Whenever Washington targets some poor, misbegotten country for “regime change,” references to that unfortunate nation’s media by Western journalists are usually preceded by the modifier state-owned or state-controlled. The inference is clear: These guys are shills, not real journalists. Yet the West has its own state-owned and controlled media: The Brits have the BBC, and continental Europeans all run the same show, the only difference being that the strings are a bit more visible. State-funded propaganda is a feature of American “journalism” as well, although here the effort to pretend that PBS isn’t following a political line is more elaborate—and even convincing on occasion.
For example, during the Kosovo war, the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer (the PBS flagship news show) aired a segment on Antiwar.com—at a time when the Clinton administration was emitting a barrage of war propaganda designed to justify an attack on a country—Serbia—that represented no threat to the United States or her legitimate interests. During the Iraq war, however, they did no follow-up story—and the reason seems to be a discernible shift in ideological tone.
No one denies that public television and National Public Radio have an unmistakably liberal tinge, but one aspect of the liberal tradition that allows other views to get through the door is at least a formal commitment to intellectual diversity and open discussion. Under the previous regime, while it was undoubtedly biased leftward, some truly dissident conservative or libertarian views that might otherwise not be heard somehow slipped through the cracks. I seem to remember that PBS once interviewed Joe Sobran during the Clinton years, an experience that both parties will doubtless not soon forget.
Under the new Bushian dispensation, which deems that ideological “balance” must somehow be achieved, there’s no chance that anything outside the narrow spectrum running from the neoconservative left to the neoconservative right is ever going to sully the mundane purity of PBS’s centrist soul. The new chief honcho of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, has declared that public television and radio are “biased” and need more “balance”—which, in practice, has meant that the neoconservatives have been able to smuggle themselves in as representatives of the officially approved “right-wing” point of view.
A case in point is Tucker Carlson Unfiltered, a new show featuring the bow-tied poster boy for politically correct “conservatism” and a panel of guests who span the spectrum from the Weekly Standard to the New Republic: David Frum, Jonah Goldberg, Steven F. Hayes, and David Horowitz, representing the neocon right; Peter Beinart, Christopher Hitchens, and Katrina vanden Heuvel representing the left—with two out of three being left-neocons.
Not content to grab the spotlight for themselves, the neocons in the Bush-run CPB are angling to purge the place of liberals—or, indeed, anyone deemed hostile to the current regime. The May 2 New York Times reported, “Without the knowledge of his board . . . Tomlinson contracted last year with an outside consultant to keep track of the guests’ political leanings on one program, ‘Now with Bill Moyers.’” In a June 16 report, the Times exposed Tomlinson’s $14,700 in payments to someone by the name of Fred Mann, a longtime Washington-based political consultant whose last position was as director of the job bank and alumni services at the National Journalism Center in Herndon, Virginia. The center trains young ideologues for jobs as journalists, seeding the print media and the airwaves with up-and-coming neocons and party-line Republicans. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) reveals that Mann’s job was to keep tabs on the various talking heads invited by PBS to share their views, and the results are Orwellian: “We have all of these sheets that describe the guests and it says: anti-Bush, anti-Bush, pro-Bush, anti-Bush. It appears to me to be not so much an evaluation of is this slanted, is it liberal, does it have an agenda; it is the evaluation of is this program critical of the president?”
The Republicans never even tried to get rid of American’s state-run media: They aim to take it over and turn it into their own propaganda organ. Given that PBS, like the Post Office, will always be with us, this attempt to turn public broadcasting into a high-toned version of Fox News deserves a rude rebuff.