson, Pat Mitchell said NOW was balanced. According to Mr. Tomlinson that statement was reason enough to investigate. Mr. Tomlinson said that the Wall Street Journal program didn't need to be monitored "we know that the Wall Street Journal is going to reflect a conservative point of view." I can't imagine that I'm alone in having a problem with that "logic" which states: a show may have a point of view I disagree with so I hire a monitor for it but a show that has a point of view I agree with is perfectly okay. Again, Mr. Tomlinson has not grasped that he works for the public and that he answers to the public. NPR and PBS are not his own personal playgrounds.

The documents NPR studied for Thursday's report demonstrated that Mr. Tomlinson's study graded as "liberal" anyone not supporting the Bully Boy's plans on any given issue. This results in interesting judgements of "liberal:"

Mann labeled many reporters as "liberal," such as Robin Wright of The Washington Post. She appeared on The Diane Rehm show in June 2004. On what grounds did Mann make his assessment? He wrote: "Ms. Wright's viewpoint was that U.S. intelligence was geared to fight the Cold War and did not adapt to the new threat of terrorism."
Chuck Hagel was also judged to be a liberal. That's Nebraska's Republican Senator. Last year, Hagel earned a 100 percent voting record from two conservative organizations -- the Christian Coalition and the Eagle Forum.
But Hagel has disagreed with President Bush on some issues. And the senator acknowledged misgivings about the administration's handling of Iraq on The Tavis Smiley Show in June 2004.

The study was not released by Mr. Tomlinson and he refuses to comment on it. NPR noted that Mr. Tomlinson now rebuffs questions by "citing an inquiry into his actions by the corporation's inspector general." That's a nice, little easy out for someone who supposedly wanted to openly address the issues when on air with Diane Rehm.

From Thursday's report:

Diane Rehm says she hadn't known she was being monitored by CPB until recent press reports disclosed Mann's activities. In an interview, Rehm says the message she hears should be chilling to all journalists:
"If I investigate you, Diane Rehm, you will tone down your program and you will make sure that there are more conservative opinions on the air than there are liberal opinions -- because we want to make sure that the conservative perspective is out there."
Rehm says she works fiercely with her producers to provide balanced panel discussions. And she says the ability of listeners to call into the show allows for all views to be heard.
"I am stunned that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be spending money to monitor my program," Rehm says.

Mr. Tomlinson's underhanded manner while engaging with Diane Rehm reminds me of a song that many of you are probably too old too remember. "They smile to your face," sang the O'Jays in the song "The Backstabbers."

We are talking about public broadcasting. Mr. Tomlinson has not been above board with the public. He should resign immediately.

Though it may not be addressed this morning, on Fridays, the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show is dedicated to a discussion of stories in the news that week. This topic may come up. The guests will be:

James Fallows, writer for the "Atlantic Monthly"
Andrea Seabrook, NPR
Byron York, White House correspondent for National Review and author of "The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy"

For those unsure of their local NPR stations position on the dial but who are interested in listening, you can
listen online.

Whether the topic is addressed or not, I would urge you to review the
NPR report on this topic. In addition to a transcript of the seven minutes plus segement, there are other links to provide additional information including the summary of the study of The Diane Rehm Show. [Note: The summary is in PDF form.]

I will close by noting one more section from the transcript:

Tomlinson did not consult with the CPB board in arranging a contract with Mann, according to CPB sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified. Nor did Tomlinson inform the senior staff, according to The New York Times, which reported Mann was paid more than $14,000 by CPB to conduct the study.
Mann himself remains something of an enigma. NPR could not reach him for comment. His past address, telephone number and even e-mail address no longer work. Efforts to find him through past colleagues were not successful.
For years, Mann was an official at the National Journalism Center in Virginia, which has trained many aspiring journalists. He handled the job bank until last year. The center is an offshoot of the Young America's Foundation, which describes itself on its Web site as "the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement."

Mr. Mann was hired to do a professional report and paid a handsome price for that report. Which leaves me to wonder how Jane Austen becomes "Jane Austen" or "reflection" is used in the place of "reflecting." For that matter "according to the Geneva Conventions" fails to convey the argument being put forth on the show he listened to since it is rights "accorded by" and not rights "according to."

Those are but three examples in the summary he wrote on The Diane Rehm Show. I will not pretend that I do not make typos here, and C.I.'s far too kind to take the fall for my own typos, but I'm not being paid thousands of dollars, nor have I been commissioned to do a study.
The spelling in Mr. Mann's study demonstrates either ignorance or lack of care. He should return to the CPB the money he was paid for it. Had the repeated errors appeared in a newspaper or a magazine, or at a web site, I wouldn't raise a brow; however, this is a summary of a report on which thousands of dollars have been spent. Professionalism doesn't show up on the page anymore than it was behind the original intent to commission the study.