COLUMN: Bush against Big Bird in the battle for public broadcasting services

By Claire Sohn

Every morning as a child I ceremoniously plopped down at the kitchen table, Pop-Tart in hand, and affixed my eyes to an image of Big Bird emblazoned across the family television set.

Like so many of my peers, public broadcasting programs like Sesame Street fueled my childhood and stretched my callow mind across a broad spectrum of ideas.

The children’s educational programming on PBS is only one facet of American public broadcasting. The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a non-profit, non-partisan organization which allocates funding to National Public Radio (NPR), the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and their respective stations. The CPB is composed of a panel of nine members appointed by the president with the advice of the senate.

The intent in creating the CPB was to bring independent information to populations often ignored by the mainstream media. According to Victor Pickard, a doctoral student in the Institute of Communications Research, American public broadcasting was to be “.A model that was not driven by profit imperatives but instead focused on encouraging a healthy market place of ideas on significant societal issues. Further, this model was to be insulated from not only commercial pressures but political ones as well, hence the function of the CPB.”

However, public broadcasting in the United States, has been flawed since its inception. The CPB has run into a series of biased blows as of recent, including an influx in corporate financing as a result of a stream of cuts in federal funding under the Bush administration

American public broadcasting was further tainted with the resignation of board member Kenneth Tomilnson in November of 2005. Tomilnson’s blemished track record as a part of the CPB included violating their code of ethics by endorsing a chairperson of the Republican National Committee in addition to regulating public programming based on political content.

Now in the aftermath of Tomilnson’s resignation President Bush has nominated Warren Bell to fill the board’s vacant position. Bell is a man whose close minded nature makes him unfit for any position associated with public media. His consistently offensive columns for the National Review Online are demeaning to women, minorities, and the poor. In recent publications he stated, “I support a women’s right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one.I am on the Right in every way”. Beyond his writings for the National Review Online Bell’s only other media ties are his role as executive producer for a slew of mediocre sitcoms. How can this man aid in shaping the future for a public broadcasting system already infiltrated by corporate funding and tainted by political bias?

But political bias is the least of PBS and NPR’s worries right now. The Bush administration has a history of quiet funding cuts to the CPB, and has come close to dismantling the entire system. If Bush deems other government programs more important than public broadcasting, a newly appointed Bell could continue to remove funds from the CPB, threatening its very existence.

For now the senate has enacted a check on the president’s appointment, putting Bell’s nomination on hold due to his extremely polarized politics and lack of experience. However, the Senate may choose to review the nomination, and President Bush remains supportive of his selection.

Although Bell claims to be “thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues,” removing politics from public broadcasting is a non-partisan issue. Public broadcasting was created in order to separate viable information from corporate and political interests. Individuals polarized on either side of the political spectrum like Warren Bell are not acceptable candidates for a position on the CPB board. Bell’s appointment to the board would not only affect future generations of Big Bird enthusiasts, but would threaten our fundamental concept of a democratic media model.